Meet the barefoot Doctor

That afternoon, Blessings decided to go for a late lunch. He spent his mid-day hour working with children on physiotherapy at the Children’s Ward of Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital (QECH), Malawi’s biggest referral.

As he walked out, his eyes quickly shot into the females ward. A lady was struggling for life. He is trained to save lives.

“I rushed past nurses who were having their lunch just outside the ward to the bed”, recalled Jamuten. Her fellow patients knew their colleague was in distress. But there was nothing they could do.

“After a quick check, I found that her oxygen levels were low and quickly asked for that. If I was late by any other minute, Marietta would’ve died right there”, says Jamuten as he adjusts his stethoscope on his walk to the ward he loves the most- the children’s.

Eight months into his job, Blessings has become a darling for most of the children with various disabilities and other patients that have come under his specialist supervision.

But 17 years ago, this was not even his dream- apparently, he had no dream at all.

“We had no food, we struggled for clothes, sometimes I could not go to school on an empty stomach and to be honest, I could have no dream in those circumstance”, says Jamuten.

For as long as he can remember, his grandmother, Rosemary Chigomire, now 75 years old, worked in her garden to produce some surplus maize for sale to give Blessings and his relations a life in the small community of Kamwendo in Mulanje where opportunities are difficult to come by.

She took over their custody after observing the plight of the children at their sister’s place, following their mother’s death.

“I was about six years old when she died. I cannot remember her face but I miss her”, says Jamuten, crestfallen.

If that loss was tragic, then fate was not yet done him. Two months after his mother’s death, his father died from a short illness. He became a double orphan. Five years later, in 2005, his grandfather died, making Rosemary the only person they had beside a few uncles who cared about their situation but too poor to help.

 

Rosemary never went to school. She doesn’t read or write. She never earned much. But the little money she scraped together after working in people’s gardens – sometimes under the scorching sun of Kamwendo that hits 38 degrees Celsius, she helped to put her grandchildren in school and struggled with providing for their learning materials including school uniforms and exercise books.

“Because I was a sponsored child, World Vision gave us school uniforms, exercise books and other needs in school”, recalls Jamuten.

Primary school was hard, but like any other child, it was a shared struggle. In 2008, when she passed High School entry examinations with amazing grades, Rosemary did not know what to do.

He reveals that his dreams for a better life started during a retreat World Vision took him and other kids to a renowned secondary school in the country. While there, Blessings saw something that was contrary to what he knew in his small village.

“I found learners there (at Mulunguzi Secondary School) studying using lights while back home I used a kerosene lamp that was made from a tin we picked from a rubbish pit. They had good beds and were given food. I went home determined to go to such a school too”.

And it happened, but they had no money to pay for his dream of a better secondary school. They were on the verge of withdrawing him to attend a village school.  

“Nobody in my family could afford sending me to any secondary school, let alone Mulanje Secondary School where I had been selected to, actually the first from my school and village to achieve that feat”, he says.

His Rosemary knew Blessings was a sponsored child. World Vision had been helping them.

So a week after the results were out, she sent for his Uncle who cycled to Mulanje District Centre where the main office for World Vision in the district was. They met the then program Manager Maxwell Litafula who pledged to do what they could, provided the family did their part too.

It was in secondary school that Blessings had a dream – that one day, he would wear a white coat, a stethoscope and a hospital ID card, just like the doctors she saw close to his secondary school.

The road got tough, but he never lost hope, World Vision believed in his dream.

In 2000, after achieving excellent results in mathematics and science in his final year of Secondary school, the Malawi government gave Blessings a bursary to study medicine at the renowned College of Medicine in his country. But there was a problem.

 

“My whole secondary school had been financed by World Vision and I was hoping that this time around the government would give me a full scholarship which they did not. Thankfully, World Vision offered to pay for my accommodation and they did so for an entire five years of my study in University”, says Blessings, his eyes wet with joy and appreciation.

In University, Blessings couldn’t believe that his childhood dream of putting on the stethoscope was coming true.

He laughed while recalling, “When I sat in that lecture hall for the first time and the professor started speaking, urging us to work hard and save lives, I just couldn’t believe it.”

While Malawi’s College of Medicine internationally respected, its graduates all over the world, Malawi’s public health care system is maligned as one of the worst in the developing world.

Dreams come true

But, when Blessings (24) strode through the gates of Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital (QECH), Malawi’s biggest referral hospital on a hot April day in 2018, it was not just his dream come true. It was a whole village celebrating the success of its child.

Like many other people in the mountainous district, where infectious diseases are rampant but access to healthcare is severely limited, Blessings’ mother died young.

A few months into his first practice, after which he expects Malawi’s medical council to accredit him as a physiotherapist, Blessings regrets the lack of intimacy between patients and medical personnel.

“Of course it’s difficult to have this intimacy because as medical workers we are a bit overburdened, where the doctor to patient ratio can be as low as three doctors to 100,000 patients”.

Since he came to QECH, Blessings has attended to patients from all across Malawi. Today, his University is also using him to orient students that are coming at the institution for their medical practice.

Whenever he goes back home, Blessings finds himself speaking to many parents and children. His hope is that other children too, are educated and become professionals, so that they’re able to rise out of poverty, just as he is doing.

“I want to help people around my village and to motivate them, especially the young people that education can make a difference. It doesn’t matter where you come from; it doesn’t matter what your background is - if you just have a dream and have a vision, and there are people who believe in that dream, like my sponsor did, through World Vision, pursue it with all your heart”.

And when he enters his physiotherapy office in the morning, and is about to see his first patient of the day, Blessings remembers the blessing he received through World Vision.

“Throughout my studies, I never surrendered because I had that image of my sponsor, my grandmother and World Vision who believed in me.  I didn’t want to let them down for all they had done for me”, said Blessings.

Even now, when things disappoint him or when I thinks overworked, he thinks of how fortunate a person he is to have been chosen by a stranger.