Last Saturday, Cheleta Primary School on the north side of Nairobi was buzzing with people. From a birds eye view, it looked like a school carnival. Four white tents filled the courtyard, and hundreds of kids with their parents waited in lines to visit each of the classrooms. Busy volunteers in matching shirts seemed to manage the whole affair, and even handed out treats to the families before they left. Outside, more children were seated on benches in the grass outside the school gate, anxiously awaiting their turn to enter.

But upon closer inspection, you’d see this was much different than any PTA sponsored-function. In place of games, there were eye charts and stethoscopes, instead of clowns, there were doctors… and those weren’t tickets people redeemed for prizes at the door, but prescriptions they exchanged for free medicine. This was Karura Community Chapel’s annual medical camp!

It’s been the buzz around Karura ever since I arrived. For the past 11 years, Karura members have organized resources from the whole community to provide a day of free medical services to the people of two slums and two poor towns near the church.

Even with throngs of people, the camp was really organized!

Even with throngs of people, the camp was really organized!

Months of recruiting doctors and nurses, packaging donated medicine, purchasing supplies, and organizing volunteers, all culminated in last Saturday’s event. The medical camp committee members had planned to make this one bigger than all previous camps. They served 1,600 people last year, so this year’s target was 2,000.

I had the chance to tag along when a team drove through the slums to invite people to come. Even though the church began preparing months in advance, this vital part – advertising the camp – was saved for the day before. (It seemed a bit last minute to me, but life operates on a different time schedule in the slums).

As our huge 4×4 rumbled through the narrow streets of Githogoro and Huruma, broadcasting the news on a loudspeaker straight into shop windows and kitchen doorways, I was amazed at the response. Kids and adults stopped whatever they were doing, building, or cooking, to listen. Medical care from the best professionals in the city? At the local primary school tomorrow? For free? We were spreading a wave of incredibly good news, no strings attached – it was almost too good to be true!

Some people waited for hours before even getting in the front gate.

Some people waited for hours before even getting in the front gate.

Needless to say, we had no shortage of patients the next morning. A throng of people lined up, some arriving as early at 6:30am. Even though we promised to be there all day long, a crowd rushed the gates when we opened them at 9am. No one could quite believe that we would have enough supplies or time for everyone.

One by one, everyone from infants to elderly great-grandmothers passed through the triage tent on to visit the ear, nose, and throat doctors, dentists, general practitioners, or gynecologists. Some received voluntary HIV tests and counseling, and others waited in line to get their eyes checked or prayed with pastors in the prayer room.

Even though most who came were suffering from some physical discomfort, or even a serious health issue, I was struck by the mood of the place – optimism and appreciation. Not the attitude you normally find in a hospital. Even the doctors and nurses were excited to be there!

The steady stream of people continued throughout the day, and I curiously kept an eye on the attendance numbers: 1,400 people had arrived by 1pm, then the number reached 1,800. By 3:30 pm, the “waiting room” tent was empty. All 2,111 people who showed up had received care!

Dentists pulled over 200 teeth at the camp!

Dentists pulled over 200 teeth at the camp!

Among the squeeze of people who filled the camp, I heard a few stories that gave me a glimpse of how significant this day was – and why everyone was so eager to be there.

One mother, named Patricia, heard about the camp from our loudspeakers in Githogoro the day before, so she came with her 3 and a half year old, Pauline, who had a skin rash. She hadn’t been able to bring her daughter to the doctor in the last two years.

Another was Nancy, whose root canal broke five years ago. That Saturday, she finally had the opportunity to remove the tooth. (Seriously, you should have seen how brave the patients were at the dentist. I didn’t even hear a single cry!)

Pauline on her way to get her prescription filled at the free pharmacy.

Pauline on her way to get her prescription filled at the free pharmacy.

I also observed a woman standing outside a classroom waiting for her turn to be tested for HIV. She was too nervous to sit down. It was impressive that she was even there, since the vast majority of the patients avoided the HIV station. After about 5 minutes in the room, she emerged beaming with a smile of relief, and I knew that her results were good ones. Even for those who did test positive, many left hopeful having received valuable knowledge about their status and access to free treatment.

