DANIELLE Mourits adjusts the blue surgical face mask over her mouth and nose as she heads to work the dispensary booth at the Koche community hospital.
Technically she’s supposed to wear the mask once, but this one has seen daylight for one, maybe two weeks.
It’s been the 23 year old’s stark reality for seven months as a volunteer missionary with the Canossian Daughters of Charity, who run a hospital in southern Malawi.
When the former NET Ministries youth missionary booked a ticket to Malawi late last year, she never imagined having to deal with a pandemic in one of the world’s kindest, yet poorest, countries, where more than half the population live below the poverty line.
“Being in a rural mission hospital, the Sisters were, I think, quite scared at the start,” Ms Mourits said.
“What we were seeing in Italy was really scary, and it was like, ‘What the heck, if this comes here, we’re just going to die’.
“We don’t have respirators, we have one oxygen machine, maybe two, we don’t have that full get up of PPE (personal protective equipment).
“We just have to trust that God’s going to protect us because we don’t have much to rely on really.”
Ms Mourits arrived in Malawi at the end of January to live and work with the Canossian Sisters at Koche community hospital, located 22km from the town of Mangochi.
The hospital provides maternity and child health services, HIV/AIDS management, dental care and other general care.
Ms Mourits, who is not a trained medical professional but hopes to become a nurse, works in the dispensary, but on several occasions has assisted in the maternity ward, the busiest section of the Sisters’ hospital.
She said people in Malawi “don’t stop having babies”.
“The other day seven women gave birth in 30 minutes and we only have two delivery beds, which means women are giving birth on the ground,” Ms Mourits wrote on Facebook.
Although Koche hospital is not equipped to treat or test suspected coronavirus cases, they have had to do basic assessments and isolate the occasional suspect case.
These patients are then transferred to the local district hospital for proper testing.
Positive cases of COVID-19 in Malawi are in decline, but more than 5300 people have tested positive and a further 174 have died since the pandemic hit the country in April.
Ms Mourits said the people took every precaution possible with limited resources – locals could be seen wearing masks made out of t-shirt fabric, and one Sister even learnt to sew face shields made out of plastic.
Due to government regulations, patients are required to wear a face mask before entering a hospital, while staff make the most out of single-use masks.
“We use them for about a week, or maybe more depending on how clean you keep it,” Ms Mourits said.
“A lot of my friends put them in little medicine bags at the end of the shift to keep it clean.
“But I guess that’s our reality – we use the same mask for a while.”
Ms Mourit’s life-changing trip was made on the back of another inspiring immersion with the Canossian Sisters to Papua New Guinea, the country where her parents met as missionaries.
After PNG, Ms Mourits had an itch to follow God to Africa, or more specifically, to Malawi.
The country was once home to Canossian Sister Mel Dwyer, who was with Ms Mourits on the PNG immersion trip.
Ms Mourits has been documenting her journey in Malawi on Facebook, and said the responses to some of her posts had been overwhelming.
After sharing how grateful she was to have a face mask, Ms Mourits received a message from a Catholic friend in Brisbane who wanted to help send 100 masks to the Koche hospital.
Before that, she posted her experience of meeting an elderly woman while “biking around” the local village with another Sister to deliver blankets ahead of the cooler June nights.
The elderly woman went on to explain that she had never in her life owned a blanket.
Within two weeks of Ms Mourit’s Facebook post, enough donations poured in to purchase 150 new blankets.
Ms Mourits is soaking in all the experiences as it’s unknown how long she will remain in Malawi.
The New Zealand native was planning on flying home next week but her flight was cancelled at the last minute.
She said it has been an emotional privilege to be a “bridge” between Malawi and Australia.
“I’m just overwhelmed by the generosity in people and I see the goodness of God for the people of Malawi and through my friends in Australia and just the way that people just want to give, they just want to love,” Ms Mourits said.
“It’s incredible to be a witness to that.
“I think one of my favourite parts of experiencing mission is you can invite other people into it with you.”