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Pat Cauldwell shares her experience....

I retired from Nursing (for the first time) at the end of 2005 and within 3 months I started looking for something to give my life meaning again. My neighbour told me about a new organization that was forming with the purpose of aiding orphans in Africa. That organization was the Kingston Grandmother Connection.

Way back in 1982 I had wanted to go to Africa when Camp Kingston was established in Ethiopia but I had two very small children at the time so it wasn’t practical. I then decided in 2008 to contact Peg Herbert from Help Lesotho and offered to assist in her good work.

Peg was not in need of a nurse, but she did require someone to teach Excel to the office staff in Hlotse so I taught myself Excel in 4 weeks and off I went for a 6week adventure that was overwhelming, difficult, yet rewarding. I was fortunate to meet many Basotho who were struggling to make ends meet and were dealing with the AIDs epidemic with courage and even good humour. I learned that patience is a requirement if you want to be accepted in the Basotho community. I am a pretty direct person so being sociable for 5-10 minutes before asking for what I required was a real challenge and I’m afraid I didn’t always succeed in doing it!  But I also saw firsthand what someone with the skills and determination of Peg Herbert can accomplish. She is truly an amazing individual.

When I returned to Canada, I continued to be involved with KGC because it was also doing such good work. But I had been bitten by the desire to return to Africa and assist, so over the next 8 years, I joined 3 other organizations on 14 trips to Zambia, Kenya, Uganda, but mostly to Tanzania. I worked as a volunteer nurse in hospitals where none of the equipment was disposable and where gloves were so precious that they were washed and reused. I learned that the reason why patients always have a family member stay with them to bring them food and provide much of their care is because AIDs also had a major impact on the number of healthcare workers available.

Oral medications were left with the patient and they were instructed on when and how much to take—yikes! With decent nutrition and good cleansing, I watched wounds heal magically. I saw many births and also some deaths. I worked in mobile health clinics and I was there when people received the diagnosis of AIDs and watched as many were rejected by their family.

I worked closely with the local nurses and doctors and learned a lot. I diagnosed my first case of leprosy with the assistance of a local nurse and also sickle cell anemia in a very young child. I saw a boy whose father wanted to know what was wrong with his son’s leg and when I pulled up his pant leg found a bone sticking out of his skin that had broken more than 2 years previously and never been treated. But I also was privileged to see the dignity and pride and amazing sense of family that these people display.

Because of these memories and many more, I continue to belong to the Kingston Grandmother Connection. And also, because I am always amazed and energized by the dedication and drive of the women who are involved in this organization.

I haven’t been able to return to Africa for a few years now due to some health issues. I miss it. But I now have 4 grandchildren of my own to keep me busy and stimulated intellectually. I sing in two local choirs which is soul-fulfilling for me. And I spend a lot of time outdoors watching my garden grow and listening to the birds.

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