Story from East Africa

New beginnings

I remember sitting on tiered seats in large lecture halls in my nursing school lectures over 15 years ago wondering how I would teach the particular topic if I were the teacher. Now, I sit in my office that my teammate built from stones hauled from the nearby stream, listening to the cows munching the grass around us and wondering how I am going to teach this topic – later in the day.

I live in a beautiful, remote, underdeveloped region of East Africa. The people here are known for their hospitality – but also for having endured decades of conflict.

I moved to this area a couple of years ago, with the initial aim to work at the main referral hospital for the region. Although there are officially around 175 clinics throughout the region, only a handful of these clinics have trained staff (or regular supplies and medications). Therefore, it had long been a dream of the hospital to be able to train more local health workers. On arriving here, I was asked to be part of trying to make this happen.

After many meetings, hours of gathering and sorting resources, providential introductions, being given increasing responsibility until I found myself appointed the principal (gulp!), followed by lots of “I don’t know what I am doing but let’s try this” on Friday 29th of July 2022, St. Bakhita Health Training Institute was officially opened. This involved a few goats being cooked, school children doing presentations, thankfully not too many boring speeches, and the highly respected leader of the region coming even though he hadn’t been to our immediate location for over 10 years.

The first intake is 20 students for a Diploma in Clinical Medicine and Public Health (which here will qualify them to be Clinical Officers - think GPs, just with only 3 years training and far less skills). We have 5 female and 15 male students, ranging in age from 22 to 34 years of age, from 5 different counties in the region, and at least 13 different tribes. Three of the students are Muslims, the rest are Christians of varying denominations and levels of commitment. The aim is that once they have finished their three years of study they will be sent throughout the region, which contains many unreached tribes.

The first day we spent just listening to their stories. These last five years of ceasefire have been the longest period of peace that they have known. Some of them have been internally displaced because of the conflict, some lost fathers in the fighting, quite a few have had had siblings die (mainly from illness). Many of them have only recently completed their secondary education due to conflict and financial delays. Only two of them have parents who can read. Some shared that they come from villages where people must walk a couple of days to get healthcare, and they want to be able to go back so that they can serve their people. Hopefully this motivation lasts for the next three years of study and beyond!

And, so far, it seems to be. When we were interviewing candidates, we had prayed that God would choose the ones that he wanted to be in the school. And he answered that prayer. When I arrive at the school at 7:30 in the morning the students are already in the classroom or sitting under one of the trees studying. Even though their experience of school has been mainly rote learning, they have adapted to a more interactive approach and ask some really interesting questions in class. And, I will often have over half the class turn up to the voluntary weekly bible study at the end of 7 hours of class.

Yes, there have been issues. A significant theft, equipment breaking, stationary supplies not turning up, a shipping container with a lot of our teaching materials getting delayed, and a student who appears to be suffering severe spiritual attack. But we have also seen the faithfulness of God. The school is actually open and running remarkably smoothly. And we are excited to see what God will yet do.

- Katherine

 

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