DANIELLE Hanlon can’t help but cry as she holds two-week-old baby Angela.
Abandoned by her mother and left under a bush, Angela is one of about 50 children at the Rang’ala Baby Home — an orphanage in Kenya — and it’s a world away from everything Ms Hanlon has ever known.
“I couldn’t put Angela down and held her the whole time we were there,” said Ms Hanlon, a paediatric nurse at Albury Wodonga Health.
“It brought me to tears thinking how this sweet, beautiful baby could be abandoned and it was heartbreaking to have to put her back in her cot and walk away.”
Ms Hanlon, who returned to the Border last month, was in Kenya as part of the Nurses in Action program run by World Youth International.
She was one of eight Australian nurses in Odede, a rural village about five hours from Nairobi, where they provided training and education to staff at the community hospital.
WHILE Ms Hanlon, 31, has seen a lot in her seven years as a nurse on the Border, nothing could prepare her life in an African village.
“The drive to Odede from Kisumu Airport was very confronting,” she said.
“We saw so many people living in tiny, tin shacks and mud huts right on the edge of the road, surrounded by rubbish.
“Then there’s police with automatic weapons and road spikes — you certainly realise you are not in Australia any more.”
No running water, long-drop toilets and bucket showers were just some of the challenges Ms Hanlon and her colleagues faced while in Kenya.
But that’s nothing compared to the health issues facing Odede.
Up to a quarter of the community is infected by HIV/AIDS, almost everyone tests positive to malaria and, on average, 12 out of every 100 children die before their fifth birthday.
“Some of the things we witnessed were very confronting as the practices and standards are very different to Australian healthcare,” Ms Hanlon said.
“So many people are infected with HIV/AIDS. Antiretroviral drugs are available but many people are deterred from starting or continuing treatment due to social shame, cost or they aren’t diligent enough to take several different meds per day.
“Maternal mortality is also high, mostly due to a lack of knowledge amongst health workers and the community of the importance of pre and postnatal care.
“There is often a lack of privacy and confidentiality and sometimes there is not much dignity or respect shown to patients, especially to women.”
ON Ms Hanlon’s first day of placement she met Samuel and Ruth.
Samuel, a father of three, had been bed-ridden for two years after breaking his femur.
Unable to continue his job as a driver, he doesn’t have enough money to buy Panadol for pain relief — let alone the operation for his leg.
That’s where Ms Hanlon and the group of nurses came into play.
“We all felt a bit helpless as to what we could do for this family because we were not allowed to give money to any patients that we saw,” she said.
“I asked Ruth if there was anything that could make their lives easier, and she said a wheelchair would help.
“I wasn’t confident this would be possible, as it was my first day, but I was so happy to find out the Odede hospital would be able to help and loan them a wheelchair for as long as they needed.”
AS a paediatric nurse, children hold a special place in Ms Hanlon’s heart.
Every Saturday of the four-week program, the nurses visited the Vulnerable Children’s Group at the Odede hospital.
Many of the children there are orphans, HIV positive or from extremely impoverished homes, but Ms Hanlon said there was plenty to be learnt from their outlook on life.
“They are provided with breakfast and lunch and attend Bible study — then they play games in the afternoon. Even though many of these children have very little, they are so happy,” she said.
A visit to Chianda Public School was another eye-opening experience for Ms Hanlon. There, they provided intestinal parasite treatment to over 350 children as well as donating reusable sanitary-pad packs to the older girls at the school.
“The children were so excited to see us, they were so fascinated by our white skin, wiping our arms and then looking at their hands to see if the white would come off,” she said.
THE trip was so rewarding, Ms Hanlon plans to return to Africa to volunteer again.
“To go to Africa by myself and join a team where I did not know any of the other participants was definitely a leap out of my comfort zone,” she said.
“But this was one of the most rewarding and inspiring experiences of my life.
“I made some great friends, provided education to local healthcare workers and helped some of the most vulnerable people in the world.
“Africa definitely has a part of my heart.”
As for baby Angela, Ms Hanlon is now her sponsor.
She paid for Angela’s yearly upkeep — 12,000 Kenyan shillings ($170) — before returning to Australia.
“It’s next to nothing but it still doesn’t feel like it’s enough,” she said.
“As her sponsor I can visit her at any time, so I definitely hope to see her again soon.”