That’s Swahili for “hello,” and it is a phrase I relied on last summer as I visited Bungoma, Kenya, on a medical mission with three other students from Western University’s College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific Northwest. We planned the trip between our first and second years of medical school, excited to pursue our passion to help others and to learn about another culture. We got more than we ever hoped. We worked at Machwele Friends Clinic alongside a doctor and nurses providing family care and planning for the more than 20,000 residents of Bungoma. A typical day at the clinic consisted of vaccinating newborns, educating mothers, and caring for patients with a variety of ailments.
We treated patients with diseases ranging from malaria to HIV and dressed the wounds of those with cuts, burns or tropical ulcers. In one day, I cleaned and dressed the head wound of a man with polio who was hit by a bus; I cared for a feverish infant with severe malaria; and I comforted an elderly woman with chronic abdominal pain.
"I never imagined that I could travel halfway around the world and find myself right at home."– Corby Makin '12
Gaining the trust of patients in their most vulnerable moments and offering treatment, guidance, or just a listening ear, was one of the most meaningful experiences of my life.
We also had the chance to visit the Makutano primary school, which serves 1,200 kindergarten to eighth-grade students. We joined in games of soccer and answered students’ questions about the United States. And, we were swarmed by a sea of happy, energetic children as we joined them at their one shared recess.
Along the way, we also had the chance to experience life in Kenya. Our host family, the Nasiombes, made us comfortable in every way, especially with meals of fresh chicken, corn and millet that still make my mouth water in memory.
The father, Meshak, was our interpreter at the clinic, our guide when we hiked, and our muscle when we bargained at the local markets. He was crucial in breaking down the language barriers and allowing us an authentic experience in his
He also showed me the agriculture that sustains Kenya’s economy. He started out as a butcher but now makes a living on his farm. I grew up on a cattle ranch in eastern Oregon and saw many similarities between Meshak and my father. I never imagined that I could travel halfway around the world and find myself right at home.
My fellow students and I hope to continue visiting our new friends in Kenya and to start a nonprofit organization that would collect medical supplies for the clinic in Bungoma and would create an opportunity for other medical students to volunteer abroad.
"Kusafiri ni kujifunza – Traveling is learning"– Kenyan Proverb
Immersing myself in Kenyan culture was a humbling experience, and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to provide care for these people. The experience solidified my desire to become a physician and has motivated me to keep serving both my local community and those around the world. ■
Corby Makin '12
Pacific University Experience
- Chemistry Major
- Baseball and handball player
- Volunteer with SMART (Start Making a Reader Today)
- Special Olympics bowling coach
This story first appeared in the Summer 2014 issue of Pacific magazine. For more stories, visit pacificu.edu/magazine.