Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Further Lessons Learned

As I wrote last week, I have been working out how best to be helpful to the children at the school. At first it seemed that simply paying for such things as medicine would actually be a bad idea and rather than help ill children, would set up a situation where many people in the community would see me as a source of free money. I spoke to the director of the school, Shannoh Kandoh, about this. He was the one who told me that this is a problem that the school has always faced since it has been providing free services and materials to its students. He suggested that the school allocate a portion of its monthly budget toward covering student medical costs and that teachers take an active role in ensuring that students are the ones receiving the medicine. The faculty had done this in the past but at some point had stopped. I found out that it didn't take much to get it started again.

After the first diagnosis I described in my previous post, three more children were diagnosed with typhoid and malaria within a week's time. Two more sets of parents could not pay for the medicine, so I covered the cost. This was before the school had been able to set aside money. The third family was able to pay for the medicine, though the father did ask the school to pay for the medicine. The teachers knew the family was able to pay, so the director simply reminded the father of this, and the father went off to buy the medicine himself.

Earlier, another boy came to me saying he had been coughing up blood, and the school director was able to arrange for him and his father, who was also suspected of having tuberculosis, to visit a doctor, be tested, and receive medicine. I covered the cost of the trips to and from the hospital, and the director arranged for the other costs to be covered for both father and son. Since then the school has allocated about $90 of its monthly budget of just over $1,000 to cover student medical costs. Teachers went yesterday to the local clinic to propose setting up a cooperative effort between the doctors and the teachers to look after student health. Since the consultation fee is minimal at the clinic, just about every family can pay to have a child seen by a doctor and diagnosed. According to the new plan, the child's class teacher is to accompany the family to the clinic. The doctors have agreed to then write out the diagnosis in our school medical ledger and explain to the class teacher how the medicine is to be administered. If the family says it is unable to pay for all or part of the medicine, the class teacher can request funds from the school. Faculty members will discuss the request, and if agreed, will allocate medical funds for the child. The class teacher is then responsible for checking in regularly with the family to make sure the child is being properly cared for and is being given the medicine. In some cases, the class teacher will hold onto the medicine and administer it as needed.

We will have to see how well this works. I am simply impressed that the teachers had such a strong will to set this up and that it took form so quickly. It turns out that as with many things in life, charitable giving poses far fewer risks if approached thoughtfully and with a strong commitment to carrying out a principle of good will.

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