A reflection of my three months in Ethiopia by Valerie Perkins

Dec 21, 2012

As this year comes to a close, I reflect on some of the events of my own life in this past year. A quote comes to mind from `WHERE DO BROKEN HEARTS GO?’ (Nylle) when I think of the three months I spent in Ethiopia earlier this year.

The quote is … `Better to look back at life and say “I can’t believe I did that.” than to look back and say “I wish I had done that”.

No matter what line of work we do, no one knows what the job entails unless you have actually done it. All occupations, whether academic or manual, carry their own highlights and problems. As medical / healthcare workers, we do a job that is demanding and at times frustrating and exhausting physically and emotionally. It does however have its rewards, and we do our work with our eyes wide open.

If we as healthcare workers ever give a thought to how the circumstances of the same work in third world/developing countries might be, then if we do ever give it a thought, unless we have had the experience of it, we really give that thought with our eyes wide shut.

Having decided to offer myself as a midwife at the `BARBARA MAY’ hospital at Mille in the Afar region of Ethiopia, I found it an `EYE OPENING ‘ experience.

I spent three months at this new maternity hospital. The hospital was indeed in its own infancy, really just establishing itself under the management of a senior English lady Dr. Margaret who is doing a tireless job in all aspects of the hospital functioning.

The conditions during my time were difficult particularly the heat in the desert which made some of the equipment unusable and the heat itself was physically draining. The set up was basic and the staff were at the time low in complement and experience. My role was to teach as well as take part in the functioning of the everyday running of the hospital.

I did the best I could. It was hard going at times and problems eventuated which compounded already difficult circumstances such as frequent and long outage of power which meant no fans to cool, no refrigeration, no ability to charge batteries ( phone/ Computer/ cameras) etc, and often meant working in the ward and labour-ward by the light of a headlamp. The hospital does of course have a generator but this was rationed to when theatre was operating.

There was also often a sudden lack of supply of water…can you imagine a maternity hospital, with soiled linen and no water, yes it happened several times! These were some of the difficulties encountered , along with the lack of any good protein which gave us a daily diet which was monotonous and high in carbohydrate.

I believe that most of these `teething’ problems’ have been resolved and the hospital has now come a long way in progress in a short time.

The people of the Afar were, simply beautiful, very resilient and most certainly stamped a footprint on my heart. During my period at the Barbara May Hospital I helped in the delivery of children in an unfamiliar culture and language and very different circumstance to what we have in our world. The work itself was my reward. I had not practiced midwifery for some twenty years prior to this experience but I had no difficulty `getting back on the bike’ and my heart was happy to revisit what has always been a passion in my life…. being a midwife.

I must say I left part of my heart in Ethiopia and would love to go back to the Barbara May hospital again if fates allow. Meanwhile if there are any midwives who read this and are interested in becoming a volunteer I would be more than happy to pass on my best tips both professional and personal if you are a `first time volunteer ‘ as I was.

No matter what your reason for offering your service you will be rewarded, as I was, for I found there is nothing better than to give of yourself.

Valerie Perkins.