All posts by Simeng

Songhai Health Fair 2014

Katie & Sam (again)

Today a group of 6 students put on a health fair for the local community that addressed some health concerns that the Beninoise people face on a daily basis. Some of the topics included: sprains, cuts, burns, diarrhea and how to make a first aid kit. The health fair took place right after mass in the day care room, which is a small open room with a roof made from dried palm leaves.  As we asked the staff how many people we should expect to attend, the number varied anywhere from 20-400. Looking at the small room, it was hard to imagine 400 people crammed into such a small space. The health fair group made flyers that Torunn translated into French for people to have. As the fair went on, we roughly 100 people attend. A good number considering this is the first year the fair has taken place.

Sam and I were in change of sprains. We taught people the R.I.C.E (rest, ice, compress, elevate) acronym but it did not translate very well. We brought ACE wraps from Gonzaga, but also taught people how to make ones out of cut up t-shirts. As the health fair went on, we received a lot of questions not related to sprains. Such as, how to preform CPR, what to do if someone is unconscious, and how to take care of a nose bleed. We answered the questions to the best of our abilities, but we felt uncomfortable giving medical advice.

For me personally (Katie), teaching at the health fair made me very excited to pursue my dream of becoming a nurse. Being able to help the Benin community, in any way possible, gives me motivation to work hard through nursing school over the next two years.

As for me (Sam), I’m pleasently surprised what I learned in nursing school has been retained! I’m just kidding but like Katie, it motivates me to study harder in school. It’s a different type of environment than nursing clinicals in the U.S. but I am reminded that my role as a nurse is still the same.

Tomorrow we are putting on two different health fairs for the Songhai administers and interns. We will update you on what happens next! Pictures to come!

Your Hand In Mine

Sam and Katie here,

Today marks our half way point in Benin. Everyday is a new adventure, which brings new stories and encounters with the people we meet. Yesterday our group went to the village of Zoungbomey, which means “In the big forest”. It rained all night long and unlike the U.S., the streets here are made out of dirt. Between avoiding giant pot holes and mini lakes of water, it made driving very difficult. Our driver is driving 14 people around in a white Toyota bus that clinks at any bump in the road. Katie was getting ready to push the van in the mud when our driver got stuck on the way to the village. Luckily, he knew what he was doing and we didn’t have to leave the van. To say the least, our bus driver is a CHAMP! Although a couple of times, Katie and I swore we were in the ditch on the side of the road. 

When we finally made it to the village, we were greeted by around 30 children ranging from babies to teenagers. There was a language barrier, but that didn’t stop us from playing soccer, taking pictures, or simply holding hands. We were surprised at how welcomed we were. These kids were so genuinely happy to see us, it was all our group could talk about for the rest of the night. As our van departed the village, the kids chased us until we were out of sight.

Even though we are half way across the world and did not speak their language, our experience reminded us how connected we all are in one way or another. We all crave love, friendship, and connection. Tomorrow we are going to an artisan market and visiting some neighboring farms. We are excited to see what tomorrow has in store for us!



Why Benin?

“Benin? Where is that?”

This question followed by a puzzled look on the person’s face is usually the expression I get after I tell people I am studying abroad in Benin. I can also predict the next question, “Why?”

Like most people, before last year I had no clue where Benin was. Located on the West Coast of Africa, Benin is a small country tucked away by the South Atlantic Ocean. As of 2013, the national population was just under 10 million. But don’t let the size of this small country fool you. Like most countries in Africa, is it full of diversity, history, and life. Over 30 languages are spoken in this country and it is known as the birth place of Vodoun/Voodoo. As we are learning more and more about Benin through our pre-departure class, I am slowly starting to get a sense of what this country has to offer not only for me and my classmates but also the world.

For me personally, I’ve always had a fascination with cultural anthropology. I attribute this to my immigrant background. Growing up I was always hyperaware of the two cultures I was exposed to and struggled fitting into either one. I escaped this awkwardness by learning about other cultures in hopes of trying to break away from my own decision. As a child, I was interested in African culture because of the stereotypes perpetrated in popular media. Nothing sounded more cool or daring than an African safari. As time passed and I got older, I realized how much racism, misrepresentation and overall ignorance media has placed on Africa. By lumping every country in this vast continent together we fail to recognize the humanity of people. We lack cultural awareness and continue to reinforce racial stereotypes.

I chose to study abroad in Benin over other countries in Africa because I am interested in the relationship between Voodoo and public health. In my senior year of high school, I read a book called Mountains Beyond Mountains written about a global health figure, Paul Farmer. I distinctly remember a chapter regarding Farmer’s experience treating tuberculosis in Haiti, where a different but similar form of Voodoo is practiced. Just like any religion, Voodoo plays a big part in people’s health and health care. This particular case was interesting because Farmer had to find a way to keep the patient invested in taking her TB medication. Not an easy task especially when the patient thinks someone else made her sick or that she can get better by visiting a Voodoo priest. For me to fully understand and experience this unique culture, I first have to visit Benin. In Benin I am hoping to learn more about Voodoo and gain a new perspective. With first hand interactions with the people of Benin, I am hoping to contribute my knowledge to the growing world of public health and make a difference in how health care professionals treat people with different religious backgrounds.

So when people ask me “Why Benin?” the answer is “Why not?”