Climbing Kilimanjaro still remains one of the hardest things I have ever done other than unmedicated child birth. Why do it for the fourth year in a roll? Why torture myself again? As most of you know, I grew up in a Malawi, in a small village outside of Salima called Thonje. I grew up struggling for the basic needs of life like food, clean water, health care and even access to a good education. I spent dawns walking to collect water from a river where goats, cows, dogs, and other wild life shared the same drinking water with us. I attended school under trees and shared one textbook with a class of over 20 students because that is all we had. Children dying from malaria, cholera, dysentery was a devastating norm due to lack of access to clean water sources. Access to quality medical care was a luxury that was not given common villagers like us. With droughts, many would die of hunger, malnutrition and starvation. These were times in my childhood that I felt forgotten by the rest of the world. In 1994, I got an opportunity of a lifetime, when an American ER doctor Donna Ivey, who was on a short-term medical mission trip, offered me a full scholarship to attend school in the United States. I went from feeling forgotten, to now becoming a gynecologic oncologist in the United States of America. I have since co-founded Pothawira (Safe Haven) in Salima, Malawi close to the village where I grew up. Pothawira has an outpatient medical care, birthing center, orphanage and a school for people around the villages who would otherwise have no access to those services. This is the miracle of my story and it’s the miracle that has driven me to climb Kilimanjaro for the third time to bring clean water and healthcare access to many people in Malawi, who like I once did, feel forgotten in their plight.
Other than being ranked the poorest country in the World, Malawi is also ranked as one of the worst places to be a mother because of the high maternal, neonatal, and infant mortality rates. We have a little girl at Pothawira named Naomi. Her mother was 27 years old, recently widowed, and pregnant with twins, when she went into labor. Due to lack of resources for transportation, she decided to walk over 20 miles journey to the nearest medical facility. Unfortunately, she delivered Naomi in a corn field on the side of the road, lost a lot of blood and died before she delivered Naomi’s twin. Naomi was brought to our orphanage from that corn field with a rag tied to her umbilical cord stump, dripping with blood and dirt. These stories are far too common in Malawi, and the death of young women in childbirth a reality that is faced daily. As a women’s healthcare doctor in the United States of America who has seen the miracle of modern medicine and as a Malawian woman who was destined for this same fate, I refuse to accept the plight of Malawian women and children as a norm. These children and these women are no different from me and their potential no different from mine. Their lives, like mine are no less worth.
I am climbing again because I refuse to accept that there are still villages with thousands of people who have no access to clean water in Malawi. I refuse to accept that child birth remains a life and death decision for young women in Malawi. I refuse to accept the reality that many Malawian mothers and children are dying simply because they were born in a poor country. The challenge and pain of climbing Kilimanjaro seems minor in comparison to the pain that many of my friends and family in Malawi continue to feel daily. I want them to know that they are never to be forgotten. As long as I can, I will climb for them.