Interview: Janet Gumbo and Simba Maunga
Since 2012 the Onze Lieve Vrouwe Gasthuis (OLVG) from Amsterdam supported three hospitals in rural Zimbabwe, which are controlled by the Dominican sisters in Harare. A friendship formed and thereby also the Ushamwari-foundation. This foundation is committed to supporting their Zimbabwean colleagues. Small-scale, and with structural projects. One of the hospitals is the St Theresa's Hospital, in Charandure, Mvuma. On location, we interview Janet Gumbo, head of education within the nursingschool, and Dr. Simba Maunga, currently the only doctor at St. Theresa's. With them we talk about bureaucracy, development and about "the black blanket.”
An interview with sister Janet Gumbo & Dr. Simba Maunga.:
I. General Information
a. Can you shortly describe the genesis / history of the Ushamwari-project?
In the 60s of the last century the Dominican Sisters, a mission originally from Germany, founded several hospitals here in Zimbabwe including our St Theresa's Hospital in Charandure, Mvuma. A number of sisters still work here in the hospital supported by their superiors in Harare. The Dominicans at one time have sought assistance from abroad. Sister Patricia Walsh has finally found the right partner in the OLVG in Amsterdam, originally also a church-based hospital. Within the OLVG Dr. William Block and several other colleagues eventually launched the Ushamwari foundation in 2012. They have supported our hospital and the other two partner hospitals with all sorts of things. Ushamwari stands for friendship, the friendship between the OLVG and the rural hospitals here in Zimbabwe.
b. What has the impact of the project since then, on the target group and local community and surroundings?
Ushamwari has supported us with all kinds of things. They have ensured that for the first time we can use computers, which were obviously necessary for communication with the Netherlands. They also supported the renovation of the waternetwork here in the hospital.
Much more important is the cooperation in the medical field. Through the internet we can now discuss patients and their diseases with our colleagues in Amsterdam. They also keep us informed of the latest developments and there are regular physical exchanges between doctors and nurses from the Netherlands and Zimbabwe. Additionally, Ushamwari supports us in improving our laboratory. And one is engaged in investigating the feasibility of cervical cancer screening.
The biggest impact so far has been the diabetes project. Within our existing home-based care program Ushamwari has helped us to improve the treatment of diabetes. Diabetes is a growing problem here. Because we can reach the people with clinics in the catchment-area, combined with blood sugar meters that Ushamwari has managed to deliver to us, we can really tackle the diabetes firmly in our catchment area! People do not need to walk all the way to St Theresa's anymore to undergo testing and, moreover, testing is free and so is the medication in the clinics. Because of this lower threshold, we have made real progress in that area.
Another important part of the home-based-care program is providing information on hiv and AIDS, young people and parents need to educate their children. Also from this program, we find that it has a clear impact.
c. What has motivated you, personally, to start your development project?
J: The hospital is very important to us. We as a developing country realized that this cooperation could be very fruitful, that it had much to offer to us. It suited us, and we can develop ourselves through it. When OLVG and the idea for Ushamwari came in our path, we were directly motivated.
S: We just do what we think our hospital can move forward with, very simple. That is our motivation.
d. What is, according to you, the strongest point of the project?
The exchange of information and people is the strongest point of the cooperation. We exchange knowledge, both online and physically so, and this improves our work from day to day. We can exchange ideas, and OLVG can point us in the right direction where needed. Problems that are a challenge to us, we submit to Amsterdam, and so we improve the care for the patients here. But perhaps more important is that the OLVG and St Theresa's became real partners, real friends. We know what happens in Amsterdam and keep our colleagues informed of everything in Zimbabwe. This exchange is a very strong point. Our 'ushamwari' is very strong.
e. What is, according to you, the biggest challenge / point of improvement for the project?
S: These are all practical problems, needs and challenges for the future. A practical problem in a remote area is for example the internet. That's very important for us, for the correspondence with the Netherlands and other places. Now it works reasonably, but will it stay that way?
J: We would also like to make the exchange program more intensively, from both sides. We would like to gain more knowledge by visiting Amsterdam, and we hope that more people from the OLVG come here to visit.
II. Development (aid) - north / south relations
a. What is your idea on development?
J & S: Social Development for us is how you can ensure that someone can do something better than before, how can you make improvement in people and their lives. It really is always about people, how to bring them forward, their position.
b. There is a lot of Western organizations starting development projects in Africa. What is your general vision on this development-aid?
S: In our sector we mainly see the good side of development-aid. We benefit greatly from it. In our industry we see mostly positive, because the support we really on provides us benefits. In health care we see little things that go wrong when there is external support.
c. What, according to you, are the main pitfalls / challenges for Western organizations that want to develop other / foreign communities?
J: In Zimbabwe, you should always take the government into account. Especially in health care, you need to register if you want to be involved in health care and must get permission to do a project or to work in this sector.
S: For Ushamwari this perhaps has been quite easily, because the health care and medical assistance are substantively quite uniform. If you want to start a social project this is often much less clear and transparent, and then the government will ask questions much faster and create thresholds.
It often also depends on the country where the help comes from, but this is politics. Some countries have a better relationship with Zimbabwe than others.
d. The In2Afrika Foundation takes the civil society as main principles, in which small scale and local practice are the two most important principles. What is your opinion on our startingpoint?
J: Community ownership for us is a very important principle, even for Ushamwari and the hospital specific. The community should realize that it is in their interest what you do, and they should have a share in it. The work you do for the people has to become a bit of their own. In addition, we find small projects to better control and monitor. This is also an important advantage. In that respect, these are some valuable principles.
III. Image of Africa
a. What is, according to you, the current prevailing Western image of the African continent?
S: The picture is that all of Africa is covered by the 'third world'. All of Africa is seen as underdeveloped.
J: Sometimes it seems as if one has a 'black cloth' over their eye when it comes to our continent. We are seen as unknown, and therefore as dark and scary.
b. What's your opinion on these images?
J: Let's be honest, sometimes this is true, though. But there is a big 'but'. There are so many good things happening here in Zimbabwe and elsewhere in Africa, but the large 'black blanket "of the default image that exists dominates everything and people often do not know how it actually is here. They only have their stereotype about Africa. When people come here, they see that it really is different from the image that exists in general.
c. How should this image be changed?
What people see 'on the ground' is often very different from the picture they have. This experience opens people's eyes. That people come here to look is very important! We therefore consider the exchanges with Amsterdam so important.
d. What does the Ushamwari-project do to create an image of the project and of the African continent in general?
As a hospital we find the image that people have of us is very important, because sometimes we are dependent on external support. We try to build a good relationship, real 'Ushamwari'. We absolutely want to be objective about our status and how everything is going, this is for us the basis to maintain relationships / friendships with other parties. We are always open for discussion and improvement from outside. In this way, we show how the situation here is for real, and how we are working hard to develop.