Barefoot Free November

All this time later and still I have to look down at my feet as I stumble down & over the train tracks of Lakhtokia, struggling to hold my balance while avoiding glass shards, waste, nails, rusting metal and other discarded materials that line the homes of these children. I see my own clumsy feet, protected by sandals, but always my eyes drift to the feet of the kids holding my hands as we meander along. They are graceful and coordinated in comparison to me. After all, this what they have known their entire lives. Ever since learning to walk they've been left on their own to navigate the waste in their tiny bare feet. Often, as looks would have it, they probably learned what to avoid the hard way. Their feet, oh their feet. Very rarely do they have even sandals to protect themselves. Their feet are worn and rugged, tired at too young an age. Scarred with injuries old and new. Never do we hear them cry out in pain as they traverse the landscape but often we are shown new cuts and sores that need cleaning. It begs the question, shouldn't every child be able to walk without worry of injuring their feet? This pounds repeatedly in my head. The reality is that an injured foot prevents these kids from doing their work. It equals loss of wages, loss of meals and other basic necessities. The reality is that an injured foot is an opportunity for infection in an environment made of waste. The reality is that walking without sandals is one of the most obvious indicators of their socioeconomic status, opening them up for mistreatment and isolation. One pair of sandals equals love, opportunity and protection. One pair of sandals to each child, 43 pairs of feet measured already, one big goal. November is officially the month that Lakhtokia will go barefoot free.


34 New Smiles in Mount Frere, South Africa!

What a quick week it was in South Africa. It hit me very last minute that I was finally and unexpectedly heading to a continent I had been literally dreaming of!! As the plane descended into Johannesburg I could see the red earth I had read so frequently about and got filled with such excitement. Next I headed to the Eastern Cape to meet up with the rest of the mission team and off we headed on the five hour drive down to Mount Frere! The mission team was awesome, a small group that knew each other very well so I was a bit nervous at first but eventually I felt very comfortable and enjoyed the week so much! The hospital we were at was large and beautiful, well maintained and better than some state hospitals I have seen in the U.S. Screening was a breeze, there were quite a few patients there for palate surgeries who had already had their lips repaired previously and their results were beautiful. Then started 2 1/2 days of surgery. They were long days but managed to go by too quickly. I looked forward to every time I got to walk with a patient down to the post-operative ward because the room was just full of happiness. Sometimes I would arrive and the other families would cheer or shout in excitement for the newly operated child, there was always laughter and a sense of community despite the fact that the patients came from 3 different countries. There were three older boys that kept getting in tickle fights with me, they would play jokes on me, paint faces, and generally get up to mischief! It was such a fun few days, I found myself dragging my feet when it was time to leave. Even sitting here now it feels like a dream, it all came up and passed by so quickly! 

I am back to reality in India after having a weird flight home in which I responded to a medical emergency as we were landing and I lost my itouch in the process! No more instagram, text messaging, or fun things like that for me. 

How we weigh babies :)

The whole town of Mount Frere

Quite a luxurious recovery room!

Post-Op ward

Creepy park on the beach

Indian Ocean in Durban, South Africa

Rainbow over Durban


To South Africa, With Love

A bit over a week ago I was asked if I could attend a mission to Mount Frere, South Africa to fill in an urgent need for a recovery room nurse. I excitedly said yes and today I am already headed out for the mission. This is all so unexpected and it will be a very quick trip, I feel like I haven't even had time to mentally prepare. I am excited beyond belief and have been having really vivid dreams of being in Africa on a mission for the last year, so it feel s surreal as an actual trip to Africa has been nowhere on my radar! 

I am bringing nothing but a back pack, scrubs, a bit of clothing, a camera and hospital gear so things are going to be quiet for the next week. My plan is to fully focus on the mission at hand and disconnect from everything else. Mount Frere is sounding like it will be a small, fairly remote town though the hospital is described as wonderful and big! I still remember so clearly the excitement I felt almost exactly 2 years ago when I found out I would be going to Guwahati on my very first mission. I literally jumped up and down on my bed and cried, I was so beside myself with happiness. Little did know how the course of my life would change so purposefully (hindsight is 20/20.) I still get that excitement before every mission knowing what an incredible opportunity is being presented, not for me or the team but more importantly for the patients who may never have received these life changing surgeries otherwise. I believe so much in this organization and what it offers, how much it means and how much it can change someones life. 

As a testament to just that, this past week a young boy around the age of 13 travelled hours and hours  from their village to Guwahati with his younger brother who has a cleft palate. They came only with the village health worker, who is responsible for overseeing the whole group of patients from that trip (usually the groups are around 30 in size). No mother, no father, no grandparent or aunt or uncle. For some reason or another no adult was able to attend. Just the two brothers. Can you imagine traveling so far at such a young age, hoping to give your little brother a chance for change? The whole time he cared so lovingly for him. He rocked him in the recovery room right after surgery, fed him milk out of a syringe in the ward, and guided him around gently the whole week. The love exuding from him far exceeded what is normal for his age. What would it feel like to know you have to step up to bat in order to give your sibling a chance at a normal life? How far would you travel? What responsibility would you be willing to take on if you felt this surgical center was the only hope? Now take all of that, and think about having that opportunity only once in a year, or even less. No surgical center within a reachable distance. This could be someones only chance so here is to an amazing mission, thousands of miles and 25 new smiles.


