Site Visit: PATS

Earlier last week, Mari and I had an amazing opportunity to visit with PATS (Pediatric AIDS Treatment Support) Foundation and their local partner, AOS (AIDS Orphans Salvation Association). Both organizations aim to help children with HIV adhere to their medication - taking the HIV medication on time enable the children to lead normal lives - and to reduce the stigma towards HIV patients.

Arriving at the local AOS office in Fuyang, Anhui, we met Kristin and Ally, both volunteers with PATS. Upon chatting with them, we realized that PATS was completely volunteer-run and funded by donations, which is amazing, considering the incredible work they are doing in Fuyang and other provinces in Anhui. We learnt more about the history of Fuyang, how the HIV epidemic had spread so quickly in the early 90s and the stigmatization that followed the families of HIV patients who had been unfortunately infected. Kristin and Ally also visited a local high school and hosted a little Q&A, organized by AOS. The event was held with the objective of reducing the stigma locals have toward HIV patients through education and community service, beginning with the local high school students.

The next day, we visited some of the PATS children. It was an eye-opening experience, listening to the difficulties some of the HIV-affected families faced enrolling their children into school, the fatalistic attitudes some family members had towards their disease and even getting the neighborhood children to play together. Yet, the PATS children were amazingly well-adjusted, and took their medication regularly without any adult supervision. Most of the children we visited were under the age of 10, and that discipline is rare in young children. This success is attributable to the regular visits that the community health workers (CHWs) that work at AOS, to check up on the children and ensure the children are adhering to their medication.

The CHWs have also definitely faced difficulties. They recounted cases where family members felt particularly fatalistic about their illness and saw no reason to take medication. The HIV-infected children in these families would then often adopt the same attitudes. In these cases, CHWs would work diligently to change their attitudes (often by appealing to other family members) and visit these families more often to ensure the children were adhering to their medication.

Both PATS and AOS work tirelessly to help these children, both physically (with their medication) and socially (by educating the local public), stressing that children with HIV are no different from healthy children. I came away really impressed with their dedication, with PATS volunteers visiting China regularly and AOS CHWs visiting the children on an almost monthly basis. I was also incredibly touched by the thoughtfulness of both organizations. Kristin and Ally noticed the children were incredibly picky with their food, and immediately volunteered to use their funding to buy the children multi-vitamins, to ensure they stay healthy and grow normally. The CHWs also brought snacks for children and together with Kristin and Ally, we braved mud and unfavorable road conditions to make it to all the children’s houses. It was an amazing experience overall, and I hope the PATS children stay healthy and adherent to their medication!

Read more about, and donate to the inspiring work PATS and AOS are doing here: http://www.globalgiving.org/projects/pats/ 

Charlene is an InTheField traveler with GlobalGiving, and is travelling through China this summer. Read more about her experiences in China at charinthefield.tumblr.org! Find out more about (or donate on!) GlobalGiving at globalgiving.org

Some sights at the Surmang Clinic.

The trip to Surmang was four hours, but the scenery on the way there and while at the clinic were incredible.

Before we got to Surmang Clinic, we stayed a night in Jiegu (结古), one of the cities that suffered immense damage during the 2010 Yushu earthquake (for more information, click here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2010_Yushu_earthquake).

Clearly, a lot of damage had been done, and the city was under complete reconstruction. It was heartwarming to know that most of the completed construction were mostly schools, but it was also heartbreaking to see the blue tents that had the words 救灾 (disaster relief) littering the city; Janis, our translator and Jiegu native, told us that 90% of the survivors still lived in these tents today, her and her family included. 

Dr. Phuntsok and his family were actually trapped in the debris of his house for over 5 hours, luckily they all escaped unharmed. His two sister-in-laws were not so lucky, they unfortunately passed away during the earthquake. Whenever there was mention of the earthquake, there would always be a silence after, they were still mourning their loved ones. 

