I’m often asked why I support international aid efforts when we have need at home in the United States.
Given the fact I’m in a group of nearly 80 medical volunteers in Uganda as hurricane recovery efforts in Houston and Florida are underway, I’ll likely be asked that question again.
My answer will include a story about a little boy named Jeffrey.
His mom walked more than an hour with the 2 year old in her arms to a remote clinic staffed by the Medical Missions team. Little Jeffrey fell into a fire while his mother, Grace, was working in the field farming millet to provide her six children with something to eat. Her husband is no longer part of the family.
It was painful for me to look at Jeffrey’s charred little arm and listen to him scream at his mom, begging her to stop the medical team members from touching his hand.
Jeffrey’s situation was even more intense because his wound was at least a couple of weeks old. His mom didn’t have the money to get him treated until the Medical Missions team arrived and would do it for free.
“He has a circumferential burn,” said Jason Jonas, RN, clinic coordinator. “The wound now encircles his wrist and even his fingers. If Medical Missions Foundation hadn’t come he would have developed an infection and most likely would have died.”
Dr. Jane Jenab, an emergency room physician, quickly called Jeffrey into her exam room. Far from a sterile set up, the clinic doesn’t have any electricity or plumbing, so mission team members make do with what they bring with them and buy in Uganda. Since Jeffrey arrived first thing in the morning the team hadn’t finished unpacking their supplies (they had hoped to unpack the night before but couldn’t reach the village because the road had washed out in a rainstorm).
Jenab calmed Jeffrey with a reassuring voice while explaining to his mom through a translator that his situation was serious and he would need to go to a hospital. His mother reacted with worry. How will she pay for his treatment and food? Who will take care of her children at home while she stayed in the hospital with the baby?
“The need in Uganda is like nothing I’ve ever seen,” said Jenab. “The amount of effort they put in just to live day-to-day, the pain and discomfort they have to deal with is something we don’t have to face in the U.S.”
Jenab also volunteers at home, and like several members on this mission has been recruited to help in the relief efforts for Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
“My heart breaks for the people of Houston and Florida,” said Jenab. “I have family and friends affected by the hurricane in Florida. But my heart also breaks for Jeffrey.”
Jenab understands that Americans who volunteer in foreign countries don’t have to face an either-or situation.
“Our hearts and volunteer efforts can be in two places you know, we just can’t be in two places at once.”
The families Medical Missions Foundation treats don’t have access to electricity, let alone 24/7 CNN coverage, but the Ugandans who know about the hurricanes have offered heartfelt condolences and best wishes to the American people.
So when asked that inevitable and frank question as to why I travel to help non-Americans, I’ll tell them about this week in Uganda and imagine how grateful little Jeffrey and his mother must be that the American volunteers followed their hearts here to Africa.