Kenya trip inspires award-winning narrative for University of Notre Dame medicine student


University of Notre Dame Australia News Story
Notre Dame Medicine student John Farey, winner of the 2013 Dr Eric Dark Creative Writing Prize.

The vivid account of an Australian medical team ministering to sick and malnourished people in a Kenyan refugee camp has won a prestigious literary prize for The University of Notre Dame Australia’s medicine student, John Farey.

The Medical Journal of Australia’s 2013 Dr Eric Dark Creative Writing Prize is a national competition open to doctors and medicine students.

The prize is named after Dr Eric Dark, a general practitioner and public health activist who won the Military Cross in World War I and whose wife, Eleanor Dark, was one of Australia’s leading writers. The couple’s former home ‘Varuna’ in the Blue Mountains is today well-known as a residential writers’ retreat.

Mr Farey, in his second year at the Sydney School of Medicine, has been awarded first place for his story, “Esther”. The narrative was inspired by Mr Farey’s experience volunteering in an internally displaced peoples camp in Kenya in 2012, as part of an outreach program organised by Notre Dame for Education and Medicine students.

The story is named for a chronically ill orphan girl Mr Farey treated in the camp as part of a health screening component of the trip. He said witnessing the debilitating effects of diseases caused by malnourishment in young children like Esther had a profound effect on him.

“It was one of the most informative experiences of my life because these were preventable diseases very largely unknown to us in Australia,” Mr Farey said.

“When I got back from Africa, I had a great deal of trouble reconciling some of the things I saw in our Western lifestyles. I was angry at how wasteful and ungrateful we are sometimes in Australia.”

As a media and communications graduate who had previously worked as a medical journalist, John Farey said it was through drawing on his experiences in reportage that helped relieve his sense of helplessness.

“As a medical journalist I got a real taste for the working life of a doctor and found the most effective practitioners could communicate verbally and in writing to patients and colleagues.”

When he saw the advertisement for the literary competition, his Kenyan experience was still burning fresh in his mind’s eye.

“Entering the competition allowed me to crystallize my thoughts on a topic as complex as poverty.”

He said the theme of the Dr Eric Dark Prize, “There must be joy” also resonated deeply with him.

“The people I met in the camp had such a pure joy juxtaposed with very desperate situations. Thinking about it again now makes me suspect that part of the reason so many people end up ‘joyless’ in Australia – where we have everything – is the complexity of contemporary life. Maybe it’s time we got back to the essentials and made joy our priority,” Mr Farey said.

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