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One of Philip’s own, Roxy Gittings helps serve those in need in West Africa

If you have ever wondered what it would be like to go to western Africa, one of Philip’s own has done just that. Roxy Gittings went on a medical mission trip with Bridges of Hope West Africa. A cardiac provider at Monument Health, Martin Digler is one of the primary founders along with his sisters here in the states, and in Liberia. The organization works with the Hope Village near Bensonville. They provide clinical services and with Phebe Teaching Hospital, near Suakoko, they provide general surgical services and teaching for current students. The clinical team consisted of two providers, three nurses, one pharmacist, and two pharmacy technicians. The surgical team consisted of two surgeons, two nurses, two nurse anesthetists, and one anesthesiologist. There was also a devotional team at Hope Village made up of two pastors from the United States, and four pastors from local churches. 
Many of the volunteers are current or past employees of Monument Health. Bridges of Hope Village has a k-12 school at Hope Village and plans to build a health care facility to provide services for the village and surrounding areas. To become a volunteer there is no specific education required, but there are several meetings via zoom. The meetings were held to inform volunteers on what to expect once they were in Africa, climate, local dialects, food, and community living standards. Members who were a part of the medical team were not required to have a current certification, but it was recommended. 
The surgical team averaged eight goiter and hernia surgeries each day, while generally working around eight hours a day. The clinic averaged about 95 patients and filled about 500 prescriptions each day.  The volunteers averaged about 10-hour days. Those at the Hope Village had running water to shower and a generator to power after dark. The team in Phebe had power for about six hours a night and no running water. 
There was a plentiful supply of bottled water for drinking, coffee, and tea, along with brushing their teeth. There was fresh pineapple, multiple types of bananas, carrots, cucumbers, plantain chips, and watermelon almost every day. Breakfast often consisted of scrambled eggs with oatmeal or white sweet potatoes. Traditional Gari, made with cassava was always available as cereal. Lunch and dinner were rice and chicken legs with traditional soups, or sauces. There were many vegetables from eggplant to sweet potato greens, cabbage, pinto beans, and “hot dog rice.” The volunteers were treated to pizza that had things like smoked salmon, beef, corn, jalapenos, and black olives. They often had pepper sauces, made from the locals with a mortar and pestle to combine scotch bonnet peppers, palm oil and salt. All the cooking was done over a fire behind the guest houses. The locals learned how to cook chicken legs from a couple that originally came from Texas. A favorite treat of the locals was small, boiled snails in a spicy peanut sauce. They called them kiss meat, because they had to make a kiss face to suck the meat out of the shell. A few of the volunteers were brave enough to try it. 
Some interesting things about the trip were the history of Liberia. It was established in the early to mid-1800s as a site for freed slaves who were relocated from the United States. Liberia declared their independence in 1847. There have been many civil wars in the past years. The main language is American, but there are 16 dialects from the different tribes. Still to this day there are many communities that have no electricity or running water. Those people live a subsistence lifestyle. They eat mostly rice, and whatever can be grown or found in surrounding vegetation. Most of the people cannot afford or have no access to medical care. Some of the patients that wanted medical attention had to walk four to five hours to stand in line and some slept in school desks overnight if they weren’t able to be seen the day they got there. Some prescriptions can cost up to two months’ worth of food for a family, so many people with chronic conditions go untreated. 
Government officials earn no wages for the title, so bribery and corruption are very common. There are no regulations on medical or pharmaceutical costs, so price gouging and bargaining are common. 
The highways are generally not upkept and well-maintained.  The pictures and videos we see of the people carrying large loads on their heads are indeed true. They generally use motorcycles or walk for regular transportation. They make large loads on their motorcycles, on the front and the back, on the backs of trucks, and on the tops of cars. It is a common thing to see people riding on top of vehicles, or on the front or back of motorcycles. In some of the bigger communities there are 3-wheeled rickshaw-like vehicles that can be rented like a taxi, and they are called kekeh or tuk-tuk. 
Roxy reminisced about her favorite parts of the trip from the revival services to the tours of the grounds, and the final farewell ceremony. The revival services made the heartbreaking things that were seen during the day more bearable, and were full of energy, music, and dancing. While on the tour plants were pointed out that are still used for medicine today, and the difference from banana to plantain and trees that produced alcohol. The volunteers were showed the bee hives, and showed their drainage systems for wastewater, and demonstrated how they climb trees using a pole leaned against the trunk. They also make their own palm oil.
At the farewell ceremony Martin and his sisters presented the volunteers with traditional fabric garments. The ladies were given dresses, and the men shirts along with head coverings, scarf head wraps for the women and hats for the men. Many community members and school kids were present for the ceremony. 
She went on to explain the process of getting to and from West Africa. It took two calendar days to get to Liberia. They spent approximately 24 hours on planes, from Rapid City to Denver, Chicago, Brussels (Belgium), Freetown (Sierra Leone), Freeport (Monrovia, Liberia). The extent of the stay was 14 days in Liberia, with eight of them being spent providing medical services. The final two days were spent with the farewell ceremony, a visit to Monrovia, and getting to the airport. Because of the time changes it only took one calendar day to get back to the states. 
If the opportunity presented itself for Roxy to go again, she expressed she would absolutely go back. To volunteer it cost about $3300, including the cost of the visa.

The Pioneer Review

221 E. Oak Street
Philip, SD 57567
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