Clinic Blog: 2012 The Gambia Clinic Blog
May 27, 2012
Another OneSight Mission Accomplished
An unexpected Gift from Following a Dream
Eight years ago I read Paul Coehlo's book 'The Alchemist.' Simply put it is about having the courage to say yes to following your dream, no matter how difficult or frightening it may be. I decided to buy an extra copy to read on the plane ride to The Gambia as I was finally able to follow my own dream - a dream to come to Africa to work (as opposed to coming as a tourist). I thought I would give the book to someone else from OneSight to read on the plane ride back home. I wanted to share this wonderful book.
On our second day of clinic I met an amazing local volunteer from Brikama, Sillah. He was motivated, caring, and always ready to help. I found out he doesn't normally work at the clinic. He was off from his job and just wanted to help his community (to quote, "to stay home and do nothing would be boring"). I also found out he works at a book binding business and is starting his own commercial bus company - very entrepreneurial. I decided that before clinic ended I would give him 'The Alchemist' as a gift - although I imagine he is already living his dream.
When I worked in dilation on the third day. I learned a few words in Mandinka, including 'come sit here' and 'thank you.' I saw this young boy looking at me, surprised at my use of the local language Mandinka. I think he was curious about this white lady speaking his language and helping his people. I enjoy seeing curiosity. When he came around to get drops and sunglasses I took his picture and asked his name - 'Babuku.' I spelled it the way it sounded to me, 'Babuka' and asked him if he could spell it so I would have the correct spelling. He printed it in my notebook but his printing was probably the same as my 6 year old son. I guessed Babuku was close to nine years old.
The next day he came to clinic just to say hi to me. The following Monday he show up with a carafe full of tiny fish. He offered it to me but I declined because I couldn't take them on the plane. I asked and found out he is actually 14, he is a very small 14, he has 6 siblings and Babuku is the oldest.
Then I was really curious because his printing was not good especially for a 14 year old. He only understood a little bit of English so I asked my good friend and volunteer interpreter Sainey to help me. With his help I found out Babuku doesn't go to school. This made me very unhappy and it made me wonder what he would do with his life, if when he got older he would have a family and not be able to send his children to school. I asked him if he would come back on Friday to say goodbye. I told him I would have an American baseball cap for him. Friday turned out to be a public holiday for The Gambian Independence and I did not see Babuku all day. I wanted to give Sainey something for helping me communicate with Babuku so at the end of the day I gave him the baseball cap instead. Five minutes later Babuku showed up. Fortunately I was sitting with Sillah so I said hello to Babuku and asked Sillah to interpret for me. I was looking for a tiny marble globe that I always carry in my bag and I also had a nice engraved pen as well as the marble.
I said to Sillah, please tell Babuku that this special pen of mine is now his and it is for him to learn to write. And then I handed him the marble globe and said, tell him that when he has learned to write the world will be his. I listened to Sillah as he explained in Mandinka, and heard him say "Europe, China, America" when talking about the globe as there are no Mandinka words for the continents. Then I asked Sillah since they both live in Brikama can he check in on Babuku to see how he is doing (Sillah and I had exchanged email info earlier). I didn't want to ask anything of Sillah as he had already given so much of his time, enthusiasm, and talent, but I felt Sillah would want to do this. He said he would and told Babuku that this was what would make me happy.
Now I feel the world is truly his because I know Sillah will be Babuku's mentor and I couldn't think of a better person to take on such an important responsibility. It was truly a gift to meet both Babuku and Sillah who both taught me so much. When people say coming to a OneSight clinic will change your life this is what they are talking about. Alix
Our ONESIGHT adventure ended as we boarded to return home. While flying, I began to really look back and began to think of all the highlights during our time in The Gambia giving the gift of sight and building sustainability. My favorite highlight was I had the privilege to go on a remote clinic site in the city of Basse with 4 other team members and students from different areas in Africa. Our journey began with a 6 hour ride and at times bumpy due to unpaved roads. Our adrenaline was racing as we were eager to help the people of Basse. When we would arrive to clinic, there would be hundreds of people lined up to seen. Our goal was to help as many as we possibly could but there was an ache in my heart as I knew it would be impossible to help the whole city with the amount of us there and only 3 clinic days before meeting up at our other clinic. There I also learned a new definition of passionate because there was one person who really inspired me. He was a local surgeon there named Pomodou who would help the people in Basse and in remote villages surrounding the small town. During a conversation with him, he told me that he declined a scholarship to attend college in the states in fear of never returning back to Gambia. He said he knew people who had left to the states and due to having a great lifestyle and basic needs, they never returned back to Gambia. He was so devoted to help as many people as he can for as long as he could by performing surgeries or exams. He is a very special person and I am a better person just for knowing him.
