At 25 years old, a young medical student named Maithri G.
decided to spend the summer of 2005 working at a hospital in
Swaziland, a small and beautiful country in the south of Africa.
Since then, he'll tell you, that his life has never been the
(pronounced 'my-three') has since returned to his home in
Melbourne, Australia where he is completing his studies to become a
doctor. We were lucky enough to catch up with him during a
school holiday and he was kind enough to tell us about his
Peak: What were some of your first impressions of Swaziland?
Maithri: First of all, the country is spectacular. It used to
be called the 'Switzerland' of Africa because it's so mountainous.
There are hills and mountains on every side, and the drive up to the
Good Shepherd Hospital is simply breathtaking.
Inspiration Peak: And the people?
Maithri: The people are so warm and welcoming. Their unfettered
joy in the 'simple things' and transparent love for one another is
something which in my opinion is exceedingly rare in western
I remember on my very first walk down to the hospital, on my very
first day, a man in a wheelchair called me over. He said: "Dokotelle,
Dokotelle," which means 'doctor' in Si Swati, and he pointed to his
leg and when he removed the bandage to show me what was wrong I saw
a hole the size of a tennis ball that went from one side of his leg
to the other - straight through the bone. There were maggots in the
hole - and yet, he was barely complaining.
That first day, I realized that pretty much every patient I saw was
HIV positive. The old women, the young children, everyone. Swaziland
has the highest prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the world - 42%. I knew
that going in. I knew that meant almost one in two people. But until
I saw the faces of those 'one in two people' and heard the sound of
their voices and realized how much they were like me, I didn't
realize the implications of those numbers.
What kind of work did you do while living in Swaziland?
Maithri: I worked mainly in the outpatient department. The
hospital sees 60,000 patients a year and has only 6 doctors at any
one time. I'd also go out with the home-based care team. It's made
up of these wonderful nurses who go out into the community every day
in a little truck to see the people who are just too sick or too
poor to get to the hospital. This is often the case because people
might have to walk over 40 kilometers (24.85 miles) to get to the
Good Shepherd hospital.
Inspiration Peak: What will you never forget?
Maithri: A million and one things, but most especially the
children. I will never forget the line at the clinic where children
come for AIDS medicine. - literally hundreds of children, usually
under the age of 10. It's absolutely heartbreaking, because they all
have AIDS. Often they are orphans and they don't even have the money
for bus fare to come to the hospital to get their medicine.
will never forget my times at the care-points with the orphaned
kids; the joy with which they would play even the most simple of
games; their smiles and infectious laughter.
And I'll never forget the dedication of the men and women who give
their lives to help the Swazi people. Their efforts are unsung and
unrewarded, but they are in my opinion the true saints of this
world. Doctors, nurses, volunteers, who are angels in disguise as
human beings. I have never in my life felt as humble as I did
amongst these giants of humanity posing as ordinary people.
Inspiration Peak: Many people feel that the hunger and war
situation in Africa is hopeless. What would you say to them?
Maithri: Nothing could be further from the truth. The
problem we face in our world today is a maldistribution of wealth,
as opposed to a shortage of resources. For instance, a meager one
percent of the world's military expenditure would supply clean water
for the entire world. What it does require is that human beings
recognize their interconnectedness. As Thomas Merton said, "No man
is an island unto himself... we are all part of the whole."
My father often compares humanity to a spider's web. Touch the web
at any point and the whole web vibrates. I believe it's those little
acts of kindness - sponsoring one child, sending a few clothes,
supplying a cup of food to a hungry person, multiplied by however
many million people that populate this planet which will transform
Inspiration Peak: What advice would you give someone who wants
to help the children in Africa?
Start with one child. Think about whether you could spare a dollar
each day to provide food, clothing or schooling to a needy child.
There's a wonderful organization called
Heroes that provides food, clothing and shelter for
'double-orphans' (those who have lost both parents).
We also need to educate ourselves... and for this I recommend a
powerful movie called
Orphans of Nkandla where you can hear the childrens'
stories in their own words. All proceeds from the sale of the movie
go to the orphans.
Most importantly though, spread the word. Spread hope. Tell your
friends and family that together we can make a difference.
to Australia, Maithri Goonetilleke has been involved in a project to
build a 'care point' for orphans in the Moyeni area of Swaziland
where they can come for shelter, food and schooling.
He's also part of a project to build a new neonatal ward for
Swaziland babies and is working to raise funds for a much needed
ambulance. (They are currently looking for a corporate sponsor.)
To learn more about Maithris' experiences in Swaziland you may want
to read a touching short story he wrote called
One For My Sister, recently published at Inspiration Peak.
Spread the word. Spread hope. Tell your
friends and family that together we can make a difference."
Nam and Tanzile
- on their way to the country for a weekend outing. Both girls are
patients at the Good Shepherd hospital in Swaziland.