By KATE MCBRIDE
Sometimes, to make things happen, all you need to do is ask. I learnt this recently after I read a confronting newspaper article about a little boy and decided to ask if there was any way he could be helped.
That newspaper article was in the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH), and I was reading it online from Nairobi, Kenya. And that little boy, was 9 year old Stanford, who was suffering from a severe skin condition that had been made significantly worse by him being an Internally Displaced Person (IDP) as a result of the post-election violence that hit Kenya in late 2007.
The newspaper article had been written because an Australian photographer, Jonathan May, had taken a powerfully haunting image of Stanford, wearing a Spiderman costume that he had bought for him, cradling his cherished pet dog. The photo had won the Head On Portrait Prize, which is part of Australia’s largest photo festival and the world’s second largest photo festival.
Reading the SMH online was part of my daily routine to keep up with the news from home and it was this photo that caught my attention. Aside from the overwhelming sadness of the story, it was the fact that Stanford was located in Kenya where I had been volunteering for the past 18 months through the Australian Volunteers for International Development (AVID) program that I couldn’t get away from. He was here and I was here. The irony of it didn’t escape me. I think I read the story three times over, and knowing all too well the situation that Stanford and his family would be facing, I just couldn’t dismiss that photo and those words.
Even more reason for me to try was the fact I was working within the Clinical and Diagnostics Program for the African Medical and Research Foundation (AMREF), who provide medical care to disadvantaged people largely located in rural and remote regions across East Africa.
So ignoring my concern that perhaps I was interfering or adding to the large number of emails that Jonathan would be receiving with offers to help Stanford, I sent an email explaining my position in Kenya and simply asked the question ‘Do you need assistance?’
It turned out they did.
I then asked my work colleague, Jennifer, and the Regional Manager of the Clinical Outreach Programme, Dr Asrat Mengiste whether there was any way we could help this boy and without hesitation they said we could try.
That is how it came to be, that on an overcast Wednesday in June, Stanford along with his mother Alice came to our AMREF clinic to be assessed by Dr Mengiste, who is a Reconstructive Specialist. After seeking medical assistance from a multitude of places, Alice just wanted to get a definitive diagnosis for her son.
Talking with Alice I learnt that Stanford had been perfectly fine up until the age of 4 years old. That was until the violence broke out after the 2007 Kenyan Elections, which resulted in her small green grocer business and home being burnt down, and her husband becoming severely injured after being attacked with a machete. Having no other option, Alice, her injured husband and two children at the time, were forced to relocate to the nearby IDP camp.
After a few months of camp life, where food availability and personal safety were a daily concern, Alice noticed that Stanford had began scratching his head in the same place. Required to live in a small white tent, in extremely hot conditions, Alice also began to observe how Stanford would cower from the sun and didn’t seem to want to go outside of the tent.
With Stanford’s condition deteriorating, Alice used the 25,000 Kenyan Shillings (AU $300) given to each family within the IDP camp by the government for resettlement to get medical treatment for her son. Without fully understanding his condition, Stanford received initial treatment for his fading eyesight and a skin lesion on his nose, but the cause of the problem was not determined.