Project by German Doctors

Doctor from Bonn returns from mission in Kenya

Laura von der Emde untersucht ein kenianisches Kind auf dem Schoß seiner Mutter am Ohr.

Laura von der Emde examines a Kenyan child's ear while on his mother's lap.

BONN. Laura von der Emde had to make do with what little medical care was available during her foreign assignment in Kenya. She tells of people full of joie de vivre who have to cope with terrible conditions in the slums.

Laura von der Emde had to make do with what little medical care was available during her foreign assignment in Kenya. She tells of people full of joie de vivre who have to cope with terrible conditions in the slums.

Many young people nowadays leave Germany after finishing school or during their studies. They spend a voluntary social year abroad, want to travel or study. The experiences of the Bonn paediatrician Laura von der Emde show that it is possible to take a break abroad while working. She recently returned to Bonn from her foreign assignment in Kenya, during which she spent six weeks working on a German Doctors project. Having returned to everyday life in Germany, she reports on her work as a paediatrician in a slum in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi.

30-year-old Laura von der Emde, who comes from Witterschlick and studied medicine in Bonn, learned about the work of the German Doctors from a friend. After three years of practical experience as a paediatrician in Aachen and then starting to work in the intensive care unit of a paediatric cardiology unit in Bonn, she applied for the project in Kenya. About nine months before the start of the project, she was accepted, and at the end of March this year she started.

Van der Emde landed in Nairobi on a Saturday and already on Monday she had her first working day in a health centre in the middle of Mathare, which with 400,000 inhabitants is one of the largest slums in the city. In the health center called Baraka, which means "blessing" in Swahili, Emde was in the team with other German-speaking doctors and about 80 local employees. She explains that she had her own treatment room with a translator because most patients spoke very little or no English. Her role as the center's only pediatrician was very important. "Over 50 percent of the slum's inhabitants are children under the age of 15. When you walked through the slum, there were children everywhere," says Emde.

Many of the patients were children

Many of the patients were children who could be treated for a small price or even free of charge. "Here I work in an intensive care unit that is totally specialized, there it was more about basic medical care," says the paediatrician. However, it was exciting to learn to get along with what one has at one's disposal and to work more directly on people again. "The fact that so many children came every day meant that you could get involved very quickly, because you had to cope with the flood of patients.

Laura von der Emde did not live in the slum for safety reasons, but walked there several times. "It was totally important for me to see how people really live, because you always give such great medical tips that are not compatible with the reality of life at all," she says. The inhabitants of the slum have to pay rent and fees for everything, there is no social security, no health insurance. "You always say 'you have to drink more', but people have to pay for water and for the toilet."

This was partly not so easy because Emde knew that the treatment would be possible in Germany, but could sometimes not be carried out there because of the costs. Nevertheless, she admires the gratitude of the patients who walked long distances and accepted long waits to be treated. "The people are totally friendly. Also the people in the slum, who really live under very bad conditions, are very cheerful. There is music and life everywhere on the streets.“

(Original text: Nanja Boenisch; Translation: Mareike Graepel)