I felt incredibly lucky to be there, to witness both the beautiful landscape despite the destruction, as well as the tremendous strength of the Tibetans through their their rebuilding process, physically and emotionally. 

Site Visit: Surmang Foundation

Surmang Foundation runs a free clinic in the Tibetan Autonomous Region, and provides free healthcare and medical services to the nomads, farmers and inhabitants of the Tibetan plateau. Many patients come from far away villages and cities to seek treatment, because they’d heard wonderful things about the doctors at the Surmang clinic. And all well deserved compliments, we soon found out.

Janis, a volunteer who used to work as a translator for Surmang Foundation, and Dr. Phuntsok had very kindly agreed to drive us to the clinic. It was a four hour trip out to the clinic from the nearest city, Jiegu, and it only served to show how far people would trek out for the clinic’s services. Upon arrival, we met Dr. Drogha, her daughter, the lady who would help out with chores and the gatekeeper’s wife. There was a familial feel to the crowd, we ate all our meals together and there was a quiet trust among everyone.

The next day, Dr. Drogha very kindly allowed us to observe her while she treated patients. Mari and I decided to split up - I would observe the treatments, while Mari would interview the patients as they were leaving. Watching Dr. Drogha working was inspiring. She treated every patient with dignity and respect, and it was clear that while most of the patients were much older than her, they had immense respect for her. Despite the joviality in the treatment room, Dr. Drogha was serious and dedicated. I watched her count out pills into little bags, and she said that while she wanted to treat patients, the clinic could not afford to let medicine go to waste. A lot of patients would feel better after taking maybe 3 days of medication, and let the rest of the pills go to waste. Since the clinic was running on donations, the doctors wanted to conserve as much medicine as they could, and would give patients with less severe symptoms about 7 days of medication. 

Surmang Clinic also has a Community Health Workers (CHW) program, aimed at training local women to become midwives, in an effort to reduce infant and maternal mortality. CHWs who care for pregnant women carry out three pre-natal visits, deliver the baby and then carry out three post-natal visits, to ensure both infant and mother are healthy. They are compensated 200RMB (about 30 USD) per patient. Although we didn’t manage to meet the CHWs, a mother-to-be under the care of a CHW, came into the clinic for her free ultrasound. The clinic does ultrasounds for free, however, mandating that patients under the care of the CHWs come in for ultrasounds also allows the clinic to account for the work of the CHWs. 

Surmang Clinic is looking to expand the CHW program, given its tremendous success. However, the main obstacle has been funding, since CHWs are compensated for their time and effort. While we were there, many patients had nothing to say but good things about the clinic - how the medicine was more effective than traditional Tibetan medicine, how it was great that it was free and accessible, and how the doctors did amazing work.

Dr. Phuntsok and Dr. Drogha are both modest, but the level of dedication they have to their job is inspiring. The clinic has no opening and closing hours, the gates are open to anyone at any time. While we were there, coming back from a walk at around 9 at night, a patient had come to the clinic seeking help for an injury. Dr. Drogha immediately went to work, no questions asked. It is the continual hard work of the doctors, the success of their treatments and the CHW program that has built trust and faith in the inhabitants of the Tibetan plateau.

Mari and I were both sad to leave, and as we left, the gatekeeper’s wife laid prayer scarves around our necks and had tears in her eyes. As she chanted prayers, we said our goodbyes, and drove away back to Jiegu. This visit to Surmang has definitely been an unforgettable one - and I can only hope the clinic continues to grow and expand! 

Read more about, and donate to the amazing work Surmang Foundation is doing here: http://www.globalgiving.org/projects/yushu-earthquake-survival/

Charlene is an InTheField traveler with GlobalGiving, and is travelling through China this summer. Read more about her experiences in China at charinthefield.tumblr.com! Find out more about (or donate on!) GlobalGiving at globalgiving.org

Site Visit: Enfants du Ningxia

Enfants du Ningxia is an organization that awards scholarships to financially needy students in rural Ningxia, supporting students from primary school through university. This year, Enfants du Ningxia had funds to support 20 students, 10 primary school students and 10 university students. The organization had received 60 applications this year, and were in Ningxia to both interview the applicants and to survey their living conditions. 