We are flying over the Atlantic Ocean, about to land in Newark. We have said goodbye to our European family and will soon disperse for our final legs home. Has it really been two weeks? It seems like yesterday and yet it also seems like forever since I kissed my family goodbye.
Being on a Onesight mission is like being a parent. You don't really "get it" unless you are there. I learned that after my first mission to India in 2010. It is an experience that all the stories with the best adjectives in the world cannot begin to describe. We as a team have been immersed in the sounds of the villagers as they live their lives and try to communicate with us in several languages. (and tolerate the snickering from them when we try to learn phrases) We have experienced the emotional exchanges between parents and children, patients and team members, volunteers and their community. We have cried with each other when we witnessed the miracle of new sight, and the tragedy of preventable blindness. We shared the smells of burning wood on the drive to clinic, and spices that linger on our patients clothes . We could never have shared this adventure without the love and support of our loved ones . Hopefully, Lisa's and the team's amazing writing has brought it to life for you. If given a chance, I would do it year after year . I hope that our journey has inspired some of you to consider putting yourself in our shoes. (lol- if so take an extra pair........ the locals really wanted our shoes :) "Thank you" sounds so inadequate for all that you have done for us to be here. One of my favorite sayings is:
Don't just go out in the world and do well.....
Go out and do good.
Thank you for enabling us to do that :)
Yesterday was our last day of clinic. As expected there were many people that we had to leave behind without being able to see but the beauty of the sustainable clinic model is that the students and volunteers are now more capable and knowledgeable in serving their community in their Eyecare needs. Throughout the day we took the time to have our clinic t-shirts signed by our Gambia 2012 teammates as well as the students and volunteers. We captured photos of our favorite volunteers to remember their beautiful Gambian smiles. They have taken a very special place in all our hearts. Polly quite often threatens us that the last person to arrive for meetings or debrief after clinic will have to sing their countries national anthem but somehow we were always happily early to get our clinic day started so no one had to perform. Just before debrief on yesterday our last day with our new Gambian family we all experienced an extremely special moment. There was a moment of silence that was broken when Sillah softly begin The Gambian national anthem. He sang all the way through and touched us so deeply. As I looked around the room I knew that this was definitely a profound moment in not only our Gambian experience but in our lives.
My experience here in the Gambia has been more amazing than I could ever have imagined. The Gambia is otherwise known as The Smiling Coast of Africa and I would whole heartedly agree. Everyday at clinic it was incredibly hot and humid but the local people came from miles away with flashlights in the early morning hours to be there with us for many hot hours on end. Each and every moment of every long hot day Team Gambia 2012 continued to keep their cool while sweating more than you can imagine as well as their smiles. The unity and feeling of being a OneSight family was and will continue to keep us smiling for many years to come. We leave The Gambia tomorrow feeling extremely proud of the quality of service we have provided. We will miss our new OneSight family members but are anxious to see what the further holds for all of us and especially hopeful that one day we will meet again in the next part of this big beautiful world that OneSight takes us to on our next adventure. Our definition of success for this particular mission is not in a number it that we have left the country of The Gambia better for having been there and touched peoples lives.
'Wisdom is like a baobab tree; no one individual can embrace it' Gambian proverb
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About the Clinic
2012 The Gambia Clinic Blog Clinic
A team of OneSight volunteers and doctors will provide free vision care and eyewear to those in need.