But the real significance of Karura’s medical camp hit me in the days following the event. Each of my World Next Door team members have been plagued by one sickness after another this summer, some more serious than others. This week, one of them was even admitted to the hospital for pneumonia. In every case of illness, we’ve had access to top-notch medical care at all hours of the day and night. And our health insurance covers almost all of the fees.

For the people of Githogoro and Huruma, hospitals aren’t an option – ever. I can bet you that people like Patricia have never even heard of health insurance. Which explains why Saturday was such a joyful day for everyone. It was a gift that these families would never normally expect to receive. It offered real solutions to issues that affected their ability to live and work on a daily basis.

So no wonder these people were smiling in line waiting for the dentist. Forget about clowns and carnivals. Medical camp on a Saturday will win out any day!

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Next Steps
    • Do some research: Total the health care costs for your family for one year. Compare this to the income of a family living below the poverty line in the US. Find out what health care options exist in your community for these families if they don’t have health insurance.
    • Find “long-haulers” who are meeting the health care needs of the poor – at home or in another community – and join them.
    • Do you have medical expertise or access to health care resources? Email with your ideas about ways to increase their capacity for future medical camps.
    Next Steps

About the Author: Jessica Shewan is a journalist with World Next Door. She graduated in 2009 from The University of Evansville with a bachelor's degree in History. She loves making new international friends and is passionate about seeing the global church pursue justice and peace!

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  1. Amy Sorrells said... 


    July 22nd, 2009 at 12:13 pm  

    As a nurse, you had me at “stethoscope,” Jessica! Humbling, powerful article and reminder of the essence of caring for Christ in the eyes and hearts of the sick. Even as I practice here in the suburbs. I’m going to share this with all my healthcare friends!

  2. Penny said... 


    July 22nd, 2009 at 3:17 pm  

    Jess, thanks so much for this article!! I was impacted on so many different levels and will (at least for awhile!) try not to take for granted all the wonderful access to healthcare that we have here in the States. Thanks for opening our eyes and our hearts with your writing.

  3. Rob Yonan said... 


    July 23rd, 2009 at 7:56 am  

    over 2000 people. amazing. the vision and commitment of everyone involved is awesome. they see the need, dream big and go for it. thanks

  4. Marcia Zgirta said... 


    July 23rd, 2009 at 1:09 pm  

    Jessica, your desciptive writing was so clear, that I could picture the peoples’ faces and enter their joy…even as they got teeth pulled. Wow and ouch! Keep up the telling and writing.

  5. Michelle said... 


    July 23rd, 2009 at 5:58 pm  

    I am so proud of you, and so are my friend Mary Wolgemuth and Susie Rahn! We feel like we were right there with you at the medical camp. What a great encouragement for the 100s of people you were able to serve. Thanks for telling their story so well.

  6. Aunt Ruth said... 


    July 24th, 2009 at 7:56 am  

    Jess your insights continue to grip my heart and soul. I can’t help thinking how perfectly God has prepared you for such a time as this. Your gift of compassion and love springing from your relationship with Christ continues to encourage me to open my eyes to the hurting around me in Big Rapids. Thanks for your obedience.

  7. Dave Rod said... 


    July 24th, 2009 at 10:00 pm  

    Wow…you know, you can’t walk out your door in America without tripping over a pharmacy. We love our health care, we demand our health care…no…we demand to be well. What a contrast.

    Once again…I am moved deeply. And…convicted…and angry.

    Thank you Jess – great reporting!

  8. grandma Mack said... 


    July 25th, 2009 at 5:49 pm  

    Your writing just gets better in each article and lets us all know why God has called you there for 4 more months. Thank you , dear , for your obedience and insights. I cannot believe the grit of these amazing people. I am one big chicken about going to the dentist. May you sense God’s protection each and everyday that you put yourself so close to infection, etc. God is Good! I am so proud of you, Jess.

  9. Dave Quigley said... 


    July 28th, 2009 at 8:42 am  

    Thanks Jess. That is truly “good news”. The kind that we all need to carry with us. I love the joy and relief of the woman who was free from fear and guilt and shame of thinking she probably had HIV or AIDS. Surely God’s heart cries and rejoices all at the same time at that clinic…

  10. Gaciru said... 


    July 30th, 2009 at 4:38 am  

    Njoki….this is good you have allowed me to re-live the day…you have spoken for the people I feel you……naku feel!

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