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A Volunteer’s Perspective in Ethiopia

Author Amy Borgman (right) leads a provider training.

Author Amy Borgman (right) leads a provider training.

By: Amy Borgman

There is more to volunteering with Grounds for Health than the campaign on the ground, reaching “women at the end of the road.” Just getting there is half the fun and gives even more of a perspective of what is out there in our wide, wonderful world.

My 6 AM flight left sleepy Burlington airport and dropped me off at LaGuardia where I transferred to the Emirates Airbus, holding 600 people on two levels; the economy passengers separated from the other passengers by a staircase and velvet rope. This is good training for the next part of the adventure.

Ethiopia is a wonderful country. The capitol, Addis Ababa, is a large cosmopolitan city of several million people that spreads over many miles. But as you head south towards the Sidama zone where the campaign took place, you see a more rural vista. Roads become increasingly worn and traffic consists less of cars than of trucks, donkey carts (LOTS of donkey carts!), pedestrians of all ages and goats, cattle, dogs and chickens. A five-hour ride south gets you to Awasa, the city on the beautiful lake, and another three hours eventually gets you to the health center, where the campaign would take place.

I would say the health center has no running water, but that wouldn’t quite be accurate: since we were there in the rainy season, during the torrential afternoon rains we were able to catch water running from the downspouts into jerry cans. I would say it has no electricity but … well … it has no electricity.

It is amazing what a little ingenuity and lots of plastic sheeting and duct tape can do. Headlamps were worn by trainers and trainees to perform respectful and private exams. In addition, staff used water, chlorine and soap to perform High Level Disinfection of speculums throughout the campaign.

Since the idea of the Grounds for Health Model of VIA (visual inspection by acetic acid) is not only to screen and treat women for cervical cancer prevention and to train local providers to do the same, but also to be locally reproducible, everything that could be purchased locally was obtained locally. We all became experts in making swabbies. Give me a six- or eight-inch wooden stick and some cotton wadding and I’ll show you how!

The women eligible for the screening were between the ages of 30-49, had not been screened before (first time these mamas had ever seen a speculum), were not pregnant, and had not gone through menopause. They were amazing women, bravely facing this unfamiliar screening campaign led by a bunch of foreign strangers and remarkably young trainees.

I came away from this experience with great respect for the people of Ethiopia who showed me such warmth and kindness. I came home appreciating what so many of us take for granted—clean running water, electricity, access to transportation and communication. Thank you Grounds for Health for what you are doing. I am proud to have been a small part of it.

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