Saturday, July 12, 2014

Who is Pat Foreman?

"Alice, have you ever had a mammogram?"

"What is that?" This mother of four (now five as she recently rescued a three day old baby from the streets) comes from a small village in Kenya. Her life in Nairobi as a pastor's wife and director of the school she and her husband built, in an off-the-grid area in the slums of Nairobi, keeps her out front as a community leader.

"Have you heard of breast screening?"

"Yes," she says, “a friend of mine told me about it a couple of years ago. Teams from NGOs come to a community and set up screening for the women for free. Actually it might have been for," her voice lowers," testing vaginally."

"Have you gone?"

"No. In Africa we believe we do not get the BIG diseases. These are white people's diseases because of the food you eat. We die from malaria or diseases like that.” Waving her hand from head to toe, Alice continues, "we do not worry so much about our bodies."

"Did you know that some say breast cancer has become the number two killer for African women?"

"Really, how long does it take? And how does it grow? Does everyone who gets it die?" I can read the fear in her eyes. She just got news yesterday that her 24 year old niece died of a brain tumour. They found it, but it was too late. She wonders how this young Kenyan woman could possibly have such a traumatic, disastrous disease.

Breast cancer is only barely in the consciousness of a few people in Africa. To be a woman here does not in any way mean you have any say in creating your own destiny. Advocacy is desperately needed, but as any NGO will attest, reaching past the thinking and long standing traditions and beliefs about health and women's value is no mean feat. Even HIV/AIDS screening is a tough sell, and it’s the most openly discussed health issue of the last few decades.

The most common remark I receive when people here in Africa look at my well lived life etched in the creases on my face, bounce in my step, and seemingly tireless energy is, 'how can you be so old yet so healthy?’ In Africa at 57, I am old. Statistically, I should have died 10-15 years earlier. Apart from God's grace, I have had excellent health care, great nutrition, and very light physical labour, if any. I am autonomous, not having to ask permission to go to the doctor. But how do you say that to someone who is younger, but looks much older, with stooped shoulders, the trials of poverty, hunger, death of loved ones, and limited access to competent medical care?

We need to teach women that their health, and therefore their lives, can make a difference in the world. If women stand together, things change, ending the slumber and long-standing often harmful beliefs, little by little. Now... if only the solution was that simple.

Next time you are invited to do something for women's issues or the education of girls in Africa, think about what that can mean. It’s a big challenge-- yes. Futile? No. Supporting another's human development is never futile.

P.S.--Cousin Judy, book my mammogram please! It has been three years since the last. When I think about everything we have in Canada to support our health. How can I not take the time when I return from Africa?

UPDATE: After returning to Vancouver from Africa, Pat had her mammogram and required a recall. She received a tomosynthesis exam and an ultrasound at BC Women’s Hospital and Health Centre. Happily, she's back to Africa in the fall with an all clear! Wouldn’t it be great if all women could have the same care, expertise, technology and result?  Furthermore, Pat would be delighted to have her story retold. Check out her Facebook page for more information about her African adventures. 

After a 30 year career in education, retiring as a middle school principal in inner city Toronto, Pat Foreman is following her childhood ambition of working in Africa. She has been invited to train teachers and community leaders to more effectively meet the needs of the most vulnerable children-- orphans living in extreme poverty. Pat spends several months yearly working with educators and administrators in three schools in the slums of Nairobi, two in Kenya, an orphanage in Uganda and an HIV education centre in Lesotho. Pat supports several orphaned children, fruit tree projects and mushroom farming. She’s also quick to share that there are many Africans doing the right thing for Africans.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for commenting on the On All Fronts blog! We'd love to read your feedback on this post.