Marietje Stuckey: Marietje Stuckey’s CommUNITY News no. 1

Marietje tends to a sick student
My experiences in working as a School Nurse in Abaiang, Tarawa, Kiribati (pronounced keer-ree-bahss).

Hello from my wonderful sea change in Abaiang. I have been here eighteen months and the time has gone quickly. My main reason to volunteer was to do so in Africa, not Kiribati.

Where is Kiribati? I had never heard of it; neither had anyone else I knew but it was a lovely surprise and an area that needs much support. I am working as a school nurse at Saint Joseph’s College, Tabwiroa. It is set on 20 acres so you do not get that hemmed-in feeling that you can in the more populated South Tarawa. Until recently our only communication with the outside world was by phone (when it works or when the account is paid). But now we have the internet and we are able to communicate with our loved ones and Tarawa for networking purposes whenever the power is on. The electricity is usually on in the day for computer lab and also for 3 hours in the evenings.

I have found that teaching the pre-school children these things, especially hand washing, is something that they enjoy.

Children washing their hands
The large school clinic was built about 12 years ago; it is about 4 times the size of the local Government clinic. It was in need of a face lift which has been completed, thanks to the $2200 given to the clinic by AusAID and the work of the industrious students, under the supervision of Bauro our deputy principal. There is not a doctor on the island but there is a medical assistant who can be used for referral purposes. Nursing here is a bit of a challenge; there is not enough of anything – medication, bandages and there are the cultural differences, which at times I have found very difficult.

In the first year the cultural differences were not so noticeable but this year I had to keep reminding myself that I needed to accept them, although I need not necessarily agree with them. It is easy to say but I found it not so easy to do. My role here is to look after the health of the students and the teachers’ families, so I have new babies, pregnant women and elderly. Many of the adults here are overweight and have high blood pressure; I am trying to introduce some form of exercise such as low key aerobics and some stretching. I have been working with the WHO (World Health Organization) who have been very supportive. I have tried to introduce basic education on hygiene (washing of hands), spread of infection and how it can be prevented.

Marietje with students in traditional clothes

I have found that teaching the pre-school children these things, especially hand washing, is something they enjoy. Two other communities have adopted the same cost effective method as we are using – simply a bucket with a tap on a stand and a cake of soap.

Pre-school is also an opportunity to try to educate the Mums on the importance of their children’s health, stressing the importance of immunisation. They do not see the necessity of this and there is much Hepatitis and other preventable diseases in the community here, which can cause problems when living in a large community. The school had 2 deaths last year as a result of the Hepatitis B virus. Working at the clinic has shown me how very lucky we are in Australia and how we just take everything for granted.

How very lucky we are in Australia … we just take everything for granted.

At times I have had students stay in the clinic overnight, some very sick and on IV fluids. The first occasion I had to attend a student during the night, my only light was a small head torch. I was standing in the dark, balancing on the bed reaching up to try to attach a new IV bag prior to administering the antibiotic while I had 3 other students sleeping on the floor in the clinic and trying to not to disturb them or get lost in their nets. It taught me to be very well organized prior to lights out.

During my time I have felt well supported by Palms; the OLSH in Tarawa were also fantastic and the medical staff have gone out of their way to give me what I needed.

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I expect to pass through this world but once. Any good, therefore, that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again. - Stephen Krebbet