For 20 years, retired Social Security Administration Paralegal Specialist Shirley Long traveled the world with the goal of visiting all seven continents. After achieving that, her new plan was to have an immersive experience in one community as a volunteer and return each year for two to three weeks. She chose Global Volunteers’ Reaching Children’s Potential Program (RCP) in Tanzania, where she was assigned to assist medical staff at Global Volunteers’ general clinic. By the second week of her service, she had already registered for another service program five months later. Days before her departure from the village, she met a young boy who was clinging to life. Worried, she asked to be kept informed of the boy’s condition while she was back in the States. Read Shirley’s story here.
By Tanzania Volunteer Shirley Long
There is nothing quite like seeing firsthand a three-year old who is severely malnourished to realize how critical the Global Volunteers support is in the lives of Tanzanian villagers. That was my experience while serving as a volunteer with Global Volunteers in Ipalamwa, Tanzania in August 2021. I had gone with a team of RCP Caregivers to one of the local villages to help do their monthly measurements of the children participating in RCP and to deliver food and vitamins to their families.
We were just finishing up when the Caregiver Manager with us became aware that a boy, Isaack, was extremely ill and needed to be taken to the Ipalamwa General Clinic (IGC) which was built by and is operated under the auspices of Global Volunteers. The boy and his mother, Grace, had been participating in the RCP Program since he was nine months old, and he had been doing okay. But, the family struggled financially. Then, when Isaack turned two, his mother stopped breastfeeding him and he no longer was getting adequate nutrients.
The RCP Program centers around the first 1,000 days of life – babies in utero to age 2. Caregivers (who work like social workers) with volunteers provide garden boxes supplying micro-nutrients, handwashing stations to help insure health, and teach a wide range of maternal and child health and nutrition classes to parents over nearly three years to enable them to continue these lessons when their children reach their second birthday. Ever since Isaack turned two, however, his nutritional intake was insufficient and his health had declined. Without regular contact with the RCP Caregiver, his condition had become severe. When the village Caregiver learned of this and alerted her manager, they immediately gathered the village leader, a community health worker and Isaack’s extended family – and dispatched Global Volunteers’ driver to take Isaack, his mother and his grandfather to IGC. From the front seat of Global Volunteers’ four-wheel-drive jeep on the trip back to Ipalamwa, I turned and looked at Isaack on his mother’s lap behind me. I was shocked to see how badly swollen his face and hands were, the only parts I could see because he was in a body suit. I could not even see his eyes. We were all anxious to get the toddler to the clinic quickly so the doctors could examine him. That was the last time I saw him until March, 2022.
The IGC doctors recognized that the lack of proteins in Isaack’s body was causing the swelling and referred him to the nearest hospital in Ilula, which examined him and sent him to the Iringa Referral Hospital by ambulance where he was treated for Severe Acute Malnourishment.
The (Literal) Road to Recovery
Isaack remained a hospital inpatient for two weeks and spent more time with extended family in the city as an outpatient. He received services of a nutritionist who provided milk with extra nutrients to speed up his recovery. During this time, it came to light that Isaack’s father had discontinued the meager support payments Grace had been spending on food for her son and herself. Yet, he subjected her to superstitious beliefs that had prevented her from accepting traditional medicine which would have prevented her son’s rapid decline. As a result, she felt abandoned, alone, and depressed as Isaack became sicker by the day. Eventually, she was unable to cope, and came to the attention of the RCP Caregiver. In Iringa, away from Isaack’s father, Grace was able to follow the doctors’ orders. Further, she was provided psychotherapy, which also included counseling for immediate family members. Global Volunteers provided Isaack and his mother fortified meals donated through their partner Rise Against Hunger. These are the meals they had received until Isaack had reached age 2. Her home village came forward with fundraising to support them with supplemental food and connected them with government services for at-risk children under age five.
If it wasn’t for Global Volunteers, Isaack may not have been rescued. The organization provided emergency meals, free transportation to Ipalamwa and Ilula, and helped pay medical bills. RCP Caregivers took action immediately to engage the community leadership in the medical emergency and continuing support.
Meanwhile, the ongoing pandemic delayed my return to Tanzania until March, 2022. But, when the Global Volunteers driver picked me up at the airport, I learned that a healthy Isaack and his mother were waiting for me in Iringa, I was thrilled! There they were, standing outside the Lutheran Center where the team rests before the trip up the mountain to Global Volunteers’ partner villages. Isaack looked wonderful and happy as all children his age should look! It was obvious he had been able to get the kind of treatment that he needed before it was too late. And Grace and her family have pledged to continue the health and nutrition practices they learned in the RCP Program. They feel stable, cared for and respected.
Isaack was very lucky to have had the wonderful Caregivers from Global Volunteers serving his village and they recognized he needed urgent medical care I am sure this is not an isolated case, as there are five villages with 750 families receiving services of RCP Caregivers. The sad reality is more Caregivers are needed to be able to make the weekly visits the program calls for and that is why I am hoping the folks that read this story will be inspired to make a donation to Global Volunteers so they can provide the much-needed RCP Caregivers and other services available at IGC. That’s why I support the program and will return every year.