"How ‘The Warm Heart of Africa’ stole my heart" by Isabelle van der Meulen (Fall 2017)

The story about how ‘The Warm Heart of Africa’ stole my heart

by Isabelle van der Meulen

Country of origin: The Netherlands
Age group: 
23-25
Reason for going abroad: 
Volunteer at the St. Lukes Hospital
Travel destination: 
Malosa, Malawi

 

One of my main goals when I started my medical studies in 2012 was to do an internship in global health and tropical medicine at the end of my masters in a third world country. This year, with the help of the Kilroy Foundation Grant, I was able to finally go to Malawi and experience their healthcare system, meet their friendly and incredibly strong people and explore their beautiful country. I spent two months working in the St. Lukes Hospital in Malosa, a small village in the south of Malawi. My goal for this internship was to learn more about tropical diseases and their management, deliver a lot of healthy babies and of course to learn as much as possible about the Malawian culture and habits. And that I did, with much pleasure and even more gratitude.

 

 

Before I went to Malawi it was hard for me to know what to expect, because I’d never had a working experience in such an underdeveloped country. But I couldn’t have imagined that my internship would be such a breathtaking, rewarding and interesting experience. Many fantastic wonderful moments alternated with immensely sad and hard events in the tough world of a third world medical setting. I’ve assisted in beautiful deliveries and amazed myself looking at the strength of these women, who give birth with such grace that I’d never seen before. I saw remarkable recoveries of children with malaria that came in on the edge of death but were running around two days later. Unfortunately I also experienced some heartbreaking tragedies when infants and children died way to soon, almost always from a cause that could have easily been cured in Holland. These experiences taught me a lot about myself: my ability to act and work in tough situations, how to emotionally cope with difficult situations and how to communicate in a language you don’t speak.

 

 

Next to all the memorable moments in the hospital there were more ways I got to explore this beautiful country. I visited an orphanage I’ve been sponsoring for years now, the Open Arms Infant Home in Blantyre. It was a dream I’d had for a long time and it was amazing finally seeing this orphanage with my own eyes and meeting the kids I followed growing up throughout the years. Prior to my stay in Malawi I collected dozens of bags with clothing, school supplies, shoes, toiletries and much more and being able to donate this stuff was an amazing and rewarding experience. Next to this I went on field trips to remote village where we delivered health care to people that were too poor to come to the hospitals. I visited the beautiful country side, climbed Mount Mulanje, swam in Lake Malawi, did safaris in Liwonde and Majete National Park (and saw so much wildlife such as elephants, zebras, crocodiles, hippo’s and much more), had amazing encounters with locals in the bigger cities Zomba and Blantyre and much more.

 

 

I am very thankful for the grant from the Kilroy Foundation, which help me realize this life long dream and gave me the beautiful gift of being able to explore this entire new culture, country and people. I for sure will come back to Malawi because this country, also named ‘The Warm Heart of Africa’, really stole my heart.

Safari in Liwonde National Park

Safari in Liwonde National Park

One of my favorite patients

One of my favorite patients

Meeting the locals on Chisi Island

Meeting the locals on Chisi Island

Visiting Open Arms Infant Home

Visiting Open Arms Infant Home

Snorkeling at Cape MacClear

Snorkeling at Cape MacClear

Experiencing a wedding ceremony

Experiencing a wedding ceremony