I awoke to the sound of the alarm going off at 3am. I anxiously pulled myself out of bed, gathered my things, and made it to the jetty in the middle of the night for our 4am departure with Safari Doctors. We were departing with the tide, long before the sun was ready to shine on a new day. We packed Lamu and Hippo Dhows with essential medicines, food for the journey, and equipment to record this perilous endeavor. Then, we sailed through the channels as the sun slowly made its way onto the horizon on this windy July day.
We were a team of Kenyan doctors and nurses, Safari Doctor administrators, Village Experience donors, CNN reporters, and experienced sailors and crew taking off on a mission to visit six rural villages desperately in need of access to healthcare. Our first stop was Kiangwe, nestled next to the Boni Forest. The Boni Forest has recently become known as a safe haven for Al-Shabab fighters. This beautiful village has felt the lasting effects of terrorism. Doctors, nurses, and teachers fled this village years ago and refuse to return, leaving the village without access to basic education and healthcare. I was stunned to see the primary school now a bunker for the Kenyan Military. Trenches were built into the ground surrounding the rooms once used to educate the youth of the village. Heavily armed men were standing guard. Despite the rather hostile environment, our team got right to work administering to the hundreds of people waiting in line to be seen by the doctors. I’ve never witnessed so many young mothers and their babies in one place at one time, some of these mothers as young as 14 years old. They were here to have their precious children immunized against Polio and Rota Virus and to receive life saving medicines to battle malaria, worms, and respiratory infections. They were excited to be given mosquito nets, soap, and other hygiene products to keep their families safe and healthy. And many were here to receive education on family planning, as most of the 18 year olds in the village were now mothers of three to four children each. It was a long, hot day, but never before has the need for medical services been so apparent as when I sat and listened to the doctor, exuding love, generosity, and patience in his meeting with each and every patient. This was a village entirely dependent on medical sails coming each month, and beyond grateful that the world has not completely forgotten about them.
From Kiangwe, we set sail towards the villages of Mkokoni and Kiwayu. We spent the night on the dhow, exhausted and craving rest. In the morning, we rose with the sun and disembarked at the village of Mkokoni, a small fishing community. Mkokoni has one medical dispensary and a nurse, so the medical team had proper space in which to set up their clinic. They worked throughout the morning seeing patients, took a short break for lunch, and then sailed across the channel to Kiwayu to repeat the drill. It was incredibly encouraging to see people from near and far already lined up, awaiting our arrival, eager to participate and do whatever they could to improve the lives of their families. We spent the evening in Kiwayu meeting with families, buying fresh seafood from the local fisherman, watching the sunset from on top of the dunes, and living in gratitude for another successful day.
We set sail in the early morning hours towards Pate Island, the largest island in the archipelago. Our team set up clinics in the villages of Faza and Siyu. We were welcomed with open arms in each village and followed by joyous children running after us upon our departure. A feeling of overwhelming satisfaction enveloped the group at the end of the sail. We had not only seen hundred of patients, but had instilled a sense of hope in the communities we visited. A hope that our medical teams would not forget about them. That they would return over and over again until the day came when they would have their own medical centers and proper access to healthcare.
Safari Doctors is a non-profit based in Lamu, Kenya. It’s founder, Umra Omar, saw a need to provide healthcare in the most remote villages of her home and decided to work with The Ministry of Health, onsite community healthcare workers, international donors, and the local villages to create a network of support for those most in need. Safari Doctors embarks on medical sails whenever funding is available – typically every two months to ensure that children are receiving their vaccinations on time and that patient’s cases are being followed up. Umra and her team go where others dare not. They administer to those forgotten by the system…to those left behind. Umra and The Safari Doctors team have been nominated for a CNN Heroes Award. In fact, the video clip and interviews were recorded on this medical sail in July and are now online for the world to witness the great work of this organization.
The Village Experience is proud to partner with Safari Doctors and provide funding for these life-saving medical sails. I was so moved by the people I met in the villages, the dedicated doctors and nurses, the hardworking administrators, and the knowledgeable dhow crews. These people are true heroes. And I feel truly blessed to have been a part of something so special, so moving, and so necessary. It gives me faith in humankind…that we can defeat evil with love and compassion and every small act of kindness.
If you are interested in visiting Lamu firsthand to learn about the work of Safari Doctors or would like to donate in support of an upcoming medical clinic, please contact Kelly@experiencethevillage.com