By Kirstan Knowlton
GORHAM — Just returning home from her third mission with Doctors Without Borders, Alice Maitland described her experience in Africa as difficult, but very rewarding.
Spending the past four months in Bentiu, a town in South Sudan, Maitland witnessed some brutal conditions. Over 100,000 displaced people were fleeing conflict to find shelter in the United Nations Protection of Civilians camp.
“People were coming with just what they could carry,” said Maitland.
During this mission, Maitland supervised the emergency room, which served the entire camp. Staff provided 24-hour emergency room care, and routinely provided intensive care for malnourished children, medical treatment in pediatric and adult wards and surgical and maternity services.
“We are there for whatever emergencies happen,” said Maitland.
Maitland said she saw everything from gunshot wounds, spear wounds to upper respiratory infections and coughs and colds.
“The health care needs were pretty intense,” said Maitland.
One of the main challenges they faced was treating malaria, because during this time of year in Bentiu it’s pretty severe.
Maitland explained that there are two seasons in Bentiu, dry and rainy. In the rainy season when the water pools, people get really sick. The team of medical professionals was able to open services to help treat malaria with a simple three-day treatment.
Along with malaria, Maitland said that the staff also saw many patients with measles.
“It’s really hard, because there is a vaccine for that,” said Maitland.
During her time in Bentiu, Maitland stayed in a simple compound where people lived in tents. She described the conditions that they lived in as very basic. Food was limited and even getting drinking water was a full-time project.
While Maitland was there she realized how much people take water sanitation for granted.
“Just being able to go to the kitchen faucet and get a cool glass of water, it’s the simple things,” said Maitland.
Maitland’s team also taught the people new skills so that they could be self-sufficient when the mission ended. The team worked with local leaders to maximize their efforts and to insure that their progress would continue.
“We help stabilize the environment, and get systems in place. Our goal is to help them, help themselves,” said Maitland.
Although the conditions were at times challenging, Maitland said that the organization was good about helping the staff stay healthy while there. During her free time, she said she enjoyed playing games and dancing.
Maitland said she even learned how to make cake in a 55-gallon drum and jokes that she might write about it someday.
“It’s not for everyone, but for some reason I really like it,” said Maitland.
Maitland said that she has stayed in contact with several people that she has meet through the missions. She’s been able to connect with many of them through Facebook and emails.
“We are like a family there, and I’ve made some really great friends there,” said Maitland.
Maitland wants to continue doing more humanitarian work and is considering doing it full time, and now that her children are all grown up she has the ability to explore her interests more.
She is considering signing up for another mission this fall, but says that they are dependent on where they are needed and availability.
“I really liked this last mission. It was very different, but so rewarding,” said Maitland.
Maitland grew up in Illinois and moved to the North Country in 1988 where she raised two kids and was very involved in the local community. She went to nursing school at White Mountain Community College and graduated in 2008.
Originally majoring in anthropology, Maitland has found that her role with the mission allows her work in areas that she’s most passionate about. Maitland explained that she wants to do more and she is very driven to go back.
“Going on these trips reminds me of how lucky I am. I feel honored to be able to do this kind of work,” said Maitland.
Doctors Without Borders, also known as Medecines Sans Frontieres, is an independent humanitarian medical aid organization formed in 1971, after journalists and doctors witnessed unbelievably brutal conditions in Biafra, Nigeria.
What began as a small group of volunteers, who wanted to help, has expanded to 70 countries worldwide. The non-profit, non-governmental organization is able to serve where they are needed and work to alleviate suffering for those caught in a disaster, regardless of race or religion.
For more information about Doctors Without Borders or to make a donation visit www.doctorswithoutborders.org.