A final send off from the volunteering clinic

Trip Start Apr 21, 2013
Trip End Jun 30, 2013

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Tuesday, July 2, 2013

I was fairly sad as I realised my time volunteering in the clinic was coming to the end. I made some notes about my final days but have developed upon them over the last two weeks, as I felt I needed some time to reflect on my feelings about finishing the project. As I finished, I knew that I was going to miss the midwives and doctors who had become my friends.  They had opened up their homes and hearts to me and treated me like one of the family. Everyone at the clinic had shown amazing patience with my Spanish and helped me develop it slowly day by day. The midwives and doctors had not only tried to show me the practices within the clinic, but allowed me to embrace the customs and cultures of the people here. I was taken along to festivals, parties, confirmations and generally welcomed along to anything that they thought I might find interesting. I was invited to spend time in the midwives' homes and each of their extended families made me feel welcomed. As I spent all day every day with the midwives, and ate three meals a day with them, they really began to feel like family and I felt honoured to feel part of their lives during my stay. It seems like the less you have, the more you share with people around you, as you know what it is to have nothing.  Even though the midwives had very humble homes, and few possessions they wanted to share what little they did have with me, and for that I was extremely grateful.

As I was packing up, I also knew that I was going to miss the routine and the pace of the lifestyle in the rainforest of Ecuador. It had taken some getting used to at the beginning; everything just happens as and when it happens. There seemed to be a lot of sitting around and waiting and to start with I couldn't see the need for the doctors eagerly awaiting the patients, as there were no appointment times. However, in time I realised that this would be the only way that it would work, as people just turn up when they can, depending on the weather, the buses and what other chores they need to do. The pace of life in the area just ambles along slowly, and no one seems to be worried about time efficiency or other western ideas.

Even though I didn't think that I would miss the actual food (other than the weekly steamed fish), I thought I would miss the rituals of the meal times. Walking across to the kitchen area in the morning, to enjoy breakfast with the midwives, as the chickens peeked near our feet. Observing that the growing chicks seemed to be marking the length of my stay, as they turned from tiny chicks, to small chickens as the month progressed. Even though at times the food seemed bland and monotonous, I was always impressed by the way they made a meal out of a couple of simple ingredients. There was also a certain amount of intrigue with each meal, as I would try to work out what I was actually eating. Numerous times the midwives would laugh that I would eat anything that they put in front of me, and that they thought I would be far more fussy and start demanding different foods to suit my western tastes. Other than the fact that I didn't eat the chicken bones and fish eyes, they seemed impressed that I fully embraced their diet and simple living. Before I had started the volunteering I had decided to try to submerge myself in the culture as much as I could and accept any invitation or challenge that was presented to me. Which I believe I did.

The services available in the clinic were at a high standard and better than what I expected.  Throughout the month I saw challenges that the midwives are facing and the new relationship with the ministry of health. Similar to most western practices there seems to be more emphasis on record keeping and statistics, which the midwives are struggling with, as some of them do not read or write and their practice has traditionally been “hands on”, rather than calculating dates and risk etc. I wonder if by trying to turn their skills into what we would class a profession, if they will lose the essence of what has been passed down from generation to generation. To observe the three midwives working together, preparing natural medicines and caring for the woman throughout each and every contraction was a snapshot of years passed. They were a family midwifery team, and had been helping women birth for over 50 years, which was an incredible dynamic for me to observe. I think that experience will be something that will stay with me forever, and something that I still need to reflect further upon, as I re-enter the western midwifery model.

Of course, the midwives, doctors and clinic workers thought I should have a send off to remember.  I am now more accustomed to the “closing of the clinic, buying in of the beers and partying in the clinic experience”, which to start with seemed so surreal. As it was a special occasion we also shared pizza and ice-cream, and danced until midnight. Many of the partners, and family members came to wish me well and to have one last dance together as a big group. The midwives tried to teach me to dance in the traditional Kichwa way and we played drinking games from their different communities. It was a great way to finish my time in the clinic, as we danced and laughed the evening away. As I left I knew it was an experience that will stay with me for a long time, and I hope to follow the progress of the midwives and the clinic. We have shared contact information and they know that I would love to help them if I can. We have taught each other a lot, and I feel that I have shown them some ways to improve the care for the women, but the rich insight I have had into their lives and the warmth that they embraced me with throughout my stay was more than I could ever have hoped for.
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Dave & Doreen on

Very interesting reflections Gem. Let's hope the parteras and doctors etc. do not become as immersed in paperwork and tickboxes as in western models.What you have shown to us is how much care they put into their work. That is not always true in the UK.. Well done Gem. You have had a valuable experience. Love, xx

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