Mangango is a place of intense beauty but in the midst of this beauty lays the reality of a gripping and unforgiving poverty. This type of poverty is not like any I have encountered in Ireland. As a first world country we have, in Ireland, an abundance of facilities and services for those in need. I know we complain about them and wish they were better, but it is only when you experience a situation where these basic facilities are either absent or miles away from the people who need them, that you can appreciate how fortunate we are.
As we walked around the village we met a woman, Gloria, with three children, one grown up and three young children: one just a baby. Gloria is dying. She has to walk 40km to reach the clinic at Mangango and is in constant pain. She is just skin and bone and can barely walk.The pain of every step can be clearly seen on her face and in the worried eyes of her children. She and her children have NOTHING. When she visits the clinic she stays overnight in a very basic shelter in which they are open to mosquitos and in turn malaria. Gloria is by no means unique. The next day, she told us, she was to leave for Lusaka for treatment….I have a feeling she will never return to Mangango. Then what of the children…they cycle of poverty continues.
The hospital out-patients department is heaving with patients waiting to be assessed. Most are young women with babies. The medic tells me there is a severe outbreak of malaria and measles. Babies have their temperatures taken and are weighed. They then pass to the next room, where a technician takes a pin-prick blood sample to test for Malaria, if positive they are passed to the nurse and then to the Pharmacy for anti-malarial treatments.
We went to greet the director of the Hospital, a religious sister belonging to a Zambian congregation called the Daughters of the Redeemer. She is bursting with life and enthusiasm for her work and is very proud of the Hospital and all involved with it. This hospital was founded by our Capuchin Brothers and for many years run by a Franciscan Medical Missionary Order of Sisters (FMDM). The hospital caters for patients from Mangango and the surrounding villages. Like Gloria, patients often have to walk very long distances to be seen. The outpatients open at 9am but people are often seen queuing from 6am. Everybody has a copy book and in this is recorded their medical records. They bring this along with them making the waiting room seem more like a classroom at times.
The hospital has a children’s ward, male and female adult wards, a chest clinic, a Hansen’s disease clinic as well as a HIV clinic. It looks after both medical and surgical cases. More serious cases are referred to Mongu or Lusaka for treatment. It operates a number of ambulances and outreach programmes to villages. As we leave the hospital, we pass through outpatients and the rows of faces waiting to be seen as the room becomes more and more congested, the heat rises and I wonder how anybody could have a normal temperature reading when it comes their turn to have it taken.
Reflecting on my visit to the hospital, I realised that millions of people are in the same poverty stricken situation as those we encountered in Mangango and have no reprieve from it. It is a constant presence. There are no days off, no holidays, no plans…just today and the task of finding enough food to keep them going until tomorrow, when they get to do it all over again. But through all of this, they smile and welcome you as you have never been welcomed before. A genuine welcome that comes from their heart and for a moment our two worlds intertwine into a place of common humanity.
PS I am working with a very slow connection so apologies for no photos, will do my best to include them during the week ;-)