Joseph's Story

Joseph's Story - shared by Christina  

My typical day working in Madagascar with the Africa Mercy is not so typical. While many of our volunteers work onboard, I have the privilege of going off ship to work in the local hospital. Days can be innocuously busy and wonderfully challenging. Today, I'm working in the Sterilization department of Tamatave's main government run hospital. It's difficult to accurately and diplomatically paint a visual of what this hospital looks like; however, I hope the pictures you see below will assist me in this. I first met Joseph in the Spring of 2015. I had come to Madagascar to teach a sterilization course, which had been developed and modified to suit the educational and practical needs of the staff at this hospital. Joseph was very skeptical towards the theoretical concepts I was introducing, and very hesitant to make an immediate changes within the department. After all, he had been working in this department for over 20 years, and wasn't sure he needed to learn anything more. He told me he would be retiring in a few years and didn't want to work too hard. Needless to say, I felt discouraged. 

Initially, I wasn't sure if what I was doing was going to make a difference, due to the resistance to learn, as exemplified by Joseph. I felt apprehensive and doubtful. Pioneering this project is one of the greatest challenges I've ever taken on; there are so many levels to even the simplest steps. However, I've seen where patience and determination can take me. And, I continued to persevere. After all, relationships take energy, time and vulnerability. I've found the greatest key to change is listening and understanding first. Change doesn't happen over night, it starts to appear when you learn to appreciate the culture you're working in and how to adapt teaching techniques to suit the needs of the people. For 4 weeks I worked alongside Joseph and his colleagues, helping them understand the importance of why and how to clean surgical instruments that were rusty and caked with old blood and tissue - how to sterilize these instruments and ensure sterility was maintained until reaching the operating room. 

Following these 4 weeks of education and mentoring, I spent 2 weeks working with hospitals in other regions of Madagascar. This opened up an opportunity for Joseph and his colleagues to put their newfound knowledge into action without being attentively monitored. This morning, when I returned to the hospital in Tamatave, I entered the sterilizing room to see a group of nurses surrounding Joseph as he patiently explained how to "proper" sterilization is achieved. The enthusiasm for teaching and imparting knowledge that I had been able to share with him, was evident in his voice. Once Joseph noticed I had entered the department he eagerly updated me on what had occurred during my absence. He explained how the operating room staff had come to him asking where all the new instruments had come from. He glowed with pride as he said he had told them there were no new instruments, but only old ones that he had properly cleaned!

As I think about the transformation in Joseph's attitude, behavior, and ownership over his work, it is profoundly humbling to know that the education we're providing is necessary and crucial to a successful outcome. It makes difficulties worth enduring. Teaching people how to provide sterile instruments for patients who need surgery is one way I can work to decrease the risk of death following surgery. It is because of the donations we receive that I can continue to provide education, consulting, and mentoring for people like Joseph, who see the value of improving their own skills to help others. Who also, through increased knowledge and expertise, becomes a valued part of the surgical team that works to heal and bring healing to people in need of surgery. Your contribution to this cause is invaluable - allowing people like me to make a difference. 

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The problems that are faced in countries such as Madagascar can be very complex. However, compassion is very simple. It asks no questions and it demands no answers. It gives of itself because that is the only thing it knows to do. Thank you to everyone who has contributed to help improve sterile processing practices in developing countries like Madagascar, for your willingness to support people like Joseph to be empowered in the role he plays in patient care, and for supporting the movement towards universal safe surgery. Your donations make a difference every day to the well- being of patients in Madagascar.