Marine Reach Fiji: Medical Outreach October 2016
Outreach focus: Dentistry, Primary Health Care, Education and Evangelism.
This account is my personal reflections from the trip, Rosemary.
We offered not only primary health care and dentistry but love and prayer. This could be felt both in the communities and the clinics and was certainly remarked on by our hosts. We also came with small gifts of clothes and toys. Although some walked out missing a tooth, I believe none walked out without gaining or receiving something and not just the stickers, hair grips, tooth brushes and bubbles (very popular to keep waiting children happily occupied). All gifts were received with thanks and humility. So although it seems that we could only see and care for so few we may have made a more lasting and memorable impression. Promises to return were made and we plan some follow up and handing out of reading spectacles in a month or so’s time.
Top Row: Paloma Schiess, Micaela Castiglion, Maree Sturkenboom, Genevieve Mullins, Joelle Yong, Arianna Griffith, Kayla Norris, Emma Dyvik Haugstvedt, Keira Chim, Silas Dyvik Haugstvedt, Jacob Dyvik Haugstvedt, Jonathan Dyvik Haugstvedt
Middle Row: Allen Hung, Kaba Rokovu, Rosemary Titterton, Alena Kelli, Sharon Edlin, Allison le Heux, Fay Manning, Isabella Lopez, Jonas Kühni, Isaiah Gonzales, Ane Dyvik Haugstvedt, Jason Chim, Ben Rokovu, Charlie Nainoka.
Front Row: Isabella Summerer, Cindy Chim, Zoe Chim, Andrea Lawson, Courtney Cox, Rowena Kang, Koto Setitaia, Deborah Grund, Meli Rokovu, Bjarte Dyvik Haugstvedt.
Chong Yong Lyu, Emma Rabbidge.
Two hours along the north coast of Viti Levu is the village of Drauniivi which is a large village with a population of around 700. Although it lies on the main road, it is still some distance for people to travel to hospital. There is a nearby primary and secondary school. Both head teachers had given us permission to come and visit their classes to do some health education or other activities with the children.
Before the Outreach began much preparation and prayer had been going on but now the truck was packed with all the boxes, draped with the tarpaulin and tied down tight. There had been occasions when the load had shifted and boxes fallen off the back. Not this time. The forecast was not good. Rain. Rain it did. Grabbing what spare umbrellas we could we climbed into the back of the “people truck”. I’m not sure how many it’s designed to hold but men, women and children with luggage climbed aboard. It was a surreal journey; because of the rain we had to keep the front and eventually the back tarpaulin down to stop spray coming in at the back and the stinging rain from the front sweeping through the truck so we had little idea of where were going. Most of us having just arrived felt we could be anywhere. Totally reliant on the driver we couldn’t see or talk to. So I think a few little prayers for a safe journey were made.
As the truck stopped there was a general rustling as we all dug out our sulus (long skirts for girls, just below knee skirts for the men) before we could to jump out. Though with a long sulu and flip flops its more of an undignified scramble. It was Fiji day and the village was still celebrating in the community hall. So we waited for a few hours listening to the drumming rain in one of the host’s front rooms, scattered about the floor and gradually spreading ourselves further over the floor to rest if we could. A little singing but mostly just resting. The house owner went out in the car to fetch 30 plus dinners for us all.
After a while a few of us followed Bjarte up to the community hall. At first I couldn’t understand why there was dirt on the back of my skirt. Then I realised. Flip flops flip mud up your back.
The Village chief was ready to receive us. The men were sitting on the mat covered floor around the walls and several others joined us in rows at one end. Ben went through the welcome ceremony, asking for forgiveness as newcomers: we were bound to break the village rules of propriety. The chief welcomed us with ceremonial cupped hand clapping. We were free then to take over the community hall but first we were to be allocated accommodation. House “mothers” from the nearby houses had volunteered to take 2, 4, 6 or even more and so we divided up. The men to stay in the hall.
To describe the nothing to something? The hall was bare, except for mats on the floor and some carpet. The kitchen had a sink with running, non potable water but no fridge and cooker. Water and electricity was available only in the morning. The entire clinic and kitchen for the next week is on the back of a truck under a tarpaulin under the at times pounding rain. After a quick assessment of what should go where, the blue ants got to work and within a couple of hours the clinic and kitchen were set up and food on the go. One of the hardest things to find being enough chairs for the doctors and their patients and 2 or 3 tables for the clinic. The dentist chairs come with the kit. Flush toilets (when water) were available first had to have a vigorous clean with disinfectant and a limitless pile of toilet rolls supplied. After the first day it had stopped raining sufficiently for things to dry out and our makeshift wooded pallet stepping stones became superfluous and even too dangerous to use.
