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Finding meaning at the end

Local hospice workers travel to Kenya to raise money and offer assistance

September 20, 2010|By TIFFANY ARNOLD
  • Steve Taylor, spiritual care coordinator for Hospice of Washington County, is among hospice workers traveling to Kenya for nine days to help a sister organization, Coast Hospice of Mombassa.
Kevin G. Gilbert, Staff Photographer

In Kenya, people are expected to live to age 54, when most Americans are coming to terms with being middle age.

But many of the hospice patients that Steve Taylor will meet in Kenya will be younger than that.

"A lot of people in Kenya dying are my age," said Steve Taylor, a 38-year-old spiritual care coordinator for Hospice of Washington County. "But what really bothers me is that there are all these children in Kenya who are dying of preventable and treatable illnesses."

On Tuesday, Taylor will be among seven workers from Hospice of Washington County who are heading to Mombassa, Kenya, where they will help its sister organization, Coast Hospice of Mombassa. The group plans to be in Kenya for nine days, he said.

During their time in Kenya, the Washington County group plans to help out with a fundraising 10-kilometer walk in Mombassa - the country's second largest city - that is expected to draw 10,000 people. They're also bringing tools and several suitcases full of medical supplies.

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The plan is to spread the philosophy of hospice care. "People don't have to die in pain and they don't have to die alone," Taylor said.

The Kenya trip comes amid Taylor's recent appointment to serve on the Partnership Adoption Committee with the Foundation for Hospices in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Known as FHSSA, the Foundation for Hospices in Sub-Saharan Africa is affiliated with the Alexandria, Va.-based National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization.

The FHSSA's mission is to help African countries provide hospice and palliative care.

Taylor is also the chairman of the FHSSA's East Africa District Sub Committee, comprised of 18 hospices in Uganda, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Burundi.

In Kenya, resources are strained. According to the WHO, there's one doctor for every 10,000 people. The average life expectancy at birth is 54, compared with the global average of 68, according to WHO figures.

Diarrhea, pneumonia and malaria are among the leading causes of death for children younger than 5, according to the WHO.

Africa has also been hit hard by the global HIV/AIDs epidemic. According to data from UNICEF, there are an estimated 1,500 to 2,000 Kenyans living with HIV.

"And we live in the Western part of the world where we have resources coming out of our ears," Taylor said.

At Hospice of Washington County, Taylor is in charge of hospice's six full-time chaplains. The hospice ministers offer their services to people of all faiths.

Before coming to Washington County, Taylor, an ordained Grace Brethren minister, traveled the globe on mission trips. National flags, native masks and other artifacts line the walls of his Hagerstown office and only hint at the places he's been - 21 countries in 15 years. He knows some Tagalog - the language of the Philippines - a bit of French and a smidgen of Spanish. English and Swahili are the official languages in Kenya, according to the Kenya's U.S. embassy.

"I'm fluent in English," Taylor said, jokingly.

Coast Hospice provides care to terminally ill cancer and AIDS patients in Mombassa, which is a city off the Indian Ocean coast. Taylor said he views his job as trying to affect change, one patient at a time.

"If I can help the patient find meaning in life as they face their last days on Earth," Taylor said, "in finding that confidence and hope, people might die with a sense of communion with those around them."

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