A Markham nurse is trying to make a difference in an impoverished east African village.
Glenna Cummins, 49, has been a missionary nurse at Urafiki Health Centre in Igoma, a village in Tanzania, since September.
The clinic, which serves a population of 40,000, is sponsored by Stouffville Igoma Partnership. It is the only medical facility in the area.
Sixteen residents from Whitchurch-Stouffville and Markham, including Ms Cummins, spent a month in Igoma during the summer of 2003 helping build the clinic.
Ms Cummins was familiar with the surroundings. She spent part of her childhood in Kenya, where her parents were missionaries.
“Although it has been 30 years since I’d been on African soil, it was a homecoming,” she said. “By the end of three weeks, I knew this was it and the time was now.” Arrangements were made and Ms Cummins returned to the clinic as a nurse.
The humanitarian partnership between Igoma and Whitchurch-Stouffville was struck by council 18 months ago. It involves a 10-member committee of residents, chairperson Peter Neufeld said.
As well as the municipal government, the partnership has the backing of the federal and provincial governments.
“It’s a first of its kind in Canada,” Mr. Neufeld said.
Work at the clinic is very different from Ms Cummins’ previous duties at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Regional Cancer Centre or her part-time job at Bethany Lodge in Unionville.
The most common health problems at the clinic are malaria, intestinal worms, respiratory infections, dysentery, urinary tract infections, sexually transmitted diseases, schistosomiassis and dental problems.
Her duties include nursing and administrative. During busy periods or staff shortages, she helps dispense medication. When the doctor is not in the clinic, nurses assess and treat patients.
About 25 patients visit the clinic daily. “The patient flow depends on the weather and the season,” Ms Cummins said.
“Because people have to walk to the clinic, they are less likely to come when it is raining. Also, patient attendance decreases during planting and harvest seasons.”
Igoma is a poor village, she said, noting the average annual household income is $300. Residents live in shacks and all cooking is done outdoors.
While children attend school, the average class has 120 students and one teacher. School supplies are scarce.
Despite shortages and a heavy workload, Ms Cummins is happy. “I had been searching for a nursing occupation that would be meaningful and fulfilling, something that would make a difference and was a service to others,” she said.
In Canada, Ms Cummins has parents and two children. Her daughter is finishing her final year at a university in B.C. while her son works in construction in Markham.
“My family and friends are very supportive,” said Ms Cummins, who plans short trips back to Canada every two or three years.
By Joan Ransberry
Staff Writer, Stouffville Sun-Tribune