An African adventure at age 86
Elderly midwife revisits African villages where she once worked as a nurse
marauding hippos and massive cattle-eating snakes, camping in lion-infested areas, and hunting animals to feed patients in the leprosy village where she administered care. She was there when a new drug promised a halt to the debilitating disease and she was there when those suffering from leprosy were finally moved to the mission hospital, instead of being treated in separate colonies as infectious outcasts.
It was during her time in Africa that Cressman learned how to deliver babies and a new phase in her life opened. When the local community took over the mission hospital, Cressman was out of a job and headed to England to receive midwife training for two years.
She then returned to Africa, this time to a position Rusinga Island, on Lake Victoria in Kenya.
Her challenge there would be to create a health centre from a partly completed hospital founded by prominent Kenyan politician Thomas Mboya, founder of Nairobi People’s Congress Party. Hospital construction had halted after Mboya’s assassination in 1969 and it was Cressman’s job to finish what he started.
With limited resources, Cressman delivered her first baby there on the hospital floor. This was the rawness of Africa: making do with what you had for the good of its people. When the locals were able to manage the hospital on their own, however, Cressman was again out of a job.
This time, she returned to Canada and in the mid-1970s began working at Grand River Hospital (then known as K-W Hospital) in Kitchener.
Elsie Cressman is shown in New Hamburg, Ont. in this Aug. 18, 2008 file photo. Cressman is a woman of few words but big actions — and at 86 she is still ripe for adventure.