Sophomore takes Christmas break mission trip to Kenya

Posted on January 24, 2012

Katie Putnam, wearing an Erskine shirt and hat, poses with Kenyan children.

As the fall semester was winding down in December, Erskine College sophomore Katie Putnam was packing up for a medical mission trip to Mwaluphamba, near Kwala, Kenya.

Putnam learned about the mission trip from her father, the Rev. Andy Putnam, current moderator of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian (ARP) General Synod, who has participated in several short-term missions himself.

The trip was organized by Medical Missions, which Katie Putnam describes as “the ARP version of ‘Doctors Without Borders.’” The December venture was Medical Missions’ first trip to Kenya.

“We went to open a clinic for basic medical needs,” she said, noting that people in the area would normally have to walk two days to reach the nearest hospital, and clinic costs are “more than most can afford.”

The group of 12 volunteers — among them a medical student, two nurses, three doctors, a teacher, an engineer, and a landscaper — stayed at a tent camp on the soccer field of a high school.

“We slept on the ground, and took brush showers, which was pretty intense,” she said. “Brush showers are pretty much just a container of water that you pour onto you in a stall.”

Several rooms in the high school were used for the clinic, Putnam said, including “one classroom for medical staff, one classroom for the pharmacy, and one room for evangelism.”

The clinic served large numbers of women and children.

Patients would “go through triage, then talk to the doctors, and finally wait in the evangelism room for their medicine in the pharmacy,” she explained.

The volunteers ran the clinic for five days, serving more than 200 people each day. “People were lined up from 4 a.m. at the clinic, and each day the clinic ran from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.”

While assisting in the clinic, Putnam saw examples of medical problems that are rare or nonexistent in the United States — an infestation of mango worms in a woman’s foot, jiggers that burrowed into feet and laid eggs, and chest and neck pain resulting from carrying large weights on the head. More familiar ailments included severe ear infections and at least one case of arrhythmia.

“We mostly served women and children,” she said. An average of three children accompanied each woman. In fact, one of Putnam’s favorite activities during the week was playing with the many children, who enjoyed having their pictures taken.

In addition to gaining some general medical knowledge, “I confirmed my career path in medical missions,” she said. “I would like to be a part of pediatric medical missions to China, Russia, and Peru at the least.”

During the mission, the team conducted “a fantastic worship service,” Putnam said, in which two members of the mission group spoke, “and there was very lively music and joyous praise.”

Some 250 people responded positively to the gospel message during the mission, she said, “which is pretty amazing.”

Her experience in Kenya taught Putnam that  “when God is in control, anything can happen.”

Volunteers took a day to see some of the wildlife of Kenya.

After running the clinic for five days, the group took a break from sleeping on the ground.

“At the end of the trip we went on an eight-hour safari, and we even stayed at a resort,” Putnam said.

She returned home a week before Christmas, hoping that she will be able to go to Peru on a similar mission next year. She brought with her a few words of Swahili: “Jambo” — “Hello”; “Habari” — “How are you?”; and “Gina laco nani?” — “What is your name?”

She also learned a word to describe her mission experience: “Mzuri!”— which means “Good!”