Ushamwari: the report

 

On Wednesdaymorning we leave Harare, capital of Zimbabwe. For the next three days we will leave the city life for an adventure in a region that we could easily call the 'middle of nowhere'. In three hours we drive up to Mvuma, a town located southwest of Harare. From here we drive for another thirty minutes to what is called the Chaka Business Center, but actually appears to be not much more then a gas station and some Zimbabwean eateries. Here we are picked up by Celestino, who brings us to where we need to be in another 45 minutes driving in a dirt road: to St Theresa's Hospital.

 

In the 60s of the last century, a group of German Dominicans founded a hospital here, in order to provide the local population with the necessary health care. Today this hospital is still standing here, now having 188 beds, a catchment-area of 26,000 people and a nursing school where 60 students from across the country follow a three year curriculum. The hospital and the school are surrounded by the homes of all hospital employees and their families. All this together makes St Theresa's the heart of the community in Charandure.

Since 2012, some staff members of the Onze Lieve Vrouwe Gasthuis (OLVG) from Amsterdaam are involved in three hospitals in Zimbabwe, which are led by the Dominican Sisters from Harare. In Zimbabw the OLVG where deeply touched by their colleges in Zimbabwe. In their own words they were deeply impressed by the dedication and resilience of the doctors and nurses who do so much work with relatively limited resources. In Zimbabwe they also saw a country with enormous potential, but also a country that is likely to be 'forgotten' due to a poor image. They therefore established a foundation which was called Ushamwari. "Ushamwari means 'friendship', and stands for the friendship between Zimbabwe and the OLVG. With the Ushamwari-foundation the OLVG supports its Zimbabwean counterparts, with small and structural projects. One of these three Zimbabwean hospitals is St Theresa's, where we will be staying for the next few days.

 

On Wednesday afternoon, shortly after our arrival, we get a tour through the hospital and the nursing school, led by two third-year students at this same school. Step by step they walk us through all departments. In the maternity ward, we find everything we see in the Netherlands: the maternityroom, incubators and mothers with newborn infants.

On all other departments, we find nothing that would be foreign to a Dutch hospital. People recovering from surgery, the children's ward full of cheerful little Zimbabweans and corridors of the hospital, populated by students from the nursing school. It was found that the diseases happen to differ slightly in this part of the world. We meet people with confidential diagnosis (AIDS patients in advanced stages of the disease), we see a number of tuberculosis patients, and due to the life expectancy in Zimbabwe being around forty years, the geriatrics department is a lot calmer than in the Netherlands.

 

In recent months we have learned that you cannot just draw a comparison between Africa and our own country. Also in the case of the St. Theresa's Hospital this is the case. At first glance the resources at St Theresa's seem very limited. At the moment, the hospital has only one doctor. In the maternity ward the lightly born babies have to be heated with a heater, because the incubator itself actually stopped working. And sometimes you will find a stray cat walking through the corridors of the hospital. But these are the resources that a rural hospital in Zimbabwe has to work with. And let's put as priority: working is what they do best here, and very hard indeed!

For the people who look a little further than this, they will see that there is done a lot in St Theresa's with limited resources. The hospital works with a very smart and 'hands on' home-based care program, in which the hospital works with outposts, small clinics in the field, with which they can do a lot of work. St Theresa's does not only ensure treatment when someone eventually ends up in the hospital, but tries to tackle problems like HIV / AIDS and diabetes at the root of the issue. At the same time St Theresa's and her home-based care also act as a platform for all kinds of blueprints from the community. There are support groups for people who are HIV-infected and we see projectgroups arrising in which people collectively do gardening, sewing and craftmaking. In this way, as we said St Theresa's really acts as the heart of the local community.

Moreover, St Theresa's response to the issues that a rural hospital has to deal with in a smart, authentic way. A pregnant woman can not travel for 25 kilometer when the baby is coming suddenly. At St Theresa's, women who are close to the nine months can therefore come and stay on a special section of the hospital. Here they all organize their own day along with other pregnant women, but in a safe environment, close to the hospital.

Moreover, it will not be for the staff at St Theresa's. The education at the nursingschool is at a very high level. From all over the country men and women get their three-year training, under strict supervision of headteacher Janet Gumbo, which acts as our contact at St Theresa's. "We have a longstanding success rate of 100%," says Janet. "We are not working for less then that. We make sure the students are ready for the transition exams every year. They are also interning at the hospital to gain practical experience. After three years, they are ready to get started, we'll make sure of that. "

 

The people of the OLVG were inspired by the morality and work ethic in Zimbabwe. The Ushamwari-foundation wanted to support this hard work, with gradually improving the means with which their colleges could work. It therefore continues to invest in small-scale cooperation. By providing computers and an improved internet connection, St Theresa's can now profit from online consulting with doctors OLVG. In addition, there is support in dealing with diabetes, which is an emerging phenomenon in Zimbabwe. By providing the necessary knowledge and resources (glucose meters) by the OLVG, St Theresa's can now identify diabetic patients much earlier in their home based-care program and offer better treatment. There is an exchange program in which the Zimbabwean staff visits the OLVG and Dutch doctors and students travel to Zimbabwe for instance for research. Finally, there are plans to support a project in which a test is set up to identify cancer.

 

At St Theresa's, each day begins with an assembly, in which both the staff and the students gather for a joint prayer. The prayer is beautifully sung by the employees of St. Theresa's. A magical moment that we too could participate in with In2Afrika. For us this represented a strong sense of togetherness, that we find with everyone in the hospital. Faith is a strong base, also for the friendship between St Theresa's and OLVG. Besides this the necessary knowledge and especially inventiveness is also absolutely present at St Theresa's. The only thing that sometimes appears to be lacking, are simply the means to carry out the many plans and improvements. We will give an example.

The next project that is developing within the hospital, is the 'solar cooker'. Because the energy supply in Zimbabwe, to say the least, is very uncertain, the rural population relies on what the environment gives her. Whole pieces of forrest disappear and are used as firewood. Ecologically a very bad solution, but for the people in Zimbabwe very necessary. An energy source, however, which is largely available in Zimbabwe, is the sun! The hospital decided it had to do something with this and got in contact with the German 'Technik ohne Grenzen'. Together, the solar cooker was developed, a simple construction using local materials, in which a glass plate and reflective foil generates enough heat to cook food and heat water. The local community are taught to construct the cooker and make the necessary repairs so that the cooker will be totally sustainable. Production costs: $ 90. At an innovation fair in Harare, the solar cooker even received an honorable mention, but miraculously there were no investors found. Zimbabweans is not exactly benefitting from the reputation that it's country has at this time. While a more useful investment almost does not exist. The knowledge, materials, and people are all there!

 

An organization like Ushamwari can do useful work in this difficult situation. They have taken the trouble to delve into Zimbabwe and to look beyond the image that prevails about this country. We see people with an awful lot of potential, motivation and skills. A small nudge is all that is often needed. Ushamwari Foundation can provide this support, and with In2Afrika we also hope to contribute to this by surching for Dutch investors in solar solutions, to invest in the solar cooker!