What Can We Do? YWAM’s Medical Ministry in the Dzaleka Refugee Camp
“The blood in Mama Joy’s body is a bit like the water in this flask,” I explained to the group, pointing to different levels in the flask to accompany each number. “Normal blood levels are 12 to 15, but Mama Joy is usually around 8 or 9, and she might feel normal at that level. When her levels are at 7, she might feel tired.” I point to a spot about 60% up the flask. “At 5 or 6 she has a fast heart rate and chest pain, but if she gets to 4, she will become unconscious.”
“That’s right!” said Desire, a YWAM staff member sitting across from me. “Her blood was 4 last time and she couldn’t leave the hospital even after a transfusion.”
“She wasn’t doing well when I found her” added Dorcus, another YWAM staff member, who helps lead the team’s disabled ministries in the Dzaleka Refugee Camp.
I nod my head, and then turn back to my flask to explain how Mama Joy’s body doesn’t make as much blood when she isn’t eating well, and that she may be losing blood somewhere.
“She was doing better when we brought her beans regularly” said Fallone, who has been helping to lead the team’s Medical Ministry for the past few months. “We weren’t very consistent last time, but if we keep bringing her healthy food, then she might not collapse again.”
I agree with the group, adding that bringing healthy food would be a great idea. The team discusses plans for a minute or two, then I return to my teaching. I use my opaque flask to show that we can’t tell the exact level of her blood without checking, but if we wait too long, she will eventually have a crisis like last month. I mentioned that we can check her often and ask about early symptoms, or we can take her regularly to the hospital just to check. “We don’t know why her numbers are low,” I concluded, “but we can expect that they will get low again and she will need a transfusion like last month. What can we do to take care of her before it becomes a crisis like last time?”
We sat in a circle, me and Greg, our friend Roberta who has volunteered with this team for years, and the YWAM staff who led the new medical ministry at the Dzaleka Refugee Camp. They discussed options for making sure that there were individuals available to give blood on a regular basis, they discussed who would check in on Mama Joy regularly, and who would bring her nutritious food. It’s only been a few months since we worked with Roberta to start a small medical relief ministry with this group, but already they are working with local resources to see what can be done in nearby clinics, and how to respond to emergencies.
Already this group has helped people get to the free clinics in the area, or taken them to higher levels of care. They have helped provide Swahili translators and some food for the patients, and now they were looking into preventive measures like providing individuals with a blood pressure cuff so they can monitor their condition after a stroke. We spoke about how we might use referral letters to help patients navigate the system, how to use What’sApp so that I could help consult on difficult cases and refer them to nearby clinics, and how we should review our procedures and our boundaries as we continue with a Medical Ministry where the needs will always outnumber the resources.
I wish that I could have shared this with myself from 18 months ago, when I first visited the camp and wrote my first reflection, which ended with just a string of questions (https://www.malawimillers.com/post/refugee-camp). I’m just starting to see the answer to those questions, questions like “What should we do?” and “How can we help without causing more harm?” The answer comes in the form of these talented Christians sitting before me, who live in the community and are dedicated to helping the most vulnerable. Each is using their talents, resources, and a small bit of donated funds monthly to meet some of the needs they see in their midst. We are all growing – they are learning more about medicine and stewardship of resources when it comes to medical crises. I am learning about how to share information in culturally appropriate ways. Through it all, we are witnessing how the church can be the hands and feet of Jesus in ways I never expected. I know that this is just a beginning, a drop in the bucket, but it is making a difference, and it is bringing hope.