Soft Power Health Blog

Inner City Kids Kayak Camp 10th Year!

Teaching people to kayak is something I love to do, and exposing kids to kayaking who would never otherwise have the opportunity is a very special and unique experience that has been the highlight of my teaching career over the years. Add to that that these students may or may not have any idea what kayaking is and some cannot swim, and you have all the ingredients for a great adventure and a successful kids kayaking camp. This year was our 10th year of doing these camps, and every year it is more and more fun to do. Hopefully, we will be able to do these camps long into the future.

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For the past two years, we have been working with the Graham Windham School in Yonkers, New York (prior to that we were working with the Boys and Girls Harbor Upward Bound Program in NYC). Again this year, we had two Graham Windham teachers joining our group, Danielle and Ms. Borbone. Both of whom did very well and really enjoyed the experience. It’s always wonderful to have teachers alongside their students learning to kayak and sharing that experience with them.  The kids this year ranged in age from 13 to 17 and included Tanisha, Chantal, Laysha, Sharon, Catherine, TJ, Hassan, and Daniel. These kids went from not knowing what whitewater or whitewater kayaking was to being able to paddle their kayaks successfully downstream through rapids, catching eddies along the way. Two of them even learned successful rolls! Everyone learned good paddling strokes and bracing skills. They were introduced to a whole new world out there that started in the swimming pool at Graham Windham.

One of the best things about this camp is that the participants get to be challenged, pushed out of their comfort zones to learn a new skill in a safe and fun environment. In order to progress to the next days’ activities, they have to master what we teach them on that day, so they are repeatedly challenged and pushed to do something that seems scary, succeed at it and then move on to the next step. They experience success hand in hand with fun and exhilaration, but none of it is possible unless they are willing to trust and take a risk.  No one is helping them paddle their kayaks – they do that themselves. Kayaking is an individual activity but always done as part of a group. In order for the whole thing to work, everyone needs to participate, so each member of the camp is a member of a larger kayaking team.

Apart from learning new skills and a new sport, kayaking opens up a whole new world for these kids and teachers – the world of the outdoors and rivers – something that they would never otherwise see and experience. Fear of dirt, plants, and wild creatures at the beginning of the week turns to curiosity and interest in the natural world. All of this happens alongside of learning to kayak. For some, it really sparks an interest to become life long kayakers. For others, just the experience of trying something new and potentially scary gives them a positive boost that they will hopefully carry forward in their lives. And for all, fear of what’s in the out of doors turns to a new appreciation of things previously scary or unknown.

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What makes this all possible is the group’s willingness to participate 100% even if they are not sure what the outcome will be. Instead of fear of what bad might happen, we focus on what good and what fun can be had. No one sets the tone better for this than EJ – we are always super lucky to have his joy and passion for teaching and sharing his love of paddling with all the students and for that matter with every person he comes in contact with. It’s just the way he is and it rubs off on everyone around him. His enthusiasm is contagious! Courtney and Dane, two of our other instructors, were great additions to the camp this year. Everyone loved to see what each could do in their boats as well as having them as instructors!  Certainly we could not have completed the camp without the help of numerous volunteers – Kristine Jackson, Dave and Paula Saaf, Andy Khulberg, Rob Piaggoli, and Caitlyn Green. And a huge thank you to Jackson Kayak and Aquapac who provided necessary support to make the camp happen as well as fantastic graduation gifts!! We look forward to more kids and teachers learning to kayak next year!! Thank you to everyone who made this possible!!!

Small Miracles

Almost everyday at the clinic or in our outreach programs I see something that makes me say “Wow!” The other day at the clinic we had a young child come in with her mother and not only was I saying wow but also one of our clinical officers, Dr. Oliver, was saying wow as well. The young child, not even 2 years old, had a compound fracture of the right upper arm that was severely infected. The arm was dangling uselessly next to the child’s body and smelled rotten. The child’s arm had clearly been like it was for a number of days and of course getting worse and more infected each day. By the time Dr. Oliver and I saw the child, it was clear that the child would lose her arm but also that the child might die from the infection. As it turned out, the child also had malaria!

