Stepping off the keke (tricycle taxi), I’m greeted by hospital security, "Ina Kwana? Yaya gajiya?" I greet back, "Lafia," show them my bag and push my way through patient upon patient waiting to be seated.
This was my life for a year while I took part in MCC’s Serving and Learning Together (SALT) program, working as a nurse at a partner organization called Faith Alive Foundation (FAF) in Jos, Nigeria.
Founded in 1996, this organization is planted in the capital of Nigeria’s Plateau State with a population of about 900,000. Starting with as little as $300 and a vision to serve both Christians and Muslims in an area with high rates of HIV and AIDS, Faith Alive grew from a one-room clinic to today’s three-story building. It serves up to 10,000 patients a month with medical and social services.
I went with a desire to further my overseas experience working in health care, but how could I have prepared myself for the experience I would encounter. On my first day of work, after six weeks of language training and country orientation, I was asked to help in the emergency department. That day, a young boy died and I wasn't able to save him. As if it’s yesterday, I still see the mother with tears rolling down her face wrap the boy, put him on her back, and walk out the doors, not looking back.
I prepared myself for the worst year. I had definitely not signed up to watch children die. I had signed up to… what? Be a hero? After a week of questioning why God would put me in a place like this, I was sobered by a very quiet whisper. I had signed up to serve, to learn, together with these very people. God had given me a territory, and I needed to be ready to see God work in a place God was long before me.
Photo submitted by Judy Wiebe
I did just that. I walked into and out of FAF for a year. My main area became working in the antenatal program, as well as the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) of HIV and AIDS program. I had only met two patients with a confirmed HIV status before my SALT term: the first in a small rural town in central Alberta, the second while I completed a practicum in Mozambique. Essentially, I did not have the experience to prepare me for what I was about to encounter at Faith Alive.
FAF has existed in the community for 21 years and its staff has seen many patients, and built a system with the best intentions of success in preventing and managing HIV. Learning all I could from the staff surrounding me, I became passionate about educating about HIV, especially on how to prevent children from getting the virus, beginning from pregnancy, to birth, to breastfeeding and the last HIV test at 18 months. While there I graduated three pediatric patients from the PMTCT program. On those days we celebrated by blowing bubbles and taking pictures. These success stories that I got to be a part of are just a few of the many babies that leave the PMTCT program.
Of course, there are still children in FAF that live with this virus, but they are not hopeless. In fact, they have hope to manage it, hope to live a life that requires a little extra care, but not that much different than mine or yours.
I will always have memories of the days where I encountered death, where I encountered sick children that should be playing, where I saw HIV turn to the stage of AIDS. But I also have memories that put a smile on my face. A smile that’s filled with peace, recognizing God is in control. God has given me the simple command to love, and serve those around me justly, with mercy and with humility.
Judy Wiebe took part in MCC's SALT program in 2016. She's from Turin, Alberta.