How Does One Pack For a Month in Africa?

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Dr. Andy Baldwin, Kenya/Facebook

Dr. Andy Baldwin returns to Kenya to start a journey across the world helping kids live healthier lives.

The instructions I received from Kenya suggested "pack light... Clothing is a functional necessity here, and most will wear the same thing for days on end.” Are you kidding me? This is PRECISELY the reason I SHOULD pack a lot for this trip so I can bring resources to those in need. So much for packing light; I’m taking as much as I can.


The first person I need to look out for is my host Michelle Kiprop. Michelle, a certified Nurse Midwife from Southern California, became the Chupyirya Dispensary Health Manager several years ago and is married to a Kenyan from the local community. We met at a fetal ultrasound course in the U.S. sponsored by the Navy, and became fast friends. She shared with me the dire need her Kenyan clinic had for physicians and resources. Her clinic is very close to Bartabwa where my sponsored child Cosmas lives. I promised on the spot that I would come and help.


With the help of many in the Navy, I managed to set up a month away rotation with my Family Medicine program to work over in Kenya with her and her team. Somewhere in the planning, Michelle got pregnant. Michelle had a beautiful baby boy, Ryan, in Kenya just a few weeks ago. While she has helped countless Kenyan women give birth in the rural community of the Rift Valley, experiencing childbirth for herself has given Michelle an entirely new appreciation for the challenges that pregnant women face, and just how hard it is to get baby supplies in rural Kenya.


So that’s how I found myself yesterday amongst expectant moms in the suburban San Diego Babies 'R Us learning how to find proper diapers, bottles, nipple guards, and certain creams. It was quite a moment indeed, and probably something that would have made for some fantastic tabloid headlines!

Suitcase #1: Neonatal supplies, and educational perinatal care resources. Guidebooks and instructional posters on Neonatal Resuscitation for the small Kenyan rural health clinics. The under 5 mortality rate in many regions of rural Kenya approaches 50%, many due to infection, lack of perinatal care and complications at delivery. By helping to educate those caregivers with simple algorithms for the first minutes of life called “Helping Babies Breath” I hoped to save some lives in the future.

ShoesForRunners.pngWhen packing my running shoes, I recalled in my trip to Kenya last year how prized a possession a pair of running shoes was. Few children and adults even have shoes, and those an elite Kenyan runners wear their shoes for months, maybe years on end with holes in the soles. Think about the number of pairs of shoes that you have on your shoe rack, or in your closet. The gift of a simple pair of shoes often can mean the difference between life and death. So I reckoned the least I could do is bring as many shoes over as possible. I gathered all of my lightly worn “old” running shoes from my closet and asked several of my running friends to do the same.

Bag #2: Two dozen pair of running shoes for men, women, and children in Kenya. “Aren’t you going to have trouble carrying all of those bags through the airport?” my roommate asked. “I’ll figure it out”, I said. “It’s the least I can do.”

Bag #3: Personal gear, pretty straightforward. A pair of long pants, several T-shirts. Ball caps for the kids, and a pair of trusty mountain boots. Toiletries? Well, living in a mud hut, with little access to clean water, I would not have the luxuries of long daily showers. Wet wipes, flashlights and extra batteries (with no electricity you need to be able to see to get around at night), hand sanitizer, bug spray, malaria prophylaxis pills, Pepto Bismol, fiber pills, TP.

Complete Swahili.pngBackpack #1: Books, travel docs, passport, camera and high priority items. "Learn to speak Swahili" book. Last year during my week in Kenya I learned hundreds of words and phrases in Swahili (including the words hakuna matata—no worries—and simba—king—from The Lion King), and I am determined to speak even more. Swahili is such a beautiful language, very musical and fun to listen to.

Backpack #2: Staying in NY ( because after a month in Kenya and the Nairobi Marathon I’m coming back to run ING’s NYC Marathon), warm clothes and ING Run For Something Better supplies (orange shoelaces).

The community where I am going in the Rift Valley near Eldoret is very religious and conservative. No shorts are to be worn (except while running), and all undergarments must be washed by their owner. (That’s what the document said). I got a chuckle out of that one. The real truth is most people don’t even have any.

DurableBall.pngOne last item I had to fit into my luggage is a simple round ball. It’s not that simple though. This OneWorld durable ball was designed with funding by the artist Sting. It self inflates and is durable to withstand rocks, barbed wire, basically anything that the world can throw at it. As their slogan says: “The Simple Power of a Durable Ball” to facilitate play, peace, and happiness throughout the world. I love the concept and am excited to give it to my sponsored child Cosmas and see him play soccer with the other HIV/AIDs orphans in the village. They still need sponsors.

So now the time has come to depart for my journey to Kenya. I have been up all night delivering babies at Camp Pendleton. Sleep deprived and questioning whether I have packed everything I need, I have that inevitable pit in my stomach when I am about to leave the comforts of electronic communication, loved ones, and conveniences of a developed country. It happens every time and I have learned to embrace the feeling of leaving my comfort zone, because out of this comes growth, reflection, and using skills to help others in this world to simply survive.

So have I packed everything I need? Truly when you think about it, all you really need are the clothes on your back, passport, credit card, and your head on straight and you’re good to go. With this in mind, I set out with my three large bags and two backpacks with the goal to return with nothing but the shirt on my back and my passport. Everything else I would see got a much better use in Kenya than sitting in a closet back in San Diego. Sharing our excess with those in need. Carrying a heavy load, and coming back much lighter. Take a moment to think about the excesses that you have in your life, and how you could share, give to others, and put a smile on their face.

Smile. Let’s go to Africa!


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U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander Andrew Baldwin, M.D. is a physician, humanitarian, U.S. Navy diver and media personality currently serving as a family medicine resident at the Naval Hospital Camp Pendleton in Southern California. Prior to his current position, Dr. Baldwin served at the Navy's Bureau of…

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