Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 11, 2002
Couple share their gifts in Kenya
Doctor, teacher inspired by hospitality and hope of Kenyans
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
"The gifts you were given are not for you alone, they are meant to be shared." That philosophy of life took Dr. Brian Inglis and his wife Kathy, a teacher, to a far away land, where they made a new life for themselves.
In August 2000 the couple moved to Kenya, an East African country of 30 million people, where they shared their gifts with the poor and the sick. They returned in July, changed by the experience.
The Catholic Medical Mission Board, an organization that provides medical supplies and volunteers to the Third World, sent the couple to a suburb of 60,000 people, outside the city of Thika. There Brian worked at a Catholic mission hospital and Kathy taught chemistry and mathematics at a girls boarding school.
There are only 4,500 registered medical doctors in Kenya, while in Alberta, with a population of three million, there are 4,000 registered doctors. "There is a clear shortage of doctors there," Brian noted. "Going to Africa was a way of sharing our gifts, our talents."
As volunteers, the Inglises only got their rent paid and their medical benefits covered by the board. They lived in a two-bedroom duplex built especially for them on the hospital grounds.
Brian could speak Swahili, the official language in Kenya, which he had picked up in two previous volunteer stints in Africa. In the early 1970s, as a young medical graduate, he spent 18 months in Tanzania volunteering with the Canadian University Students Overseas (CUSO). In the 1980s, he, Kathy and their four children went to Malawi, where they volunteered at a mission hospital.
"I always wanted to go back to Africa," Brian said. This time the adventure was costly for the doctor, who had to sell his Sylvan Lake practice to fulfill his dream. But the time was right, they said, because at 55 they still have their health and their spark.
At the St. Mulumba Mission Hospital Brian saw at least 60 patients a day, most of them stricken with diseases like malaria, diarrhea, pneumonia, tuberculosis and HIV. In his spare time he volunteered as a basketball coach at the school where Kathy taught.
"What impacted me is that AIDS is everywhere," Brian said. "Forty per cent of pregnant mothers in the area where we lived were HIV positive."
Because of AIDS, Brian had to relearn everything. "HIV infection influences every aspect of medicine. Ordinary pneumonias or tuberculosis look different when you are infected with HIV."
Most people don't know they are infected because they don't look or feel sick for the first 10 years, Kathy noted. "Because you are healthy for so long after you get the disease it's hard for people to believe that their 'healthy' friends and neighbours actually have the disease.
HIV is so widespread because the government didn't do any education until the last two years, Brian noted. "There is a lot of ignorance about HIV. It's hard to believe but when we got there they were hardly doing testing. The doctors were not telling the patients that they thought they may have HIV."
And teachers still do not talk about AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases in the classroom, according to Kathy.
Despite widespread disease and poverty, Kenyans are a happy, generous and hopeful people, the Inglises say.
"They take so much more time to welcome you and spend time with you than we do. We rush things," observed Kathy. Their white skin made them stand out and wherever they went, people greeted them and invited them over for tea. "Everybody stops to talk to you."
Kenyans are friendly and neighbourly and it is customary for them to "push" their visitor home, noted Brian. "They are great conversationalists and would walk you three-quarters of the way home and then you would walk them back halfway. Then you would turn around and come back home."
Many members of the hospital and school staffs became close friends of the Inglises. "These people are so giving to their own community," Kathy said. "We met people who struggled so hard financially but at the same time were trying to do things for the street children, the orphans and the poor in their own village. They were quite inspiring to us."
"That's one thing about Kenya, because the government doesn't do anything, the people have the bigger responsibility to do it on their own," added Brian." So lots of Kenyans were having projects for street children, people that couldn't go to school, giving of their time and money. There is tremendous charity there."
Kenyans are hopeful people, according to the Inglises.
"They live with so much more hope than we do, maybe because things are bad and they hope they will get better," Kathy said. "Hope is the enduring theme of their day." Brian agreed, saying that despite being overwhelmed by disease "these people are happy."
The Inglises brought even more hope to the Kenyans. Thanks to $10,000 raised by Red Deer Catholic schools, two classrooms were build in nearby villages.
"They are much more spiritual than we are."
- Dr. Brian Inglis
There are no menial jobs. "Every job, even carrying your groceries, is considered dignified," Kathy noted. Sometimes teachers and health care workers work even when they haven't been paid for three or four months. Why? "Because they believe work is dignified and because there is a chance they'll get paid," explained Brian.
Many people in Kenya work on farms, coffee or tea factories, fruit processing plants or cutting flowers for export. They earn an average of $1.60 a day which is barely enough to put some basic food on the table. A chicken, for example, costs $3.50 Canadian and local people cannot afford to buy one.
In Kenya religion is important. So much so there are more than 1,600 branches of Christianity. Anyone can start their own sect. "It's a way to make a living. It's also a way to preach what you believe. The government allows you to say anything religiously but you can't say it politically."
Because of their powerlessness, Kenyans rely on God much more than Westerners do, and so they pray a lot more than Westerners. "They are much more spiritual than we are," Brian noted. "We learned to pray a lot more there."
Kenyans "would never serve you a cup of tea without saying grace," Kathy said. "There you pray before you eat that you will be kept safe from diseases in your food; you pray before you get into a vehicle because the traffic is so heavy and the vehicles are in such poor condition."
The Inglises didn't have their own car there so they used public transportation. And so sometimes they found themselves crammed in buses or vans praying that they would make it home safely. "The roads were not very good there and the drivers are like maniacs," Brian said.
But the Inglises, both members of the Catholic parish in Sylvan Lake, are ready to go back to Africa to continue sharing their gift, this time perhaps after they retire. "We have a responsibility to help the poor," he said. "We are stewards of the world."