Our host family was totally welcoming. Eight strange ladies sleeping on mats under a variety of mosquito nets requiring unlimited access to the shower and toilet, washing and washing line. Nothing was too much trouble. Welcoming us to their family devotion time each evening. Within that house beautiful hymns were heard each evening. Four of the household being members of the renowned church choir.
The day would be structured – according to THE SCHEDULE. A piece of paper taped to the kitchen wall. Each assigned household tasks through the week.
Breakfast grace at 7 am.
Leaders meeting at 8 am
Group worship at 8.15 am
The clinic started at 9 am
and so on our day was structured but of course not rigidly adhered to.
You grabbed a cup of tea and a biscuit and a little break whenever you could. The doctors, nurses and dentists often got pinned to their stations but didn’t protest. Each of us had to protect our own health a little by drinking enough, pausing and also being aware of skin contact with the children as ringworm and scabies are common complaints brought to the clinic and washing our hands often. Humour helped and we laugh and joked with the patients who surprising understood my humour or perhaps they were just being polite?
A lasting impression is that the young people willingly became dental assistants immediately. With a faint heart at the first bloody tooth-pull they remained standing at their stations, suction tubes in hand. I didn’t dare watch or go to that end of the clinic. Although I did draw blood! I was given the pins to take the blood sugar tests. A quick “don’t look at me, look out the window” – ouch and it’s all over except for the squeezing. Fortunately I didn’t have to attack twice.
Dental patients were gently guided to the chairs by the assistants and after to the recovery area, where they could chat or pray with the students, particularly Joelle, who because of her bad foot wasn’t going anywhere fast and volunteered to man the mouth hygiene station. The children had toothbrushes and crayons and bubbles and the company of the youngest members of staff. It was noted that those who had met with love and prayer were noticeably less tense. All knew they were likely to have a tooth pulled and with only a local anaesthetic.
I can say for the first hour that the clinic opened I just stood there bemused. Where to help? Certainly not at the dentists. Through lack of space there was little room to wait, sitting on the floor. Some control was needed as to who had already seen the nurses and were next for the doctor. We soon devised a system with short descriptions so that you didn’t have to keep asking patients for their numbers on their forms. Patients register, get a number, see the nurse, wait for the doctor all in the space of 6 square metres. All conversations open if you cared to listen although we tried to maintain as much privacy as possible. Eventually I could understand who was who within the matriarchal community and became friends with the local health care worker Vasenai. She did the first level triage outside and chased the children away when they got too curious and too numerous as they sneaked in to join children colouring in after care. A large tarpaulin outside under a roof of corrugate iron helped, providing an area to wait, for children colouring, mothers nursing and the general gossip groups.
The individual days are now indistinguishable so here are a few impressions:
I gave the excise classes. I was really helped by a previous member of staff who was a physiotherapist and has written comprehensive notes. This is one small way that this team shows its love. Everything is done to a high standard. OK we are in the field but we try to offer the patients a first class service. Eventually I realised that it seemed best to bring the exercises out into the waiting area on the tarpaulin, rather than hidden in a hot room elsewhere. The women were mostly willing to go through the stretches and exercises among others in the crowd who were their friends anyway. A few ladies also got my “no sugar” lecture which of course I don’t stick to either. How to change the habits of a lifetime and introduce more healthier ones?
I imagine that Camba must have felt that plagues of locust descended on the food. Our excuse was that it was so good we weren’t going to leave anything. The meals were a very very welcome respite and a highlight of our days when we had been so focussed on work. The routine of washing up with un-potable water was perfected by about day 3 and we hope none of the upset stomachs were the result of the washing up. 3 bowls of water are set up. The first bowl can be unfiltered but the next 2 filtered water with boiled hot water: the middle bowl with disinfectant. Snowy white tea towels washed daily for drying up. Stomach upsets seemed to pass through quickly although some of us had to take to bed all day even though it was too hot to sleep.
The buckets constantly running water through the filters. These were replaced by a delivery of over 30 boxes of Fiji Water – check it out – http://www.fijiwater.com. Sometimes its just who you know. They saw the need. Although its surprising how fast 36 boxes disappear. Pleased to know that Fiji water recycle their bottles.
