Trip of a lifetime

Fullife Foundation Director Ian Shanks and NAPSA president Jess Hsiao cutting the ribbon at the opening of the rebuilt health post in May 2019.

NAPSA president Jessica Hsiao shares her experience travelling to Ethiopia to visit a health post rebuilt by the Fullife Foundation and supported by pharmacy students

Last year NAPSA supported Fullife Foundation for the 2018 Charity Cup campaign and raised over $25,000 as well as packing 6,000 birthing kits. Fullife Foundation is an organisation dedicated to improving the health of women and children Ethiopia. The funds raised by branches over the 2018 Charity Cup period were able to support the funding of rebuilding a health post in the rural town of Shurmo in Ethiopia. The health post is the first point of contact for health checks for the community, with a large focus on maternal and child wellbeing.

During the April Easter break, past NAPSA Pharmacy Awareness Chair Stephanie Samios and myself travelled over to Ethiopia with Fullife Foundation Directors, Ian Shanks, Michelle Bou-Samra, Michelle’s son Xavier, and CEO of International Needs Australia (INA), Pri Fernando. After getting all the necessary vaccinations and documents for the trip, it was already time to embark the 20-hour flight to Ethiopia from Brisbane.

On arrival at Bole Airport in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, we realised how bright the sun was being 2,355 metres above sea level. The higher altitude definitely showed when climbing up even just one flight of stairs. Our trip in Ethiopia had a full itinerary of visiting various Fullife Foundation projects, early childhood care and education (ECCE) centres funded by the support of the Bole Bible Baptist Church (BBBC) group, as well as squeezing in a bit of sightseeing on the last days.

It was an early start on the first full day in Ethiopia as we drove about five hours’ south of Addis Ababa to the town of Hosaena where the Fullife Foundation maternal and child health post was rebuilt. We visited the newly build site in Shurmo about 10 minutes’ north of the Hosaena township where we were greeted by the local school children eager to see what was going on. The new health post is one block constructed of four rooms, which will serve as a consult room, maternal delivery room, clinical waiting room (admin area) and a health-extension worker waiting service room. It also has a newly built latrine and water line extension. The health post that NAPSA partially funded is part of a bigger project by Fullife Foundation, INA and BBBC, called the Integration Health and Water Project – Shurmo Program. This larger project also consisted of the construction of a new water reservoir with four water points (each with four faucets constructed) for the community to access clean water. The fantastic thing about these projects is that they are creating jobs for local people, which makes a huge impact in the community. The health post along with the potable water output will have over 20,500 direct beneficiaries!

On the day of the official opening of the health post, the elders, leaders and women of the community all gathered to address the new health post. There were speeches from the elders of the community, leaders of the woreda (district), water board representatives, BBBC, INA, Fullife Foundation and NAPSA. Students from the high school next to the health post also gathered to listen, and their smiles during the speeches showed it all as they were the future of the community moving forward. The official opening consisted of the ribbon cutting of the health post, a traditional coffee ceremony and traditional food buffet. The community also presented NAPSA, Fullife Foundation and INA representatives with a modern variation of the traditional Hadiya attire. The rest of the day we visited various projects by both Fullife Foundation and BBBC. About 6km north of Shurmo we visited an ECCE centre (built by BBBC) and a health post which was in desperate need of an upgrade with holes in the wall, limited lighting and ventilation. We also visited the Maternal Health Centre in Shurmo sponsored by Fullife Foundation, which had been opened last year. Since the opening of the maternal health centre, it has delivered about 65 births per month and no maternal deaths since the re-build in January 2018.

We also had the opportunity to meet with Valerie Browning AM, an Australian Nurse who now calls the Afar her home. Valerie was awarded an Order of Australia in 1999 for her service to international humanitarian aid through promoting health and literacy programs in the horn of Africa. Valerie (also known as Maalika to the Afar people) has now lived among the Afar nomads for almost 30 years and is a founding member, with her husband Ismael Ali Gardo, of the Afar Pastoralist Development Association (APDA). APDA is an organisation that aims to bring health and education to the people of the Afar region to contribute to the development and wellbeing of the Afar people. Listening to Valerie speak was an exhilarating experience, someone with an overwhelming passion and dedication even at the age of 68 and no signs of stopping.

We also received an invitation from the Australian Embassy in Ethiopia for a reception at the Ambassador’s residence in Addis Ababa. We were welcomed by His excellency Mr Peter Doyle, Ambassador to Ethiopia, and members of the Australian Embassy.

On the last day of our trip, we met with three pharmacy students from the Afar region who were currently studying in the five-year degree at Addis Ababa University. Two of the students were sponsored by Fullife Foundation through the Barefoot Initiative Education Scholarship to study in Addis Ababa, which is very far from their home in the Afar region (over 500 km). The students highlighted the key issue with pharmacists currently in the Afar is that they speak Amharic and not the Afar language. Due to the communication barrier with current pharmacists working in the Afar, there is also a lack of trust from the community with reports of wrongdoing and neglect by the pharmacists. When the students become pharmacists they will be accepted into the community and be able to communicate the safe use of medicines and educate about the side effects, expiry dates and storage – a lot of what we take for granted as a given in Australia.

Jess Hsiao and Stephanie Samios outside the rebuilt health post.
Jess Hsiao and Stephanie Samios outside the rebuilt health post.

Being about 12,684 km from home, we also took some time to explore the city of Addis Ababa and what Ethiopia had to offer. We visited the biggest and busiest vegetable and fruit market in Addis Ababa (named Atikilt tera) and the largest open-air market in Africa (spice market, Mercato). There was also an opportunity to try and bake some injera, a traditional Ethiopian flatbread made from fermented teff flour (a type of grain native to Ethiopia).

We would like to say a special thank you to Pharmacy Alliance for sponsoring NAPSA’s trip to Ethiopia to allow us to meet the people we had helped with the opening of a new health-post in Shurmo. Our gratitude extends to Ian Shanks, director and founder of Fullife Foundation, as well as Michelle Bou-Samra, director of Fullife Foundation (and NAPSA Honorary Life Member), for making this trip happen and showing us the impact NAPSA has made on a global scale. NAPSA would also like to acknowledge the support from International Needs Australia (INA) who have helped with the organisation of the trip and for their work on the ground in Ethiopia as well as other countries in Africa.

Previous How do pharmacists feel about medicinal cannabis?
Next Five top asthma questions

NOTICE: It can sometimes take awhile for comment submissions to go through, please be patient.