What they do 

5. Annegreet

Today’s story is brought to you by Annegreet, who I’ve known probably almost all my life. I’ve always admired her: she is such a brave woman!
I remember us as kids having a sleepover and sending each other notes while we’re each laying in our separate bed in my room. We attached the notes to a line and had a pretty inventive mail service going on there, while Mom and Dad thought we were good sleepers.

When I was little, I dreamed of Africa. I would be a nurse or doctor or midwife and teach people how to be healthy, because I had seen images of poor people who were sick. It was quite simple, the world was unfair and those people needed help.

Then I grew up and life-events tumbled upon my path and everything didn’t seem all that simple. Dreams were put on hold and taken over by new dreams or even personal disasters. I was not Mother Theresa and the world was too big.

‘We know that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.’

Later, I learnt to take smaller steps. Any ordinary person can take a small step to cheer up the world. You don’t have to fix everything, but you can make the next person smile. Besides, Mother Theresa said: ‘We know that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.’

So I did go to Africa, even though I ended up having a job in healthcare in Holland. At the moment I’m using vacation weeks to help as a volunteer in a bush clinic in Liberia.
A lot of the clinic work is screening and sending people home with the right medicine. There’s a short-stay for patients that need to stay overnight. The rule is that we should be able to help them within 48 hours at the clinic, else they need to be transferred to a hospital. There is no guarantee that the hospital will provide better treatment and it’s far away, so we do the best we can.

One lady came to us with an infection, some days after being stuck in a deer trap. It was a wire trap that had her dangling from a tree! The wire cut into her leg as she struggled to escape, but she managed to climb up to free her foot. A scary and painful adventure!

At the end of the day at the clinic, all the patients went home, except her. She was having to wait for the antibiotics to kick in and her leg was hurting her. From a medical point of view we had done what we could, but she looked so sad and lonely. She didn’t speak much English and I wondered what was going through her mind.post-annegreet-inpostI decided to ask myself what I’d need in her place. I think I’d need some company and distraction from the pain. I’d also need some clean underwear if I had to stay overnight unexpectedly, so I brought that for her. Then I sat with her, showing her how to make a friendship bracelet, while making one for her myself and singing a bit. Maybe the singing was more for me, because it felt kind of awkward sitting there with a stranger whose language I didn’t speak.

After a while she said: ‘My name Esther … from Cestos.’ That was the only sign that she wanted to talk with me. I put my bracelet on her arm before saying goodnight. It was the smallest possible gesture.

A few days later Esther came back to the clinic for follow-up. When she saw me she waved and greeted me with a huge smile. I had never seen her smile before. I guess that evening had meant something to her.

Does it matter; the tiny step of seeing a person and trying to creatively connect? I know such moments change me, so perhaps that counts for others too. Maybe such moments are bigger than they seem. My dream for a better world becomes a little more tangible when I get to meet real people who have a need I can see to. If I can make you smile today, maybe you’ll do the same for someone else. I like to think a small step can have a positive snowball effect.

Do you want to read more about Annegreet and her adventures in Liberia? Check out her blog! If you would like to support her financially, just send me (or Annegreet) a message for more information.