Building Relationships in Kenya
By Senior Master Sgt. Julie Avey, 104th Fighter Wing
/ Published December 12, 2016
Barnes Air National Guard Base -- Hearts and lives were touched by Airmen who traveled to Kenya on a medical mission, and the Airmen returned home to Massachusetts with a humbling experience.
The 104th Fighter Wing, Medical Group deployed in support of a medical outreach in Kenya as part of the State Partnership Program.
"It was definitely a humbling experience. It was an eye opener on how other people live and to see another culture. It was rewarding to be able to help those in need and to know we could put a few minds at ease," said Capt. Andrew Christo, a nurse at the 104th Fighter Wing.
The Massachusetts Air National Guard Medical Group Airmen treated over 2,000 Kenyan nationals and military members, the dental team performed 450 treatments ranging from extractions to fluoride and provided routine dental exams along with supplies to an additional 1,000 children and adults.
"I feel we strengthened our partnership with Kenya by going out and providing medical treatment to people who haven't had medical treatment their entire life," said Christo.
The Airmen of the 104th Fighter Wing provided basic medical care. They provided antiparasitic treatment to everyone who came through to see them as well as basic medical checkups.
"We provided antibiotics for infections, cold respiratory infections, and there were a couple of burn patients," said Christo. "They all live in small huts so a lot of times they will have a fireplace in the hut and accidents would happen or just a small child will knock over hot tea and get burned that way. Much like our emergency rooms."
"It was basic care but I feel like it made a big impact on their lives. We also made a lot of referrals out. A lot of patients would come in with cataracts or eye problems so we were able to refer to the appropriate services in Kenya."
Christo said there was a language barrier a lot of the time, but it didn't change the emotions.
"They wanted to come in for an assessment just so they could have that reassurance,"
Christo explained. "A lot of times there was nothing wrong with them but they had never seen a doctor their entire life. Just having a medical professional lay eyes on them kind of put their minds at ease."
The 104th medical team treated patients at three different sites. They saw newborn to 90 year old patients. Doldol was their first location and is a large village in an austere part of Kenya, far from any cities.
"We were there for three days," said Christo. "What they would do is tell the whole community within 30 mile radius that we were going to be there providing basic medical treatment. Kenya Defense Force would let the village know. People either would walk or we would drive out in jeeps to pick up patients who were unable to walk."
The 104th Medical Group averaged about 300 people per day.
"We got a high volume of patient experience we don't normally see," said Christo.
Lakipia Air Force Base medical treatment facility was the second location they treated patients.
"This AFB is a little different as they treat military and civilians alike," said Christo.
"Anyone in the local area can be treated there. Again they would let the surrounding area know they have extra staff. We worked alongside active duty Air Force and had a little more facilities where we could draw blood."
The final location the 104th served was the orphanage in Nairobi where newborns to young teens lived.
"We provided antiparasitic treatment, made referrals out to specialist if needed, and we were able to treat with antibiotics," explained Christo. "There were a lot of ear infections. In the orphanage they live in such close proximity to each other they had a lot of communal diseases. If one person gets a cold they would all get it. If you can imagine 50 to 100 people to a room all on bunk beds."
When asked what was most impactful Christo described the remote village as being the most impactful.
"The remote village- they were miles and miles away from any hospital. They have a basic clinic but it is very limited. People would go their entire lives, 70 to 80 years, without seeing any medical treatment facility."
Christo continued, "I think the dental care was the most significant treatment we provided for them. Think about it, if you have a tooth infection how much that bothers you. That affects your daily life."
"It was wonderful to be able to assist and provide medical treatment to an underserved population. It was a very rewarding experience. It was a lot of hard work but it was so worth it," said Christo.
The 104th Medical Group Airmen were also able to teach a five day tactical combat casualty care course.
Through SPP, the National Guard conducts military-to-military engagements in support of defense security goals, but also leverages whole-of-society relationships and capabilities to facilitate broader interagency and corollary engagements spanning military, government, economic and social spheres.
Massachusetts Air and Army National Guard conduct mutually beneficial engagements in support of defense security cooperation goals and work to strengthen its partner nation's domestic response capabilities.
The State Partnership Program is administered by the National Guard Bureau, guided by U.S. Department of State foreign policy goals, and supports theater commanders' security cooperation objectives. The program has been successfully building relationships around the globe for the past 22 years.
Kenya is Massachusetts' second state partner. The commonwealth formalized a partnership with Paraguay in 2001. Since its inception, the Massachusetts National Guard has completed more than 100 exchanges with Paraguay, ranging from humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to maintenance, emergency management, engineering, and Army and Air Force aviation.