Changing and saving lives, one day at a time.
Making a brave choice of living and working alone in West and South Africa, Dr Simone Koopman is an inspiration to women and doctors who make serving society their purpose of life.
What or who inspired you to become a doctor in Africa?
The doctor who was earlier working in Olam, Dr. Marianne Reimert is my colleague from The Netherlands. When she was leaving Pokola, she recommended me to take on her role. Don’t ask me why, but since I was 12-years-old I knew I wanted to be a doctor in Africa, although I hadn’t even stepped out of The Netherlands then. I am living my dream in Congo. I have worked in South Africa earlier. Of course, life is tough. I live alone. This is a small community. I get to visit my family only once, every 5 months.
How does an average day look like for you?
Firstly, my days are extremely unpredictable. Anything can happen anytime. In Pokola, no 2 days are alike.
Usually, my day is supposed to begin at 7 am and end at 5:30 pm. The lunch breaks are from noon to 2 pm. We work Mondays through Saturdays. There are 2 doctors here and we are on-call every alternate week.
When I am ‘on call’ sometimes I have to visit the hospital 3 or 4 times after work in case of an emergency, at any hour during the day or night. We see between 80 to 100 patients a day, primarily with Malaria and its related complications. On Wednesdays and Fridays, we perform scheduled surgeries that are not emergencies.
Tell us about your life in Pokola after work.
Mostly I go running. I want to be able to run 5 km this year. I have a TV which doesn’t work but I have DVDs of some series. I love reading and read a lot of books. Sometimes I do nothing, just sit outside in the garden enjoying the chirping of birds with my tea. In the village, there are some pubs and dance clubs. My friends and I go there once in a while. I have visited the Sangha River in a small pirogue many times. I have also been to the Sangha Tri-National Park to see Lowland Gorillas which was really special. The weekends are short here, so that is all I can squeeze in a day and a half.
How is being a doctor anywhere else in the world different from being a doctor in Pokola?
Everything is specialised in The Netherlands. Here I have to be a gynaecologist, obstetrician, perform surgeries, see patients with minor problems, diagnose patients with X-rays, do ultrasounds, administrative work, create structures and processes, be a supervisor, a manager. I have a chance to do everything, which I think is something special.
Are there women who work at the hospital?
Yes, it helps us to serve patients who are sometimes more comfortable with sharing their health history with women. Generally, it’s a patriarchal society here but by employing women from the community, Olam and CIB are helping to change opinions about women’s equality and opportunity to work.
How important is what Olam is doing here in Pokola in healthcare?
This facility started as a small clinic for CIB. But a lot of non-CIB people from near and far started visiting. From needing to provide healthcare to employees, Olam has now opened its door to anyone needing the hospital, especially as the nearest hospital is an hour and a half away, without as many resources. It is not just good that Olam and CIB have invested in the hospital here, but also its critical and necessary for saving lives.
Have you thought how your life would be after here, in Africa?
I miss witnessing my nephew and niece growing up. There is no internet bandwidth here to manage a video call. Sometimes it gets too late in flying back home in case of emergencies. I think I would like to be at home in Amsterdam for a while but I know soon I would want to be in Africa again. Maybe then I will join ‘Doctors Without Borders’, or take on projects that are of shorter duration or be a Family Practitioner in The Netherlands.
How do you think Olam and you are being bold for change this year?
HIV is a big taboo in Africa. Olam and the hospital together thought of what could be done to change the mindset. So, I have made it my personal agenda to bring about a change to this by counselling the family of the HIV+ patient. Many times, the family of the HIV+ patient abandons them for fear of being ostracised. I ensure they do not do that by talking to them, sometimes giving them food and clothing so the patient doesn’t feel abandoned and alone. Women suffer more than men because sometimes the HIV+ baby is also abandoned with the mother. Changing the perspective would require a lot of time, but together with CIB and Olam we are moving ahead one step at a time in helping to remove this taboo. Even if one life changes, it will be a huge success for us.
This blog post was written and created by Ajita Chowhan. Ajita is Olam’s Consulting Editor based out of Republic of the Congo. She is a digital multimedia story-teller with an industry expertise of 15 years in print and digital mediums. She pursues long-term travel with a purpose of engaging with the communities and being a medium to tell their stories through pictures, documentaries, articles and graphics.
She has travelled to more countries than her age, cities spread across five continents. She has been widely published in international journals and magazines.