I was lucky recently to be a part of a team that visited a remote island off the northwestern coast of Sri Lanka as part of a prenatal and postnatal health camp.
The camp was supported by a Rotary Foundation Matching Grant initiated by my club, together with the Rotary Club of Colombo Fort, and our international partner, the Rotary Club of Newtown, Pennsylvania, USA. My trip with three other Rotarians, a Rotaractor, and a prospective Rotarian for the “mother and child” health camp began at 4:45 a.m. in Colombo.
We reached Jaffna, the northern-most city in Sri Lanka, by 9 p.m. via the infamous A9 highway, which used to be partially controlled by rebel forces during Sri Lanka’s 30-year civil war.
A half-hour boat ride, standing up, in pitch black over open seas brought us to Delft Island.
Before we could call it a day, we still needed to complete all the ground work, sorting and delivery of medicines, banners etc., for a bright and early start the next morning on five hours sleep!
But this being the fourth out of a series of five health camps, and almost the 15th in our club’s 10-year history, we knew the challenges. And these challenges come with pleasures words cannot fully describe.
With the assistance of the Sri Lanka Navy, we set up the makeshift pharmacy, arranged the medicines, and prepared the patient registrations and doctor’s consultation areas, all within 30 minutes.
As soon as the gates were opened, mothers-to-be and mothers with infants and children started pouring in to register themselves for a meeting with one of five volunteer doctors from the Jaffna Government Hospital.
The first challenge was communicating with the Tamil-speaking mothers at registration and in dispensing medicine from the pharmacy. I was pleasantly surprised, though, that one of our Rotarians and her guest Rotaractor were able to communicate and translate.
The second challenge was reassuring everyone that there were enough medicines to go around. Everyone who participated received multi-vitamins, folic acid, iron tablets, worm treatment and other prescription medicines handed out under the supervision of a registered pharmacist who also volunteered his services with us.
What a treat it was to see poor and malnourished mothers-to-be and children receiving access to free doctors’ consultation and medical care. Our supply of medicines worth roughly US$3,000 enabled us to treat more than 500 residents by noon. We donated further medicines worth $1,000 to the only government dispensary on the island, to be used for ongoing prenatal and postnatal care.
All participants over 30 years old also had their eyesight tested, and over 200 prescription reading glasses were issued for free. It is a phenomenal feeling when you see the expressions on the faces of the recipients who now have improved vision.