Carl Hnatyshyn, Special to The Free Press
Saturday, February 2
Being spat upon was hardly the reception Stacey Swinkels expected for her charity.
Then, again, the young London doctor likely never expected to wind up in Ethiopia, one of Africa’s poorest nations, providing free eye surgery to the rural poor.
Spitting on someone — like hand-shaking — is apparently a sign of great thanks in some parts of the country.
The accommodations when you go into an impoverished area, like Swinkels did with the Australian-based charity Eyes for Africa, aren’t exactly five-star.
Or even one star.
Instead, try nights spent in a hut made out of garbage scraps.
Unfazed, the 32-year-old is looking back on small but vital differences the two-week mission made in Ethiopa, a country whose troubles first came to the world in stark images during a brutal famine a generation ago.
One high, Swinkels said, was helping a five-year-old girl regain her eyesight after two years.
“She really stood out for me as someone who hopefully will have a massive change to her life at such a crucial developmental stage,” Swinkels said in an e-mail.
The lows included advanced eye tumours so bad, patients couldn’t be treated.
Swinkels, who’d studied in Australia, accompanied some of her professors to remote Australian islands to provide medical care. One told her about Eyes for Africa.
The charity runs bi-annual, eye surgery trips to Africa.
While her family fretted she might wind up in a more dangerous country, Ethiopia presented its own challenges.
Lineups, Swinkels said, stretched around hospitals, with patients identified only by pieces of masking tape with numbers and the letters L or R — left or right — to indicate which eye needed attention.
Local nurses and doctors soaked up the latest medical techniques from the group.
“I became good friends with some of them,” wrote Swinkels, who’s now begun working on a fellowship in Scotland. “I was able to teach them some practical techniques such as nerve blocks for eye surgery, general and orthopaedic surgery.”