Jordanie, world champions and a dramatic journey

February 24, 2011

True to form for this trip so far, this has been another day to remember! Our last day in Monkey point involved an exciting football match, and a VERY scary boat ride!

But before I tell you about those – I had more time to interview Carla yesterday and she definitely made it clear how the simple addition of this solar fridge, lighting and nebuliser will make a huge difference to the lives of the Monkey Point Community.  

Carla explained that here are 148 children under six years old in this community and now she can make sure that every one of them receives vaccines to protect them from all too preventable life-threatening childhood diseases including pneumococcal disease, meningitis, Polio, Tetanus, diptheria, hepatitis B,  flu, rotovirus (diarrheal disease is one of the biggest causes of infant mortality – and rotovirus constitutes about 60-70% of diarrhea cases in children in the developing world), and rabies.  She also sees four to five children a month with breathing problems and now that the clinic has a nebuliser she can treat the symptoms of asthma and pneumonia. While I was talking to Carla, a little boy called Jordanie was brought in to Carla’s clinic by his aunt.  Jordanie has asthma, an was struggling to breathe.  Carla set up the nebuliser and I saw first hand how this distressed and wheezing child was, within half an hour, calm and breathing normally.

setting up the nebuliser
Setting up the nebuliser for Jordanie yesterday

Jordanie today – playing outside with his sister

Carla’s clinic doesn’t only serve Monkey point but is also the nearest medical centre for over 500 people from other nearby villages. None of these villages are served by road – like Monkey Point they are all a long day’s walk to the town.  In 2010 a young man from Las Pavas, a community about 5 hours walk away from Monkey Point, came to Carla at the clinic and begged her to come to his village to treat his 12 year old sister who had been bitten by a snake – not an uncommon occurance in this lush, jungle area.  Because she had no anti-venom at the clinic, Carla could not help, but she told him he must go home immediately and take the girl by boat to Bluefields, where she could get the treatment she needed to save her life.  

A week later Carla found out that the child’s parents had not had the money to pay for diesel and had tried to treat her with traditional herbal medicine instead. I knew that sometimes the boat wouldn’t be able to run as the sea was too rough, but hadn’t realised that cost was such a huge barrier for people too.  Most people do not have a boat, the next communal boat service might be a week away, and the cost of the diesel for this long trip is more than many families could afford.   Because the girl did not get taken immediately to the clinic she died 3 days after she was bitten.  Carla was devastated – she said that had she known their financial circumstances, she would have paid for the diesel herself.  But the freezer has given her hope “Now I will never have to hear such a tragic story of a life cut short for want of a simple treatment”.

On a (literally) brighter note, Carla also told me that the lighting for the clinic was really important – making treatment and procedures much safer.  She used to keep a wind-up torch in the clinic but it wasnt always easy to undertake procedures like treating a wound under torchlight, as you really need two hands.  Although most of her work generally takes place in daylight hours, as she explained, babies weren’t always conveniently born during the day!

Back to today, I was really sad to say goodbye to Carla – but so pleased to know that our small amount of support was able to make so much difference, and really impressed with hte determination Carla and her friends had to improve life for their village.  

Before we left, Daniel was persuaded into a "Monkey Point vs the World" football match, joining the project staff, the Ministry of Health worker and an American volunteer to take on the locals on their home turf (well – sand).  The game was fast and furious, often continued into the sea and seemed to involve an ever changing number of team members who were occasionally joined by children and the odd dog!  I never did ascertain the final score – I think the Monkey Point team were being kind by not pointing out just how many goals they got past our team – but suffice it to say that Monkey Point remain "world champions".

Eventually we could not put it off any longer – it was time to leave.  I was told to expect a "bumpier ride" and that turned out to be an understatement!  I mentioned before that the boat was small and the waves rough.  Imagine what looks like a large wooden rowing boat (but with an outboard engine), carrying 10 people, two chickens and various plastic sacks full of luggage.  As it got rougher, it felt like a particularly scary rollercoaster, riding up and over huge waves and getting soaked in the process.  At first of course this was simply inconvenient (getting wet wasn’t an issue – we knew we would dry off quite quickly in the heat of Bluefields, but some of us, me included, were starting to turn an unhealthy shade of green). But then disaster struck. The engine failed, and with no power the boat was being thrown around, with a real danger of being turned over by the now menacing waves.  The captain’s mate used an oar as a rudder to try and keep us turned into the waves and prevent us capsizing while Alan, the captain, worked to fix the engine. The swearing from this usually calm and polite man was chilling – even he thought we were in a bad way. And then we realised that without the engine, the self bailing mechanism wasn’t working – we were filling up, and fast! Shoes, jerry cans and hats were employed to keep us just above the water, until with a shout of "YES!" from Alan and a massive cheer from the passengers, Alan got us started again.  Exhausted and truly scared we laughed nervousely and hugged – it had only been a matter of less than 15 minutes but we all realised we were in pretty dire straits. We did have life jackets, but there wasn’t a lot of boat traffic in this area, so it may have been some time before we were rescued.

Although, as it turned out, we hadn’t fared as badly as the chickens.  With human life a priority, until we were safe no-one had had time to attend to the chickens who were too small to keep their heads above watere  – we thought they had drowned in the bottom of the boat.  Only after an hour of sun on their wings did they start to come round, though I supposed, only for a short reprieve as they were probably destined for the table.

Our experience highlighted to me how remote Monkey Point really is – today was by no means the worst weather the area experiences, so there would be many times when the ten hour walk was indeed the only connection with mainstream services.

What a day!  Its great to be back on dry land!