A letter from Martha Sommers serving in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
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Dear Friends and Family,
Greetings from Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). I arrived August 11. My first impression is that it is a huge and hectic city with many vibrant people who are quick to smile. As we are in dry season, the sometimes blowing sand is noticeable, which adds to the pink and orange sunsets. So many folks from our partners, the Congolese Presbyterian Community and the Institute Medical Chrétienne du Kasai (IMCK), are working with me and our regional liaison, Jeff Boyd, to help me through the many processes of getting settled. There is immigration, medical licensing, and working out how and when I should travel to Tshikaji, my new home located in the Kasai region. The present plan is to travel there with Marcia Murray at the end of the month. I am thankful for all the efforts being made so that I can contribute to the vast ongoing work that our partners are carrying out in the fields of health and education.
My time in Kinshasa has allowed me to meet many folks I will be collaborating with after I arrive in Tshikaji and begin my work as a medical education consultant. I will be focusing on IMCK’s postgraduate medical training in family medicine, a four-year course, and general internships.
I’d like to introduce you to Dr. Phillipe Ngwala, who is in charge of all of the Family Medicine residencies in the country. I had the pleasure of meeting him yesterday, Saturday morning. He is a soft-spoken man, initially reserved—until he gets into telling a story, discussing a point, or motivating his trainees. He is then still soft-spoken, yet very animated. He received his postgraduate training in family medicine part-time over eight years in South Africa, while continuing to work half of each year in the DCR. He shook his head as he described the challenges of working in French part of each year, and then training the rest of the year in English in South Africa. He also had to adjust in each context to the different cultures, resources, and diseases. I expressed my amazement at his perseverance. He told me that I would learn that you can achieve many things in medicine in the DCR if you do not allow yourself to be distracted by the constant activities, delays and obstacles. Then he went on to describe some of the challenges: instability, 70 different medical schools without common standards, professors who sometimes stop teaching when they do not get paid, and difficulty in communicating with the different training sites in this vast land.
The first 12 family medicine specialists graduated just this year. Dr. Phillipe’s face lit up as he described the joy of this ceremony. He walked with me to see a vaccine outreach campaign organized to assist in limiting DRC’s present yellow fever outbreak, which was being supervised by one of his graduates. He has set up further meetings for me to participate in, and let me know there are some projects I can join in working on if my travel to Tshikaji is further delayed. He also had me spend some time with family medicine trainees based in Kinshasa. I listened to these young people passionately describe why they chose to enter this training, for which they must pay or find scholarships. They are eager to gain the skills to serve patients, families and communities.
The DRC hopes to expand training in family practice to meet the needs of this country whose majority are youth. In 2009, according to statistics, 68 percent of the population was younger than 25 years of age, and the median age was 15.5 years. At church these past two Sundays I have very much enjoyed the youth singing, shouting responses, and dancing and making music, both in the choirs and in the pews.
They truly bring to life the first two verses of Psalm 66: “Shout for joy to God, all the earth; sing the glory of his name; give to him glorious praise!” My first Sunday I had the opportunity to attend the service of the 31st Presbyterian Community of the Congo. The youth choir harmonized beautiful hymns, accompanied by a young boy drumming. After the service, more than two hours long, we joined Reverend Mpongo to chat and enjoy fresh fruits in his office. We continued to enjoy the music as the choir stayed for practice. What a joy to see these youths feeling so at home in the church and able to improve and share their gifts.
I hope you enjoyed this taste of my journey, and thank you for journeying with me. Your generous support through friendship, prayer and financial gifts enables me to continue this ministry. There is good news financially from Presbyterian World Mission: Last year’s gifts totaled $8.9 million, exceeding the goal of $7.2 million. Because of your generosity, no mission co-worker positions were cut this year. As my position is not yet fully funded for this year, or for my current term, which ends in 2019, I ask you to prayerfully consider contributing to my financial support if you are not already doing so. If you are already part of my family of support, please consider increasing your contribution if you are able. In either case, please consider continue your support throughout my present term.
Thanks to technology, we can stay connected by these letters, email, and if you friend me on Facebook.
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