Sunday, September 4, 2016

My brain hurts

You know you've been studying too long when you can't remember your password to access your blog!!  Wow.

I'm sitting in Blenz trying to study, clearly unsuccessfully.  I wrote a 5.5 practice MCAT this morning though so maybe thinking I could study a few more hours today was a bit too optimistic.  The good news is that I did pretty well on the exam.  Actually I pretty much aced one section (biological sciences), but am still having difficulty finishing the physical sciences and verbal reasoning sections. I keep running out of time and it's killing me!   I only have 10 days until the exam so I am starting to freak out a little bit! I'll only do 2 more full length tests before the actual test day so I'm starting to feel the pressure.  It certainly didn't help when I checked my phone messages today and there was a message notifying me that my scheduled test date had been canceled!!  Talk about stress!  It all got sorted out though, they just moved my location from UVic to Camosun College.

So yes that means a visit to Victoria in the near future!

p.s. Blenz has the best hot chocolate EVER: melted belgian dark chocolate in steamed almond milk!! Best 5 bucks ever spent!

SUN RUN FUN!


On Sunday I ran in the Vancouver Sun Run.  I've only ran the Sun Run once before, but it's always a great event with so much energy.  Over 50,000 people ran!!  Initially I wasn't going to race because up until 10 days before I hadn't ran faster than 5min per km pace since October!!  But then I thought who cares! I wasn't about to pass up the opportunity to run in such a great event just because my preparation wasn't as thorough as I'm used to! I had fun doing some cram training sessions in the 10 days before the race. In the end I ran as I expected I would - 38.22. 

 Race morning: killing time with my roomie Melissa Ross.

 Catching up with my red head triathlete friends at the post race brunch! Unfortunately Lucy wasn't allowed in the picture because her hair was not red. 

Ice cream sundae making station = best post-race elite brunch EVER.  Too bad I can't eat ice cream!

Brent and I pigging out.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

SOUTH AFRICA!

In 7 days I will be on a flight to Kwa-Zulu Natal province in South Africa.  My plans to travel to Uganda changed abruptly last week, but I will be still be sending 2 boxes of sporting equipment and children's books to the school I had organized to volunteer at.  I held a fundraiser on May 1st to raise some funds and collect material items I could take with me to the school in Uganda.  It was a very successful evening and I am excited to load 2 boxes of goodies into a container that will be leaving for Uganda on Saturday.  Special thanks to Pat and Brenda Montani for helping me organize my trip and the fundraiser, and to chef James Buchanan for volunteering to cater the evening and keeping everyone happy with delicious food!! And of course thanks to everyone who attended the evening and showed their support!
 
 I will now be traveling to South Africa to live on a farm owned by an amazing women called Kate.  Kate and her husband founded Izulu Orphan Projects (IOP) in 2006 and it has evolved into something extraordinary.  I still don't know a lot about it, but I guess I will be finding out soon on a first-hand basis.  I will be living on Kate's farm for 6 weeks.  Izulu Orphan Projects currently has 330 orphaned villages on file and this year are schooling and providing uniforms for 850 orphans.  IOP also supports the villages with basic food and clothing.  With never having been to Africa, this is going to be a crazy experience! 

Friday, September 2, 2016

Day 1 with Izulu Orphan Projects

It's been a long journey but here I am, in Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa.  The trip went well - as good as a 55 hour trip can possibly be and better.  I had 21 hours of flight time to catch up on some relaxation, good movies, and reading, split up with a 24-hour tour of Amsterdam and a 5-hour sleep in Johannesburg.

After a 90-minute drive from Durban this morning I arrived at Kate's farm, my home for the next 6 weeks.  Kate's land contains both her house as well as the offices for Izulu Orphan Projects.  I spent the day with the crew that work here and it was a super-fun-filled day of African adventures:) The guys piled into the back of a 4x4 and we took off (thank god I love driving fast) into town to pick up about $7000 worth of groceries for the orphans.  After loading it all into the back of two massive trucks the guys climbed up on top of all the food and we took off again back to Kate's.  At the farm we all worked together to unload the food.  Next week about 550 orphan families will come pick up a food package that will hopefully last them most of the month.  This a monthly project with Izulu Orphan Projects, so I was lucky to arrive today and be able to be some help on my first day!

Thursday, September 1, 2016

An Incredible Week with Izulu Orphan Projects (edited with pictures)

 I don't even know where to begin.  There are so many incredible things going on here with IOP that I have had the opportunity to get involved with.  Kate has been an incredible host so far, and what she has going on with IOP and the direction it is headed is so exciting!

Kate and I in Durban.


