Indagare member Diana Butler Buxton recently visited Zambia. Here are her impressions from the rewarding trip.
This winter, I joined my husband, Douglas, a gifted eye surgeon, on his fifth medical mission to the Zimba Eye Hospital in Zambia, in association with the International Vision Volunteers and the Jorge N. Buxton, M.D. Microsurgical Education Foundation. Formerly Northern Rhodesia, Zambia is a landlocked nation in southern Africa and home to the majestic Victoria Falls, one of the World’s Seven Natural Wonders. Zambia is also among the world’s poorest nations, with the GDP per capita around $1,400 and an average life expectancy of 54 years. The majority of patients we treated live in rural villages in thatched-roof huts with no running water or electricity. Even the most basic medical care is not accessible. Very few villagers have paying jobs, working as farmers, growing just enough food for their families to survive. In spite of this rugged, tedious life, the patients smile, sing and bond with a deep-seated faith at Sunday services and the children find ways to have fun, especially with a soccer ball.
Friends and colleagues often ask why my husband and I volunteer our time and skills despite such a high cost in energy, lost revenue and being completely off the grid in humble living conditions during the most popular two-week vacation period. Without hesitation, we respond that the excellent education afforded us and the wonderful professional training opportunities we’ve experienced have made us acutely aware of a global connection we both feel to provide for those who are severely medically underserved, especially in surgical and medical treatment of blinding eye conditions. From our perspective, our mission work in southern Africa does not represent a great sacrifice or cost. Instead, we see it as a joyful opportunity to participate in a long-standing, worldwide community of physicians and other health providers helping others achieve and maintain a healthy, sighted lifestyle, hopefully affording these patients an opportunity to survive, thrive and even prosper.
As part of a group of eight, I was responsible for patient screening and front office flow. I also observed and circulated in Douglas’ late afternoon O.R. sessions. What we experienced was often heartbreaking—we saw about 75 new patients each day plus numerous post-ops for a total of 580 patients, with ailments that ranged from malaria, cataracts and glaucoma to squamous cell carcinomas and HIV-related illness in both adults and children alike. Still, what really remains in my heart is coming together as a team in service and love.
My husband and I feel very strongly about our obligation to support a culture of opportunity and individual freedom for all. Our prosperity needs to be tempered by personal responsibility to create this environment for everyone both abroad and in our own communities and to share our gifts with those less fortunate than ourselves in humble charity.
I never felt more alive, more in tune with the universe, or happier, than when I was in Africa as part of a team dedicated to restoring vision. It is remarkable how much can be accomplished if no one cares who gets the credit or what their personal interest and financial gain might be.
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