How the AMPATH Consortium comes together in ways big and small
Today I believe I experienced the true meaning of the AMPATH consortium. It wasn't a huge life-changing experience, and we didn't save hundreds of lives. Rather, we managed to play a single movie for the kids in the children's hospital.
It all started 3 weeks ago when John, one of our Team Leaders (and essentially our dad/RA/camp counselor) brought up using his projector to play a movie at Shoe4Africa, the children's hospital at Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital (MTRH). It was an off-handed comment that stuck with me, and when I brought it up to him again a few days later, he was very enthusiastic and suggested we do it the next day. Grant, Roshni, and I had no idea how to pull this off, so we began our series of struggles.
First, Roshni tried to get the movie we wanted, Sing, from her friend. That didn't pan out. Then we tried to figure out where in the hospital we should show the movie. Lots of varying opinions here. Then we had to figure out the projector situation. It was a clear reminder of why I didn't go into computers/engineering. But thanks to some last minute scrambling and craziness, we finally found ourselves setting up in the center of the 2nd floor of Shoe4Africa, with lots of children and parents peering around the corners of the wards at us, wondering what we were up to. After 30 minutes, dozens of child-sized plastic chairs, and lots of help from (our savior) Ernest, I was pushing the play button at last.
As the movie began, people began trickling in in a steady stream. We went from 20, to 30, to 40, to 60 and more children, mothers, fathers, and even an occasional medical student, all pausing/settling in for this movie. There was lots of laughter every time a butt was on the scene, and lots of chuckles from the moms each time any animal flirted with another. However, the largest waves of laughter by far came when the projector ran out of battery because I had forgotten to switch on the power strip. It literally continued until I got the image running again (my 5 minutes of fame?).
I watched the families watching this movie, and it amazed me how much joy could come from something that took us one afternoon to throw together. The film was a reprieve for the kids who spend their days taking medicines and being poked and prodded, and a break for the parents as well, who must worry about their child's well-being day in and day out. For Brian, a little boy with burns all over his body, it was just a chance to play games on my phone.
The next week, we came back. This time it was an hour of classic episodes of Tom and Jerry. I set Brian up with my phone (complete with newly downloaded driving games), started the episodes, and watched the magic happen again. The families laughed at the antics of the famous cat/mouse pair, and Brian shared my phone dutifully with the kids around him, ensuring that everyone had a turn.
Then, today happened. 30 minutes before we were to head to the hospital for the movie, I realized the projector was not working. After frantically trying to fix it (aka: lots of silent praying and begging), I knew it was hopeless. However, something in me kept shouting that we couldn't let down all of those families and children, so giving up was not an option. This is when the consortium magic happened. Rachel, a biomedical engineer from Brown, along with Gus and Neha, fellow medical students from Mt Sinai, saw my struggling, and came to help. After little success, we figured we'd go to the hospital armed with a laptop screen, coloring books, and bubbles, and hope that the kids wouldn't be too disappointed. When we arrived, Brian was waiting for us on the 1st floor, and at least 30 people were on the 2nd floor, all expecting a movie. Through our brainstorming, we finally concluded that the best plan was to play the movie simultaneously on both my and Rachel's computers, while trying to sync our playing so that we could use the one speaker we had to play sound. At the end, Ernest just moved our sorry selves to the 1st floor, turned on the TV, and connected us that way.
A beautiful showing of Tangled later, I now sit, back at home in the med school hostels, feeling so grateful for the people around me. 3 universities were represented tonight, and even when things seemed impossible, I found myself surrounded by people who truly believed and cared about this cause, as small as it was. We didn't cure HIV/AIDS tonight, but we were able to bring a bit of peace and laughter to a place that is too often associated with pain and sadness. I was proud to be working alongside these people, because in our own little way, I think we brought to life a Franciscan benediction that I learned about today. Even though I am not a religious person, this struck me to my core, and it goes like this:
May God bless you with a restless discomfort about easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may seek truth and love deep within your heart.
May God bless you with holy anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may tirelessly work for justice, freedom, and peace among all people.
May God bless you with the gift of tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, or the loss of all that they cherish, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and transform their pain into joy.
May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you really can make a difference in this world so that you are able, with God's grace, to do what others claim cannot be done.
And it is armed with all of our wonderful foolishness that I excitedly await next week's movie (and adventure).