Social worker’s mission trip to Kenya was eye-opening experience

March 9, 2012 | Features, UToday
By Paul Webb

Kenya is a beautiful East African country that is well-known for its safaris and diverse wildlife reservations. But if you talk to Katie Chisholm, a social worker at UT Medical Center, she might tell you a different story about the living conditions for citizens of the country.

Katie Chisholm weighed a child in the village of Kisesini during a mission trip to Kenya last summer.

“60 percent of Kenyans live in extreme poverty, without adequate food or shelter,” she said. “Hunger and malnutrition are common, especially among the children.”

Last summer, Chisholm embarked on a mission trip to Kenya that changed her life. Working for Global Health Partnerships, an Albuquerque-based organization that provides humanitarian aid and health care for the poor in Kenya, she traveled to the village of Kisesini to give assistance to the people often called the “poorest of the poor.”

“Katie’s work was instrumental for the development of the nutrition and hygiene education program that Global Health Partnerships is implementing for families in the region,” said Dr. Angelo Tomedi, president of Global Health Partnerships. “We applaud Katie for all of her hard work.”

While in the country, her main responsibility was a project to help prevent and treat child malnutrition. To document the issue, she accumulated data regarding birth weights and dietary habits and food intake by mothers and their children.

“To qualify for food supplement, the babies had to be ‘severely malnourished’ as judged by Kenyan government regulations,” Chisholm said. “There was a day that I weighed 76 babies and only four of them received the supplement. All of the children we weighed were malnourished, but the government’s regulations and qualifications of ‘severely malnourished’ did not agree. It was one of the most sad things I have had to experience.”

The malnutrition problems were only complicated by the severe drought that Kenya was in the midst of during Chisholm’s visit.

Katie Chisholm posed for a photo with a woman and her babies in Kisesini.

“Some women would have to walk for two hours to get to what they called ‘the river.’ Once they were there, they would have to dig three to six feet to get to water. This was a full day’s work for someone searching for a drink,” Chisholm said. “Once they actually get water, it is very dirty and it causes severe illness unless they have the means to treat the water, which most do not.”

Water wasn’t the only resource that was extremely difficult to come by — it was all forms of nourishment.

“We had one meal a day that consisted of rice and potatoes,” Chisholm said. “The closest market was a two-and-a-half-hour drive, and most people that wanted to go had to walk. Some people just didn’t have access to food.”

But even with all the hardships she saw in Kenya, Chisholm was able to bring a great message back to work.

“As a hospital social worker here at UTMC, I assist with patient’s discharge needs. There are many times that I feel I have exhausted all of my resources and feel as though I cannot help patients get what they need,” Chisholm said. “Every time I feel like I have a case that is a lost cause, I remind myself of the sick children and individuals in Kenya and how they have nothing, so I keep trying until I am told there is nothing else I can do for that patient.”

Click to access the login or register cheese