The students going out into the community. Talking, taking time, offering prayer, visiting the schools. Each one has their own story to tell. I was only aware that something was happening around me and I heard some of their stories of healing and people listening to the word and accepting Jesus. There is follow up there through the local church. I enjoyed the singing and plays that they rehearsed and performed. I am thankful to them for the fun and enthusiasm. Actually there were some quite moving moments when the audience got involved with the story. Go Jesus!
The last evening the villages cooked a meal for all of us. The ladies of the village and our house mothers contributed, setting the meal up outside the hall. Fried fish – delicious, the prize piece I am told being the heads which I had left. This was followed by entertainment by the school children who bravely stood before us and sang and danced with a certain shy boldness in knowing they were doing a great job in entertaining. The youngest in a matching dress following her sister closely with every move.
Saturday on the beach. There are not many beaches along this part of the mangrove coast along the north of the island. Trying not to burn (again) in the sun but grateful for the blue sea and just to be able to relax and stretch in the relative cool water. We followed the maze of sand through the patches of glass-sharp coral, none of us went unscathed, reaching a lovely large patch of sand, chatting like bathers in a back garden hot tub. The water was only hip deep for a long way out and too far to wade out and too difficult to get through the coral to go for a “proper” swim. Friendships were made in that pool as we had all got to know each other through the week. The men cooked breadfruit on a small bonfire.
Sunday we all visited the host Methodist church just behind to the community hall. We had already heard the singing throughout the week and the service was led by their very strong choir. It didn’t matter the language, the harmony was beautiful. The collection for the children, I presume for Sunday school, is taken at the front, each child called out by name. The thank you speech in English was very sincere and I felt the connection between us and them.
The clinic and kitchen were already packed up and it was time to move. Back towards Lautoka but off towards the interior at Ba to the settlement of Veisaru.
We were joined by Koto and Alena from the other YWAM bases in Fiji.
Again the miraculous transformation occurred not only in the clinic, this time on a bare concrete floor we covered with the tarpaulin, but also in the church. The regimented pews were either stolen for the clinic seating or made into double beds and mosquito nets strewn across. I and the nurses took over the altar area although I don’t think that as we were closer to God that helped us sleep better. The mosquito play-pens for the two families were set up at the other end by the entrance. We had to put up frog defences at the doors as we wanted to keep all doors and windows open. Come evening, out come the frogs. They seemed to want to climb up. How they can target an open door in the dark I don’t know. The one mouse we saw was too frightened of us to be any trouble.
The kitchen was set up in the Pastor Sepesa’s house; the dining room their porch. They so generously opened their doors to us all and we came and went at will; the girls to the inside shower and toilet.
Days went as quickly and with the same routine but now a little more refined. There wasn’t been a welcoming ceremony as this was a settlement rather that a village. The population was more mixed Indo-Fijians and Fijians. The Hindu temple was right next door to the Methodist church. I think we all felt a little freer to come and go and explore here than before. Maybe we were getting more acclimatised. I watched the ladies of one family convert to Jesus over the 3 days in all the things that were going on around me on many levels. I pray that the family find their church family so that their faith can grow. So much to learn after that first step. I believe that they felt the love and acceptance we welcomed them with and they responded likewise with love and acceptance and embraced the love of Jesus.
Again, those who went out to talk to the villagers and visit the schools must tell their own tales. I stayed with the clinic still trying to organise who saw who. Still averting my eyes to the bloody end. I will repeat my admiration for all you fledgling dental assistants. You rock – I daren’t say “you suck” as indeed you did – but it gives entirely the wrong impression..
I am left with the impressions of the young boys proud of their new T-shirts and the little girls in their new skirts standing still long enough to have their photos taken. Thank you to all of you who donated “little things”. They meant so much there and then.
The final farewell was a grand affair with a combined service with congregations from the Methodist, AOG and the CMF churches meeting. I will remember the singing and dancing of the various teams, ours included. The music blaring the entire village awake. But no worries, they were all there or all the families we had seen over the past 3 days. We were sure the gods in the Hindu temple quaked. Meli surprising us with his talent for the meke. Before we left we prayed for our host Vakatawa Sepesa and his family in their Church.
Thank you to everyone for posting your photos on Facebook, as you see I have taken them to include in this newsletter without acknowledgement, I ask for your tolerance.
Marine Reach Fiji, YWAM