Dr. Andy Baldwin
I’ve come to Kenya to learn. To learn about the people, to learn about the culture, to learn what is truly challenging for their communities and hardest for the children of their country, and most importantly to learn what I and, frankly, we all can do to help. We are a global community and maybe it’s the butterfly effect — but there is no question whether it's a hungry orphan in Africa or an impoverished and malnourished kid in America, we are all affected by their plight.
This is my second time to the country of Kenya and I am continually impressed by the resiliency that these people have in the midst of drought, HIV/AIDs, malaria, and lack of proper prenatal and neonatal care. The mortality rate for children under five in the area where I am stands at about one in three, or 33%. In other areas of the country this figure approaches 50%.
The major reasons for these rates are lack of maternity care during pregnancy, no neonatal care at birth (they deliver at home), infection (malaria is leading cause), and malnutrition or dehydration complicated by waterborne diseases.
And yet some of their deepest health challenges can be healed simply by better education. So when I was invited to come give an inspirational speech on health, wellness, and looking ahead to the children at the Chebaiywa School, I obviously jumped at the chance. Believe me — in all that I might inspire these kids, they were absolutely going to inspire me more.
I’ve traveled around the world working with mothers and children on basic health initiatives. Through my job with the Navy, I’ve worked in Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Palau, Vietnam, the Philippines, Japan, Singapore, Colombia, Nicaragua, Panama, El Salvador, Kuwait, Bahrain, UAE, and Guam. You know, here and there. I am continually inspired by America's Navy and Navy Medicine’s mandate to be a Global Force for Good and all the tremendous work done by this force.
I told the kids about how as a physician and an officer in the Navy I've flown on planes, helicopters, been underwater on submarines and as a diver, and have seen the world from ships. When I asked if any of them wanted to be in the Kenyan military, a bunch of them raised their hands. It seems they all wanted to be pilots. Kids ready to fly!
I also talked extensively about the importance of self-worth and believing in themselves. In Africa there is a brutal truth that poverty, hunger, and lack of education may lead children to become victims of sexual exploitation or manual labor. I tried hard to impart to these kids that they did not have to allow this to happen and that they could actually follow their dreams. Children in Africa and perhaps worldwide are often taken advantage of because they are simply told that they will not become anything. It pains me to hear that this happens, so I talked a lot about the importance of self-worth and that they can be whatever they want to be and to believe in themselves.
I’m sure most of us who were fortunate enough to grow up in happy, safe homes remember a day when our parents told us we could be anything we wanted to be. Seeing these kids' smiles, especially Dominic’s here, who marched up and announced he wanted to be a doctor, I know it can be true even for an orphan in Africa.
Blessed with the life I’ve lived and the opportunities to travel the world, I know it is my job to share what I’ve learned and, most importantly, to keep learning.
What's next? Oh believe me, learning to milk a cow is just the start!
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