Yes I am going to Kenya for 6 months. GSK has a program called PULSE that allows people to step out of their job for 3 or 6 months to work with a Non-Government Organization (NGO) partner doing work in their field. I have been matched up with Direct Relief International out of Santa Barbara, CA. I was hoping that I would get a trip to their headquarters for a few days, but I’m going straight to Kenya. I will be working at the Gynocare Fistula Center in the western Kenya city of Eldoret. I will be establishing an electronic patient database for the center which is part of Moi University. I learned from my new boss, Dr Hillary Mabeya, that the center currently has a paper system for tracking patients. But they do have a few laptops and wireless internet connections.
Why am I doing this? I have been curious about the PULSE program when GSK’s new CEO Andrew Witty announced it in 2008. But I didn’t think it would fit in with my life of raising teenage daughters and the busy life Nancy & I have. Last November my department had a townhall meeting and our senior VP Joe Touey discussed a trip he and other senior executives took to Kenya. Someone from the PULSE program then gave an overview and the timeline for applying. Joe said that not many IT people had participated in PULSE he wanted 3 people from North America Pharma IT. I left that meeting intrigued and wondered if I could do it. I do volunteer work such as church usher, softball coach, board member for our pool, and alumni advisor for my fraternity at Drexel. Since Kaitlyn will be a senior in high school and Natalie a freshman next year, I thought that this would be a good year to go before Kaitlyn left for college. I talked it over with Nancy and she saw that this was something that I really wanted to do.
The application process took approximately 3 months and was like being on a reality show where you could get sent home at any point. We decided not to tell the girls about it because it could have fallen through at any point. On the application you can specify a domestic or international assignment. I knew immediately that I wanted to go “all in” and go international. If I worked at a NGO in Camden or North Philly and came home every night to Haddonfield, this opportunity would not have the same affect on me. One scary thing about this is that I could have been placed anywhere in the world. An assignment to Haiti or Ethiopia would not high on my places to go live & work. When I saw my assignment letter to Eldoret, Kenya, Africa I had to use Google Maps to see exactly where Kenya was. I was happy to learn that English is spoken and Kenya is a Christian country. Also because tourism is one of their main income sources, I think that I will be safe there. Eldoret has a population of 200,000 with a large university (Moi) and a hospital.
Once I knew where I was going and when (I leave June 16th), it was time to tell the girls. Nancy & I decided that it would be best while we were away from home and the girls didn’t have the normal distractions of friends. For spring break we did a college tour of the University of Delaware and then headed to Ocean City, MD for two nights in a hotel. At dinner that night we told the girls that I was going to Africa for 6 months and what my assignment was. I could not have predicted their reactions. Our stoic daughter, Kaitlyn, immediately broke down crying. Natalie who is the queen of volunteerism was very strong and told me how proud she was of me. I found out later that she lost it in the bathroom. Later that night I told the girls that I would not go if they could give me a really good reason. They were much calmer and told me that I should go. This is an opportunity for them to step up and help out more around the house (I’m sure they will be fighting over who gets to cut the grass). All of the things they do to help others is an inspiration to me and part of the reason I’m doing this. I know that they will be fine without me and I will miss all of the drama of having teenage daughters. Kaitlyn was thrilled when she realized that my car will be available for her when she gets her license in August. I told her that I want by car back the way it is and to take her mother’s car.
6 Weeks to go
My PULSE assignment is almost here. I woke up before 6am today & realized that I leave 6 weeks from today. I still have so much to do & have been having trouble sleeping. I feel like I have to get everything ready for my family & coworkers to go on for the next 6 months without me. This past week I did make some progress. On Monday Nancy & I had a teleconference with my PULSE Buddy Amy Newlands who was based in Eldoret last year for her PULSE assignment. Nancy joined the TC to ask Amy questions and get a sense of how safe it is over there. Amy put me in touch with her landlady (Jane) and I will most likely stay there. Amy is from the UK & gave me the good advice to bring my "wellies" for the rainy season in June & July, and a "torch" for the blackouts. I'm not sure if they sell them in the US but will pickup some supplies at LL Bean. Amy has been incredibly helpful in answering questions & giving me the names of people she met in Eldoret including her Swahili instructor.
4 Weeks to Go
Last week I attended 2 days of Pulse training to get us ready for my assignment. The course was taught by a guy from the UK who has lived in places like Cambodia, Nepal and all over Africa. He gave us some good advice like “eat the street food” and “avoid the baboons”. Everyone in the class was going to Africa except for 2 who will be based in CA and Philadelphia. The training was held at the headquarters of Alex’s Lemonade in Ardmore, PA. Everyone was anxious about their upcoming trip and had concerns about safety & where they would live. A Pulse alumni who lived in Ghana last year spoke about her trip and assignment. She said the assignment motivated her in her current job and that’s what everyone else in the training is trying to get too.