Now I Can Die Happy

A letter from Inge Sthreshley serving in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

September 29, 2015

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Dear Friends,

Chief Kibulungu and his people had no idea what was in store for them when the ASSP construction team stopped at their village, and vice versa.  (ASSP stands for Access to Primary Health Care, a comprehensive health program.)

Kibulungu Health Center

Kibulungu, a large village on the road between Nyanga and Tshikapa, had been selected as a site for construction of a health center.

But before a health center could be built, the chief of the village would need to sign a letter ceding the land for the health center to the government.  The ASSP construction team wanted to meet with Chief Kibulungu to start the discussion and process.

Larry with Chief Kibulungu and sub chiefs

As the team talked with Chief Kibulungu and explained why they were there, they learned that in the 1980s Chief Kibulungu had set aside a large area of land in the middle of the village for a health center to be built for his people. Over the years he had kept people from building homes there because one day they would have a health center.  He wrote letters to parliament asking for assistance in building a health center and even went to Kinshasa to deliver a letter personally.  There was no response.  Over the years the chief had also asked various groups if they could help, to no avail.   Now he was an old man and thought that he would die without seeing a health center built.

After talking with the construction team, Chief Kibulungu immediately wrote a letter, in Pende, his mother tongue.  He called in his notables and they all signed the letter.  That day the team happened to be transporting a brick press machine in the back of the pickup to what they thought was going to be the next construction site.  But, with the signed letter in hand from the chief, they could get going right away on building the health center at Kibulungu. So they unloaded the brick press at the new site.

Chief Kibulungu writing a letter

When the ASSP construction team “builds” a new health center, they don’t build the health center for the community, they build it with the community.  They usually send in only one person, a construction supervisor.  The rest of the team is recruited from the village where they are building and the supervisor takes the crew through all the steps of building. Evan Schellenberg, who leads the ASSP construction unit, says they do this intentionally because in addition to building health centers, they want to develop the capacity of the local people to build for themselves. He hopes in the future other projects and groups will be able to come in and build schools because they will find local people who are now skilled and experienced in construction.

For example, when the Kibulungu construction started, one young man was hired as a mason’s assistant.  He had never been trained or worked as a mason before, but by the end of the project he was an excellent mason. One day as he was working on the health center, he said to a construction team member, “My wife is pregnant.  I never dreamed that I would ever be building the health center in which my child will be born.”

“There was great community participation at Kibulungu,” says Evan. “They were excited about their health center. They supplied the rocks for the foundation, the gravel, and the wood, and they posted security guards.  The women brought the water for mixing the cement.  Not all construction sites go so smoothly.  But experiences like Kibulungu make everything we do so worthwhile.”

A couple of months into building the Kibulungu health center, the community got wind that Larry, who directs the ASSP project, and representatives from UKAID, which funds the ASSP project, were coming to the area. They stepped up work on the health center and finished it in time for their visit.  Without asking the ASSP construction team for money, they put together an inauguration ceremony using their own means.  It was a big inauguration ceremony with drums and traditional dancers.

Half an hour before the inauguration ceremony a woman had been brought to the health center with obstructed labor.  The case was too complicated for the local health center nurse, but the health zone doctor who had come for the opening was able to save the mother and baby—and the baby was given the name Larry.  At the ceremony Chief Kibulungu told Larry: “Now I can die happy.  My people have a health center.”

Kibulungu health center is just one of 200 new health centers being built and 250 health centers being renovated through the ASSP project.  Currently many of the health facilities are just stick-and-mud brick construction, with thatched roofs and dirt floors.  Through the ASSP construction unit about 4.5 million people will have a new or a renovated health center in their community made of compressed brick, with cement floors and tin roofs, furnished with beds and medical equipment. Nurses at these health centers receive ongoing training.

Thank you for your prayers and for giving to our salary support, and please continue to give to our support.  Through your support, people in villages like Kibulungu, especially the most vulnerable, the women and children are able to receive better health care.

Inge Sthreshley

By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established;  through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures  Proverbs 24:3-4.

The 2015 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 147
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