KENYA — Driven by a desire to make a difference in the lives of the less fortunate and by a yearning to return to the continent of her birth, Kathy Goetz found the perfect vehicle in Canadian-based humanitarian group A Better World.
“I wanted to go back to Africa, but also to make a contribution to the people while I was there,” said Kathy, who resides in Lacombe, Alta., with her family. “I was born in Africa and lived there until I was nine years old. My parents were missionaries and I have many fond memories of growing up there.
”My memories made for great bedtime stories for my kids growing up. Once you have lived in Africa, it is a country and a people that will always remain in your heart.”
Kathy, and her daughter, Katie, joined more than 30 volunteers with A Better World to Kenya to evaluate projects, as well as help out.
“To share this time with Katie was the most precious part of returning to my homeland,” Kathy said.
Stepping off the plane in Nairobi, and travelling throughout Kenya, was like stepping back into the pages of her childhood, said Kathy. “Everything came back to me. The smells, sounds, sites, it was surreal.”
Kenya is a country burdened with extreme poverty and a deteriorating health care structure. In the Masai Mara region of Kenya, there are few medical clinics and the impoverished Maasai are affected the most because they have limited access to health services, information and preventative measures.
Living miles from medical clinics, they are either too poor to travel for the necessary help, or are not healthy enough to travel the distance by foot.
At a medical clinic in the Mara — supported by A Better World — tribal members flock to the clinic for free medical help from Doctors Elfred and Maralita Solis, from Kendu Bay in Kenya, who met up with the group in the Mara region.
A 15-year-old boy is diagnosed with Anthrax, which is not contagious and was contracted from eating contaminated meat.
Still another young boy, unable to walk because of a severe burn to the majority of his leg, is helped into the clinic by a family member.
An elderly woman comes in weakened by malaria. According to the World Health Organization, malaria kills about two million people each year and 90% of those deaths are in sub-Saharan Africa.
The boy with Anthrax and the woman with malaria are treated and expected to make a full recovery. The young boy ‘s burn on his leg is cleaned and patched.
But there are more serious health problems facing the remote Maasai tribe. AIDS, second to malaria as the biggest killer in Kenya, has touched them as well, says Dr. Elfred Solis.
According to the Kenya Aids Watch Institute, about 700 Kenyans die every day of HIV/AIDS.
In addition, because the Maasai are poor and have an inadequate diet consisting mainly of milk, blood and meat, there are many cases of brucellosis from infected or unpasteurized milk.
“It’s common,” Dr. Solis said.
Access to clean water is an issue and creates health problems.
“Typhoid is a problem,” he said, as well as tuberculosis.
Along with helping educate the Maasai children, and bringing health care to their community, A Better World, which is based in Lacombe, Alta, tries to give the people the tools they need to live a healthier lifestyle, like teaching them hygiene and encouraging them not to eat meat from animals that have died of natural causes.
At the eyeglass clinic, headed by Kathy Goetz, and her daughter Katie, the Maasai have their eyes tested and are supplied with glasses. Because of the dry and dusty environment, many of them suffer with continuous eye infections and the resulting cornea scarring, so eye drops are distributed to treat their infections.
But, even though the Maasai — who are known as the fearsome warriors — live hard lives in primitive conditions, they are quick to give a warm smile and seem to find happiness in the simplest things. And throughout the rest of Kenya, amid extreme poverty and unimaginable hardships, many of the people are gracious and friendly.
“The people in Kenya are so warm and welcoming,” Kathy said. “It never ceased to amaze me how happy the children were, especially the orphans and handicapped. I loved spending time with the kids.
“It gave me a whole new perspective on what is important,” she added. “In Canada we are very materialistic. Really, God, family and friends, and how we impact the world around us, is what is important.”
Indeed, volunteering with A Better World was just what Kathy needed.
“There is nothing like the feeling, at the end of the day, that no matter how small an act of kindness, that it did make a difference in someone else’s life.”