One woman’s trip to Africa

Malawians receive the mosquito nets from the University of Lethbridge. Included in the group is Maria Miller, a recreation therapy assistant at J.B. Wood Continuing Care. The nets will help prevent malaria, a disease spread by mosquitoes.

Maria Miller
For South Peace News

Travelling across the globe can teach one not only about another culture, but also our own.

In May, I was lucky enough to visit what is known as the warm heart of Africa, the country of Malawi. Travelling with the University of Lethbridge, a group of 15 Health Science students, including myself, and two professors, travelled with the goal of health promotion. We spent just over two weeks facilitating short performances on different aspects of malaria and HIV prevention with standard seven students, our equivalent to Grade 7.

In addition to this process we learned that not only is there a difference in the health concerns in Malawi, but also the access to treatment. The prevalence of HIV, for example, is over 10 per cent in Malawi, whereas in Canada it is under one per cent, however, with the use of antiretroviral medications, more people are living healthy with the virus. There are still cultural practices, which promote infidelity and sexual behaviours at a young age, which contribute to the spread of the virus.

When looking at social justice and fairness in the provision of resources, on paper Malawi and Canada have many similarities. There is publicly funded healthcare, for example, that allows us to receive treatment for no cost.

Despite our differences in wealth and knowing that the majority of Malawians are very poor, the level of government support in healthcare is encouraging. A large difference that we can observe however, is in Malawi, in order to access these services an individual may have to travel on foot for over an hour, whereas in Canada many of us can simply take our own vehicle or public transportation, if necessary.

It becomes now more apparent how each of us can have an impact on a global scale. Travelling from Canada, I was lucky enough to bring gifts of mosquito nets to students, pregnant mothers and mothers with children under five years of age.

I also consequently learned how there are even more individuals I could not help. These nets helped those who were able to get them, but left so many more with the same risk of getting malaria, because they will not have the protection of the nets.

Malaria is an illness you most likely would never contract in Canada, yet nearly everyone in Malawi will get over the course of a year. Seeing the individuals who did not received a net made me wish I could do more, but also made me think of how many individuals at home may be experiencing comparable struggles. This made me reflect on what I can do in my own community to help make an impact closer to home.

For example, instead of spending that extra $5 on ice cream that I don’t need, I could instead buy an item or two for the local food bank.

I want to encourage others who have the means to begin to think this way as well. A small shift in spending can provide someone with their next meal, which without that donation wouldn’t have been possible.

This experience has also made me cherish the fact that I can easily access health care services, healthy food and education, whereas for many individuals in Malawi it may be a choice for some families whether they can feed their family meat or send one of their children to school. These are things that before I would not have even considered as luxuries, but are now viewed to me as something I will never take for granted again.

In talking to individuals in a country with much less wealth than my own, I can truly begin to appreciate what I have, and hopefully begin to make an effort to help those in need living in my own community as well.

I hope to encourage the same sentiment of gratitude as I continue to share my experience.

Editor’s note: Maria Miller is a recreation therapy assistant. She is working at J.B. Wood Continuing Care.

Maria Miller, right, a recreation therapy assistant at J.B. Wood Continuing Care, poses with a young Malawian during her trip to Africa.
University of Lethbridge Health Science students, plus two professors, were in Malawi in May. Part of their work in regard to health promotion included teaching different aspects of malaria and HIV prevention to students. Above are some of the students involved in the project.


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