Soap Making with The Nourish Collective

Have you ever met someone that after a few days together, you feel you've known for a lifetime? Well, I met a nurse on the mission in Silchar whom is exactly that! I knew of Melissa before meeting her from my flat mate so I was rather excited to finally get to know her! She is a part of a non-profit called The Nourish Collective and her project within the organization is teaching woman how to make soap for a trade. She has worked to create a whole soap making manual, community assessments, hand hygiene education and has traveled to a few different countries to teach soap making. She wasn't originally planning to come to Guwahati after the mission but her original plans got cancelled last minute, so her visit here was pretty much written in the stars. I was so excited to have her and two other friends from the mission over; to show them the surgical center, where I live but most of all the children! We trialed 3 different batches of soap and hope to some day in the near future collaborate to teach the older girls and young woman in Lakhtokia how to make soap for a small business!!

Can I just say that soap making is not easy, and it takes a huge understanding of oils, chemistry, local availability of products to make a good recipe, so there is a lot to learn. We made the first batch in my flat by using measuring cups instead of a scale and it did not work out so well! The soap is very brittle and powdery so I will probably use it as laundry detergent or for dishes if it doesn't turn out too oily. We reassessed after the first batch, and even convinced a local shop keeper to allow us to weigh the oils and lye on his scale. There was quite a crowd as we stood there for half an hour weighing it all out :) The next day we made batches 2 and 3 and I think we have a winner! It still has to cure for another 2 weeks but I just cut them into bars and it is looking pretty promising. I tested each ones suds-ability and was impressed with it!

More importantly, Melissa brought lots of soap from home (she holds the record for making the largest bar of soap in the world) and the kids are using it to wash their hands before eating on Sundays! They loved their 'sappon' and clean water this past weekend. They were all very cooperative and washed up first before getting in line for food then came back for another washing after eating. I love being able to incorporate hand hygiene into Sundays!

Here is to hoping for many future collaborations between Melissa/ The Nourish Collective which may or may not involve attempting to convince her to move here for a few months :)


The Mama Earth Project

I just wanted to take a minute to say thank you to the ladies over at The Mama Earth Project for making Pratyasha Foundation their Autumnal cause! The project is a collective of a few different amazing women who contribute articles on a range of topics. True to the name, the project is very down to earth and focuses on children/family/motherhood but not in a way that isolates those of us who do not fall into those categories :) I am going to be honest, there is something about visiting their page that makes me feel warm and comfy like curling up with a good read on a Fall day. Thank you to Elisabeth and all of the women over at Mama Earth for spreading the word about the kids over here, it means the world to us.


Honey Come Home

Never more than now has it felt more important to show love to the community of Lakhtokia...

Arriving home last week I made my way to the slum as quickly as possible expecting to see the homes rebuilt and all of the kids back in place. Instead I was greeted with glowing embers and fresh ash of the continued burning of the homes. Barb wire had been placed all along the perimeters of the community as the governments attempt to prevent rebuilding. My stomach dropped and twisted and my heart shattered into about one million tiny pieces at the sight of all of this.

I don't understand

I don't.

I can't.

In the most respectful way possible, I literally don't understand how this has been formulated as the solution to overpopulation and extreme poverty. To an economy that feels as if it could buckle under the weight of its people. There was most certainly a group of executives that gathered and decided to raze these homes and place barb wire. To push these families under the rug or sweep them aside. To make the unwanted feel even more unwanted, and I didn't think that was possible.

World, wake-up... this is not the answer! I will be the first to admit that I don't know what is but its been nearly a year since our lives have become intertwined down in the slum and any progress we have made has been due to unfaltering love and consistency. So maybe I do understand, how easy it is to make a decision when you don't know the very people it will effect. But I know them, and you reading this, you do. Every one of those children has a face to me, a voice, a name. We see the differences in them when their already unstable environment just gets spun upside down. Every one of them struggles already to survive, to be fed to be safe. Not a single one of them asked to be born into this. Never have they done something to solicit their very basic homes to be taken from them... never. I would beg and plead if I met the people who decide to raze the slums, beg them to know the children like we know. To step in with us on just one Sunday. Hold one hand, pass one meal. Play one game. I know that if they did that, they would begin to see how much opportunity there is in each individual child. How much promise there is in this community that is just learning how much the world can love them. They would see how we use their barb wire fence to create a safe haven for passing the meals and spending time with the kids. That no matter how much these families are told they don't matter, we will stand up and say "you do." 

I just want for all of my babies to come home, to continue to bask in the glory of Sunday meals and the consistency that comes with it. To know that we have not forgotten them, we have not asked them to leave. That still, all these months later, they do not have to ask us for our love. That is given freely and without strings or expectations. There is no more time to sit aside in inaction. There is no better opportunity than now to love the unloved with us, in whatever way you know how. 


99 Smiles in Silchar

We had an incredible mission in Silchar, Assam, India last week. I started by heading out there early to teach a CPR class and the mission was pretty non-stop from there on out. Silchar is a much smaller town compared to Guwahati and even though the surgical center I work at receives patients from this area, there were still tons of patients there! We screened something like 190 kids and adults and were able to perform 99 surgeries in 5 1/2 days! It was an international mission and I met so many amazing people, whom I hope to keep in contact with for a long time to come. It is so inspiring to me to be surrounded by volunteers who come from every corner of the world, give up their vacation time, personal time and work in crazy weather/conditions for these 99 kids. The heat index was 127-148... yes that's right, 148. There was a point on the first day of surgery that I was certain we would have to stop. I had never experienced heat & humidity to that degree!! The solution was more fans and praying for rain! Both came and the rest of the week was better from there.

This girl was one of the last five patients, she couldn't stop smiling!

 This man guarded the entrance to the OR area, he held a rather threatening stick. I'm thankful I didn't get whacked with it! 

 Our best attempts at making a 'serious' face

 The sweetest little lady! 

All photos compliments of Gary Wing Lee