The story of how this had happened to the child was also very unclear. It was difficult to get a straight story from the mother. Of course our concern was treating the child since this was definitely a time sensitive situation. We did find out that the child was initially seen at a government hospital but the parents were unhappy with the care there so they took the child to a witch doctor, which is very common in Uganda. Depending on where people live and their means, many people do consult witch doctors for health problems as well as a whole variety of other problems such as putting a curse on someone or getting rid of a curse that someone has put on them, etc.

In this case, the child had clearly gotten a lot worse since the treatment from the witch doctor, which included wrapping the arm with a poultice of some kind. Luckily, when the child was getting worse instead of better, the mother had decided to come to us. In cases like these, where the problem is complex and involves a surgical intervention, we refer the patients to different hospitals in Kampala. In this particular case, we were able to refer the patient very quickly to Kampala and the child was operated on in time and started on IV antibiotics. The arm was amputated, but the child survived. Since our initial visit, the child has made a very good recovery, which is totally miraculous! So I am always thankful for the small miracles like this one.

New Striped Nets

I have been so curious to see how Ugandans would like our new striped nets. As soon as I saw the new colors, I really liked the nets and thought that Ugandans would too, but you never know. People’s tastes can be, well, hard to understand at the very least. These are mosquito nets and people do have to sleep under them every night so in general people like a “smart” looking net. We did our first net sale with the striped nets in a small, rural village in Butagaya Sub County and my hunch proved right. In fact, the new red and blue striped nets were so popular that ladies were fighting over the last ones at the end of the sale! I felt badly that we did not have more to sell.

In addition, the feedback from our Ugandan staff has also been very positive and everyone likes the colors very much! I will be interested to see on our follow-up visits to net buyer homes whether people tell us if the colors make them want to use the net more. That may sound a little strange but often a net can be seen as a status symbol in Uganda and if you have a newer even better looking net, you may be even more inclined to sleep under that net every night. We don’t know any of this for sure, but it’s a very interesting idea. We do know that education about how and why to use the net also really helps people use the net correctly.

This summer we had a volunteer visiting us from the States who was involved in a project to follow up on nets that were purchased out of the clinic without an accompanying Malaria Education and Prevention session and see if there was a difference in proper net usage of those nets versus the ones purchased in education and prevention sessions. I hope to be hearing from our volunteer Teresa very soon on this project. In the meantime, it will be interesting to see how the rest of the net sales progress with the new striped nets.

Field Patients

One area of patient care that Soft Power Health offers its patients is help treating more complicated medical and in some cases social problems. Often the two are closely linked. This can be anything from helping patients get chemotherapy or radiation therapy for various types of cancers, to connecting patients to the right surgeon for the treatment of chronic osteomyelitis. In addition, we have a number of patients who have complicated medical and social histories like having HIV and being very far from any hospital where they can get anti-retroviral therapy. These patients are often malnourished as well, which can further suppress their already compromised immune system. Sometimes these patients show up at the clinic and sometimes we find them when we are out in the field.

One day I was kayaking down at Super Hole and one of the many kids who come to watch us paddle had a nasty abscess in his arm. Since it looked so bad, I organized to bring him back to the clinic to have the abscess drained and treated properly. As part of routine testing we do in Uganda with the patient’s consent, we test for HIV and in some cases malaria. When we brought this boy in, we got a little more family history. He lived with his father and a few younger siblings. His mother had died a couple of years ago of unknown causes though she had apparently been sick for a while.

As it turned out, the boy was HIV positive. Luckily, his CD4 count was high enough that he did not need to be put on anti-retrovirals, but he would need to take Clotrimoxazole daily as prophylaxis for any potential infections he might encounter. We also decided that it would be important to test his father to find out if he was HIV positive and needed treatment as well. Once we tested the father, we discovered that the father was HIV negative and thus the son was a product of a discordant couple, one where one parent is positive and the other is negative. Since we were able to intervene quite early with the son, we can keep a pretty close eye on his health and watch him as time goes by and help him have a healthy adolescence. So far, its been going well. He got over his abscess quite quickly and has been doing well ever since. We are able to check in monthly with the boy and his father and follow his progress. So far, so good!