We set off early in the morning, as we had 15 applicants to interview that day, taking into account travel time. Mari and I had a real insight into the conditions that Blandine (project coordinator) and Heloise (volunteer) faced, just in getting to these students - the rain from the previous night had washed away a mud bridge, our only connection to the village we had to get to; riding three apiece on a motorbike; trekking in the searing heat from one student’s house to the other, etc. These conditions also highlighted the difficulties these students faced in getting to school, which explained why many students chose to board at their schools, incurring costs even though primary education is free in China. 

We met many students throughout the day - all with dreams and aspirations. One girl (pictured above) wants to be an English translator, and shyly conversed with us in English during the interview. Another girl wanted to be a gynecologist, which Blandine and Heloise told us would be an asset in the region. A third girl had done extremely well in her Gaokao (college entry exams) and aspired to go to Peking University to study finance. In their homes, parents would often pull out merit certificates their children had been awarded, clearly proud of their achievements and hoping Enfants du Ningxia could help them further their dreams. Another sign families wanted to welcome us - non-stop food. Mari and I were often helplessly dragged to tables filled with food while Blandine and Heloise interviewed students. We soon learnt to bolt out of the room once anyone headed towards the kitchen, or wave our hands frantically in protest when grandmothers started bringing plates in.

While Mari and I were stuffing our faces, the interview, carried out by both Blandine and Heloise, was very detailed. The survey was developed after members of Enfants du Ningxia painstakingly surveyed 50 villages in the Ningxia region, in order to develop a scale that determined a family’s level of poverty. Some questions included: how much land they owned, if they owned animals, vehicles, household items such as washing machines and refrigerators. The conversation was sometimes stilted, as most of the interviewees only spoke Ningxia dialect, confusing Blandine and Heloise, both of whom are fluent in Mandarin. I was however, really impressed with their perseverance and commitment, as they continued asking questions till their doubts were clarified. The interview was essential in their decision-making process, as Enfants du Ningxia understandably wants to award the limited number of scholarships they had to the neediest students. 

I had an amazing and inspiring experience visiting with Enfants du Ningxia. Blandine and Heloise’s dedication really impressed me, and the aspirations and optimism of these students despite their difficult circumstances inspired me as well. The impact Enfants du Ningxia creates is not just limited to their students, but ripples through their families too. I’m excited by the impact that Enfants du Ningxia has made in the region, and I hope they continue to help the community flourish! 

Read more about and donate to Enfants du Ningxia here: http://www.globalgiving.org/projects/schooling-for-children-in-china/

Charlene is an InTheField traveler with GlobalGiving, and is traveling through China this summer. Read about her experiences in China at charinthefield.tumblr.com! Find our more about (or donate on!) GlobalGiving at globalgiving.org

Snippets of Shanghai.

Butterflies.

I’m nervous.

3 hours before I leave for the airport, I realize my insides are bubbling with a mixture of excitement, fear, anxiety and let’s just get this bad boy on the road feelings. 

I think I know what to expect, but then I don’t. Everything I’ve learnt during the training has taught me to throw my expectations out the window, because everything I’m going to meet on the road is not going to be in any rulebook or any manual or any guidebook. 

But isn’t that what being on the field is like? It’s about instinct, about adapting, and most importantly, about experiencing and learning and living. Nothing and nobody can ever be prepared for what life brings - and learning to live is something I more than willingly signed up for. 

So with fear and much trepidation … Let the adventures, begin! 

Our planning/scheduling process so far… Yes, that’s China in the center and our timetable for July so far. Mari and I are incredibly artsy. 

Our planning/scheduling process so far… Yes, that’s China in the center and our timetable for July so far. Mari and I are incredibly artsy.