Zimbabwe by Lindsay Higgs, RN

Imagine a cool crisp breeze; cool enough for one to need a sweatshirt but warm enough to enjoy an evening outside with a blank page and a pen. Specks of dirt kept getting in my eyes, as I would look out into the distance watching the children play. Children’s screams and laughter filled the air in the background. Conversations in the language of Shona took place around Rachel and me. I could see every star in the sky. Clear as if I was using a telescope. We were gathered at the top of a mountain in the small village of Chipinge, which is about six hour east of the capital of Zimbabwe, Harare.

img_5758Nurses for the Nations was the organization that sent me to Zimbabwe to work alongside the African Development Mission Trust to serve in the indigenous village of Chipinge. I traveled with one American nurse, Rachel, who also spent time preparing for the trip with Nurses for the Nations. Resources are scarce in Chipinge including lack of water and food. The closest medical clinic is miles away at the foot of the mountain. The residents of this village walk miles daily to fetch water and cornmeal.  The term “Kudengezera” is used to describe the action of women carrying gallons of water on their head without holding the basin. This was a common site to see in the distance. Cornmeal is an everyday meal due to its pricing and easy preparation. It is typically eaten with bare hands. It reminded me of a mixture between mashed potatoes and rice. Each day is a challenge for this community. The people of this community have overcome much heartache and devastation financially and emotionally. Despite the trials, we were greeted with an abundance of love and gratitude. We were greeted with service. Although we were arriving with medications and helping hands to assist with a primary care clinic, the residents of Chipinge supported us with open arms and helped in every way possible. It was a unifying effort to prepare all medications and clinic set up.

Each morning started with an arranged teaching by Rachel and me. Because we provided primary img_5732care medications such an NSAIDS, antibiotics, and vitamins, it was essential to educate the members of sustainable changes they can make to maintain a healthy lifestyle upon our departure. Teaching materials included basic hygiene techniques such as effective hand washing and bathing. In addition, hypertension was discussed with efforts of spreading knowledge relating to prevention and management. We worked with a translator to help facilitate teaching. Once teaching was complete, we divided the men in one location and women with children in different location. Each patient was assessed with vitals signs and basic information was gathered. Once the initial assessment was complete, patients would visit the treatment area where one American nurse and one Zimbabwe nurse evaluated the patient. The patient would then take their medical chart and deliver it to the pharmacy. Inside the pharmacy, multiple volunteers worked endlessly to package medications according to prescriptions alongside teaching the patients about the medication management. The clinic operated for three days.

In three days, 782 patients were treated.  Out of those 782 patients, many left a lasting impact on our hearts. For example, malaria and HIV testing were performed at the end of each clinic day. Watching the faces of fear during testing was unforgettable. Many residents were uneducated about HIV and malaria risks; therefore, adequate information was given about causes and treatment. A memorable moment occurred when Rachel and I had much difficulty obtaining blood samples from patients’ fingers for testing purposes. The people of Chipinge are such hard workers that their hands have become callused and the needles could not pierce their skin. When patients were informed that they were HIV negative, tears would fall from the precious eyes of the residents. HIV is common within the small towns of eastern Zimbabwe and has taken the lives of many loved ones as told by stories of the villagers. Each person was filled with gratitude as we assessed and treated the illnesses. Not only did we treat medical problems, but also prayed and encouraged these families. We spent time exchanging smiles and hugs. Although language barriers were present, that did not limit our connections and relationships being built.

While serving, we became close with the Zimbabwe nurses and team members. Nursing in Zimbabwe is much different as a career compared to nursing in the United States. Pay is significantly less and resources are insufficient. These nurses were intelligent and instinctual. They were invested in helping Rachel and me serve this community of Zimbabwe and operated as major assets to our clinic. They helped translate to the patients to make sure their interpretation was correct regarding diagnosis and treatment. The team dynamic was unified and cohesive.

Volunteering in Zimbabwe was unlike any other mission I have served. It was challenging. Although many resources were limited, it did not inhibit the opportunity for growth and change within my heart. Each night we experienced the most filling dinners with laughter and cheer. We reflected on each day with gratitude and ended each conversation with great expectations for the days to come. My heart changed in Zimbabwe. My perspectives were improved with wisdom and insight. My greatest reflection piece is in regard to the strength of the community members.

lindseyOn the final day we attended a church service, which took place under a tree. Some members sat in the dirt. The only instrument present was a drum. Everyone gathered singing praises with the most joyful attitudes. The topic of the sermon was about service. Although the residents of this town may not have much, they still encourage each other to serve daily and to give of themselves often. It left a lasting impression to be in the presence of such kind and selfless people. As we were present to assist them, they were constantly aiding and helping us in return despite the challenges they may have been facing.