I'll start with last weekend.  Kate took me to Durban to her parents house for her mom's birthday party.  I saw the big soccer stadium built for the World Cup, and we spent Sunday morning lying on the beach!!  I just kept thinking about how cold Whistler was before I left and was grateful for that!!

Jedd (Kate's oldest son) and me on the beach.

Sunday evening was my first experience seeing the huts that the blacks here live in in the area surrounding Kate's farm.  At first I was shocked, it was just so different from anything I have ever seen before.  Since then I have driven through many of the orphan villages and I'm starting to get used to it.  It was definitely eye opening for me.

These are the huts from a distance.

On Monday I helped put together 210 food packages for the category 1 (lowest income) families that are supported by IOP.  A food package included soup bases, canned fish, canned vegetable curry, peanut butter, cooking oil, vaseline, shoe polish, toothpaste, soap, brown sugar, tea, uncooked beans and a large bag of maize meal.  We had women visiting the house all day picking up their food packages and I helped hand them out.  Some of these women would have walked over an hour to Kate's farm and would then have walked the same distance back home, all the while balancing a large 25kg bag of maize meal on their heads and carrying their other groceries.  I wish I was that talented!!


Kate also showed me current database being used by IOP and the new improved one she is working on.  It was all so impressive and very extensive!  Hopefully in the near future IOP will have Ipads for all the health workers and doctors to make collecting health data so much easier for all.  The ideas bouncing around this place just make me realize how different and innovative this project is from anything else in the world.

Food Packages for the IOP members

IOP members lining up for their food packages.
I spent the rest of the week working with doctors, Rick and Anita.  Rick and Anita are training 4 or 5 "health workers" in all the different orphan communities that IOP is supporting.  The health workers are females ranging from late teens to early thirties that are interesting in making a difference in their communities.  Rick and Anita have trained them to do HIV testing, blood glucose testing, and blood pressure testing.  They have set them all up with their personal testing kits and the health workers go out into their communities and test anyone and everyone who wants it.  Anita taught me to do the tests as well, so over the next few weeks I will be going out with the health workers and making sure the testing is going okay.

As well as the HIV, blood glucose and blood pressure screening, Rick and Anita were looking to expand their screening to include BMI testing and also educating the communities about obesity, diabetes, and healthy eating.  They had made some starts with it and we actually spent two mornings last week in the communities educating the health workers. After many exciting discussions with Anita I took on the role of coming up with a training plan for the health workers.  I just finished it this evening.  Soon the health workers will be going out into their communities and measuring BMI, educating on obesity and diabetes, and analyzing people's diets and giving suggestions for healthier eating plans.

In one of the community gardens where these women are growing sunflowers for sunflower oil production.

This week another doctor has arrived for a diet study.  I will be going out to the hospital with him tomorrow for the colonoscopies (I hope I don't have to watch!).  I looks like an interesting study but I'll write more about it when I know more about it.  It will be going on for the next month so I'm sure I will be busy helping out with that.  On Tuesday this week I am meeting one of the health workers on my own to finish her diabetes and blood sugar testing training.  I will then be joining her in the communities doing HIV and blood glucose screening.  Needless to say I have been busy, but it's all very exciting.  I have tons of pictures, but it's dinner time.. so another time!

South Africa Week 2: Volunteering with Izulu Orphan Projects

 I just had the most incredible "holiday" weekend in Umhlanga, a northern suburb of Durban, South Africa.  I spent the weekend at Rick and Anita's (the doctors who work with IOP) house.  They had organized a weekend away for a friend's birthday party, and their son's (14 and 17) were busy studying for exams, so I was on my own but I had no problem entertaining myself in this ritzy little resort town.  I ran lots (36km to be exact), lay on the beach, boogie boarded in massive waves, went to the cinema, went out for dinner, went shopping, and watched both the men's and women's WCS triathlon races live online from Madrid.  Woo go Paula (she won)!!

This weekend was a little escape from reality for me.  I saw and experienced so much working in the communities around Kate's farm last week that really shocked me.  Some of the living conditions and poverty I experienced were nothing I'd ever seen before. It leaves this empty feeling inside you knowing that there are people living like this...

At this particular hut (above) there was one "gogo" (zulu for grandmother) and 5 kids. None of the kids had shoes, or pants that weren't ripped to shreds, the dogs were so skinny you could see their skeleton, and there was no chicken coop to separate where the chicken's lived from where the human's lived.  So yes.. there was chicken shit everywhere - even inside the huts.  Imagine if this is all you had.

 This adorable girl's grandmother was very sick. We were walking from hut to hut doing HIV, blood glucose, and blood pressure testing when we came upon her.  She was in bed and not looking good. The family couldn't afford to get her to a clinic so we organized to pick her up the next day.  She ended up getting safely to and from hospital courtesy of an IOP worker.  If we hadn't stopped by she wouldn't have got any help and the family wouldn't have known to call anyone.

