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Jess' Blog No.6 - Day 2: On to Mekelle

By Jessica Wilkes-Reading

Jess' Blog No.6 - Day 2: On to Mekelle

Wesleyan's CR and Charity Coordinator Jessica Wilkes-Reading, and retired dentist and Wesleyan customer Jane Innes-Rees are in Ethiopia visiting various projects to see what support people from the UK are providing - and what more can be done.

Here, Jess describes her day at Ayder Referral Hospital in the northern Ethiopian city of Mekelle.

After nearly 48 hours in the air, on the road, and up in the air again, my first full day in Africa began in the peaceful surroundings of the hotel garden among the most beautiful birds and flowers.

It was here that I met Tesfai, one of the managers at Elshadai Children's Village, where I will be going later in the week.

We talked at length about the orphanage and how we can help. I even managed to introduce him to some Wesleyan terminology -- 'You said we did'!

We are heading up there on Thursday afternoon to see the farm and the orphanage, to start finding out what things the children want, before going to the local market to get them supplies.

I've also been asked to run a session with the children at the weekend asking what they love, what they would change and a wish list.

On Tuesday afternoon, we went to Ayder Referral Hospital which is the home of Mekelle University. They teach medicine, nursing and dental students there. The students start their training at 18 and are completely hands on in their learning.

Walking through the hospital it was startling to see families literally camped outside. Some of them have walked four hours to get to the hospital and once they arrive, they don't leave until treatment is finished, meaning they are forced to live in the grounds.

I heard one story of a girl who walked from Addis Ababa to Mekelle - a journey of 500 miles - on her own, with a baby. For all of the UK's faults, we are SO lucky to have the access to the NHS and the infrastructure to get us to places when we need treatment.

Hospital tour

The hospital site is HUGE and thanks to Jane's fantastic friend Abraha, we were able to visit the areas we wouldn't normally be able to see.

Abraha is a biomedical engineer and he is vital to the hospital - without him, none of the equipment would ever get fixed. His office was full of hundreds of pieces of equipment and he even has a database of everything in there and a risk assessment for each broken piece to help him and his team prioritise what needs fixing.

He learnt all of this from SHARE ('Sheffield Health Action Resource for Ethiopia', an international health link between Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Mekelle), last year when he came over to the UK.

It's so hard for people like Abraha to learn this knowledge. But without coming to places like the UK to learn those skills and then bring them back to Ethiopia, then there is no way they can continue to develop and pass the knowledge on to others.

As I said before, it isn't the people and the willing that's holding the hospitals back, but instead the lack of a decent supply chain and access to equipment.

We saw the first ever medical oxygen plant in Ethiopia - and it wasn't working. One small four-inch is needed to fix it, something any of us could pop into a hardware shop to buy for practically pennies. But it could take weeks for it to arrive here.

In the meantime, a driver and porter are having to drive miles to get oxygen to the people that need it most. Again, it's simple things we take for granted at home that could be the difference between life and death here.


In the evening, I had the privilege of talking in more depth with the SHARE team. What a team of amazing and inspirational people they are! We went for pizza (yes, really!) at the Karibu Kitchen and talked well in to the night about how businesses in the UK could support the infrastructure here.

After my first full day in the country, I am buzzing with so any ideas that I go to bed exhausted, and then lie awake thinking about solutions. I was able to shut my brain off by watching The Avengers on TV. It was strange to see something so familiar, so far away from home...

Tomorrow, I'm off with the team to refurbish a children's playroom in the hospital. And we hope to leave a little bit of Wesleyan and Birmingham Children's Hospital behind - we're going to paint a mural and it's going to include illustrations from our children's book, 'The Unstoppable Maggie McGee'!

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