Here I am in Bossangoa, Central African Republic. A small-town girl, off on my second mission working with Medecins Sans Frontieres. My job here is with our outreach team, travelling to villages surrounding Bossangoa to provide healthcare to populations that have been affected by the ongoing unrest throughout the country.
Luckily, my colleagues here are very generous with their soap and shampoo, since I unfortunately arrived without my luggage thanks to a blizzard in Eastern Canada when I left for mission. (It has since arrived.) The team is great, and the work is abundant.
For my first blog, I want to tell you a story about a young baby boy and his mother. It’s a common story for the people I see on our mobile clinics around Bossangoa. I met these two on my second day out on mobile clinic in a village called Ouham-Bac.
Mum Pepe and baby Gerome at an MSF mobile clinic in Ouham-Bac © Ashley Sharpe
His name is Gerome. He is three-weeks-old. Brought to the mobile clinic we have set up in a school, his mother is holding him close, waiting for me to see him. I take one look at this baby and I instantly feel sick. I ask one of our volunteers to take him to a room so I can assess him while I see if there is anyone else who is critically ill we need to see before we leave for the day.
He is breathing very rapidly and working very hard. He is blue with respiratory distress. Oh how nice it would be if I were at home, when in an ambulance you can quickly put someone on oxygen. Unfortunately, our team, on the road, does not have this luxury. I have a listen, and it’s quite clear he has a severe pneumonia. We explain we need to take him to the hospital and his mother, Pepe, gathers what she needs to go to Bossangoa with us about 40km away.
I check on Gerome and Pepe in the hospital one week later, and he is doing much better. He spent almost the whole week needing oxygen, and had to be resuscitated once. Pepe tells me: “I was so scared, I thought I was going to lose him. I thank God you came and brought him to the hospital.” I try not to tear up as I think about this small baby fighting for every breath… Thinking about how he easily could have died on the two-plus hour drive to the hospital.
I ask Pepe about her home, which is about 10km from Ouham-Bac where we had our mobile clinic. She had spent two months living in the bush after rebels attacked her village, her aunt and uncle were both killed during the attack. She fled with her young child, her husband and was pregnant with baby Gerome. They had no belongings with them when they ran from the violence. She tells me she slept on nothing but leaves in the forest. No roof, no shelter, getting sick with malaria and drinking unclean water. As she recounts the story, I just think, Oh My God you must have been cold! Though no one at home believes me, it is quite cold here at night. I sleep with two blankets most nights. While it is hard to imagine that she was well enough to deliver a healthy baby after living in these conditions, Gerome made it into this world. Then at two weeks old, he began to fall ill. After one week of Gerome being sick, they made it to our mobile clinic and finally got to the hospital for treatment. He looks great today as I write this.
Baby Gerome after spending one week in MSF's care in Bossangoa © Ashley Sharpe
This is not an exceptional story, though it seems exceptional to most of us. The people I see in these villages every day have one that is similar.
The villages I work in are trying to heal. The population are coming back slowly from the bush where they have been hiding for their lives. The communities have been working hard to rebuild their burnt and destroyed houses, and trying their best to take care of each other. It’s a beautiful thing to see.