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Facing Africa – Heather’s Diary - Part one

By: Mölnlycke Health Care, October 31 2014Posted in: Corporate news

Every year, Mölnlycke Health Care sponsor the charity Facing Africa by donating our products for them to use on their surgical missions. Founded in 1998, Facing Africa currently funds and organises two teams of highly skilled and experienced volunteer surgeons to carry out 2 annual missions to Ethiopia to perform complex facial reconstructive surgery on the victims of the disease Noma. Noma (Cancrum Oris) is an acute and ravaging gangrenous infection infecting the face. The victims of Noma are mainly children under the age of 6, caught in a vicious circle of extreme poverty and chronic malnutrition. Estimates claim that 80-90% of Noma cases die from the disease, but even those who are lucky enough to survive it are left with the unsightly, painful and debilitating ravages of this dreadful disease. Facing Africa is dedicated to reconstructing survivors’ faces and giving them back their smiles.

This October, Facing Africa invited our Account Manager Heather Stead to join them on their mission to Ethiopia. Here’s how she got on….

Friday 3rd October:

We all meet at Heathrow.  I travelled down with Eloise who is an Advanced Nurse Practitioner in Birmingham, and we had met a couple of weeks prior to the trip for me to ask her what to expect from the mission.

I am introduced to the team over a coffee and we wait for the boxes to arrive. There are 3 Surgeons, 2 English and one Dutch.  One is Max Fac and two are Plastic Surgeons. There are 3 Anaesthetists, a Scrub Team and Nurses that will work on the ward.

An hour later, boxes start coming through the doors. The boxes have been broken down and distributed to 25kg. Ethiopian Airlines allow a luggage allowance of 44kg, so we all take a suitcase and a box for check in.

We fly overnight and land in Addis Ababa at 6am Saturday morning

Saturday 4th October:

As we step off the plane, we are immediately faced with people dressed in white coats and face masks, taking our temperature. Ethiopia is already taking measures against allowing any Ebola into the country. Once through immigration (which takes a while), we all meet with Chris Lawrence and his wife Terry. Chris is the Chairman & Founder of Facing Africa, and he and Terry live their lives raising money and organising these missions. They go out twice a year with two separate teams, one in October and one in January.

We walk out of the airport and so far, it looks as you would expect anywhere to look. No signs of dirty tracks and mud huts. The weather is pretty much the same as in England. We are 7,500 ft above sea level, so it’s not as warm as you would expect. The average temperature throughout the year is about 25o C.

I am now 2 hours ahead of UK time, but in Ethiopian time, I’m in 2007 and the time is 12 noon. Here, they live by the Julian Calendar which has 13 months, although the 13th month is only a week long. Due to their extra month, they are currently 7 years behind the rest of the world and celebrated New Year only 3 weeks ago! Technically I am 7 years younger – bonus!

We make our way to the ‘taxis’. Taxis are a row of Ladas that look as though they should be in a scrap yard, and definitely wouldn’t pass an MOT! Apparently, you are fortunate if your taxi makes it to your destination without breaking down!

Chris has organised us a couple of mini buses (which are interesting, but look like they will probably make it to the hotel at least)...

Within 5 minutes of our journey, whilst sat behind several donkeys carrying bales, I notice two men, who are holding the front legs of a sheep and are ‘walking’ it down the road on its back legs! As I turn and look out of the other window, there is a large herd of goats. I then realise that they have strung one up and as we drive past, they slit its throat! Over the next few days, I learn that these ‘pick your own goat’ stops are very common, and everyone around me finds my reaction amusing. They have seen this before but to me, this is something quite new!

We arrive at our Hotel, which looks OK from the outside. There are 2 door men (often there are several people doing one persons job, purely so that they can give more people a job).

My room is interesting. It’s not as bad as I originally thought it may be, and it has a bed and a shower – ish (more of a cold trickle). The window in the bathroom does not meet the wall, so I have a 5 inch gap. I do have a balcony, and as I stand outside, an Eagle lands on the telegraph pole and in the distance you can see 3 others circling (I learn over the next few days that they are circling over the slaughter house).

The main road is very busy, with lots of building work going on. Over the road is a new build with eucalyptus used for scaffolding. Health and safety are not a priority and there are many deaths from falling from these buildings.

It is now 3:30pm in Ethiopian time, and we are about to have breakfast (to us, it’s about 9:30am). The continental breakfast consists of a choice of bread with jam or porridge with milk .

My worst nightmare – no English tea. Ethiopians drink coffee. It’s the only thing that they do, and those that know me well know that I am a tea addict! I manage to get a ‘kind of’ tea, which has a cinnamon taste to it and when I ask for milk, I get a rather confused look. When we finally get them to understand that I would like milk, they bring me over a full cup of frothy milk from the coffee machine, with a tea bag in it. I shall get used to black tea.

Check back to find out how Heather got on when she met facing Africa’s patients at the Cheshire Home…..

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