 This was quite interesting for me to witness.  The health workers and CWP (community works program) workers I was spending my day with on Thursday decided they wanted to eat some meat.  So they started building this little fire right in the field we were in and brought out this bag of frozen meat to cook.  It doesn't look like the most appetizing or hygienic meal, but curiosity got the better of me and I have to admit I did try some.

 This(above) was on Tuesday last week.  I had to finish one of these health worker's diabetes training (sign off that she had watched all the videos and passed a written test).  This picture was taken after the training was over and we were walking to another hut to set up health screening for the rest of the afternoon.  These girls are so enthusiastic about their jobs as health workers.  It's great to know there are people who care that live in these communities and are doing their best to help others.
 This is one of the health workers all set up do screening.  Rick and Anita have set all these girls up with collapsible tents and chairs so testing can be done in comfort and privacy. 


This is how we get around!  Riding the back of the 4x4 on these dirt roads is so much fun!  I always get offered the front seat, but riding in the back is so much more adventurous!! 

This is a really neat project put on the by the CWP workers.  They have planted community gardens in all of the various communities so people can have access to fresh grown veggies.  This is Kitiwe and I in the garden.  Kitiwe works for IOP and was a great help organizing my week last week.  I wouldn't have been able to do it alone because I don't speak Zulu (I know 3 words)!

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Africa Update!

It's definitely time for an update, but I have a good reason for the delay.  Unfortunately I caught I stomach flu last weekend and was vomiting, nauseous, and lay in bed for about 2 days with no energy.  I went to the doctor though and got some meds and I have made a full recovery.  It was so bad the day I went to the doctor I had to sit down and rest during the 100m walk from the doctor's office to the pharmacy to pick up my presciption!  Anyways.. I am alive and well.  

So lots has been going on with the diet study and I have been jumping in and helping out as much as possible.  The picture below is me in the field collecting stool samples (not me) of the subject and doing breath tests, questionnaires etc etc. 

 Above is a picture of the 3 subjects (sitting on the ground) and two of the people helping me collect data.

This picture below is a different day out in the field doing HIV, BP and diabetes screening.  We went to the most amazing community way out in the countryside.  I got to drive the 4x4 out here and there were a few hills I wasn't sure if I would get up!  It was so beautiful with a mountain right behind all the huts that I decided to hike up!!  Two ladies joined me but they only made it half way and then I ran the rest of the way and took pictures from the top.  It took 40 minutes to get to the top and the view was amazing!!  This picture below is one of the ladies who lives in the community we were doing the screening at.  She really wanted her picture taken.  All of the community members love it when you ask for their picture so I don't feel shy about bringing out my camera anymore.  Lots of the women put clay on their faces to protect them from the sun.
 The picture below is some of the community members whom we screened.
 It still fascinates me how all the women carry things on their heads so easily.  This is three community members arriving at the screening site.
 This picture below is me half way up the mountain.  The two ladies I was with stopped at this point so we got some great photos.  The view was incredible.
 Here are the two women who came with me.  I was so impressed they made it this far, and also so impressed they expressed interest in coming!!
 The view from the top! 

 This is just a pretty picture of the road out of the community from the back of the 4x4 on our way home.
 Last weekend we went to the Umpholozi Game Reserve.  This was my first safari so despite vomiting a few times it was incredible.  I went with Kate and 2 girls from England who run a charity and raise money for Kate to give out food every month.  They were incredible women and young (28 and 30) so we had a great time.  This is a picture of me leaning out the window of Kate's car at the end of our game drive the first night.  We saw so many animals - giraffes, wild dog (very rare), vultures, white rhino, warthog, zebras, lots of elephants, crocodiles, turtles, buck,  and baboons. 
 We were in and amongst about 10 elephants, including babies!  Kate had her foot on the gas ready to accelerate out of there if any of them showed interest in flipping our cars!  We were trying to be still and be "one with the car," but that's always difficult with a 2 year old and 5 year old in the car haha!!
 This giraffe was so close I thought he was going to put his head in my window! 
Since the weekend I have been very involved with the diet study.  A team has arrived from Edmonton (small world) for the diet study.  Gita is the lead lady and has a PhD in nutritional epidemiology.  They have been out in the field collecting 24 hour recall data on 80 community members.  They ask them to recall everything they ate the day before.  I have inputed all the data into an excel spreadsheet for them and will be doing as much as I can to help with their research during my time left here.  I find it fascinating and am excited to learn more about what they do.  I may even have my name published on a few papers by the time I leave here!!

My battery is dying so I am going to end this here.  I hope it makes sense I was typing fast!!