This past Saturday we celebrated the official opening of the Shammah Health Center, with all the bells, whistles, and Burundian drumming you could expect! What a day it was, as we celebrated with BYFC staff, our clinic staff, as well as hundreds of community members, government representatives, and our Burundian friends and family. It was just so surreal. We took time to thank God, thank each other, and it was an amazing time of encouragement and blessing. This was what we came to Burundi to do! Awesome!
The National News, local radio, even the governor of the province himself was there to witness, to give us a speech as well, and Josh was able to address all of those who had made the day possible. That included all of you; our friends, family, and supporters back home in Canada, and everywhere across the world. You are very loved and appreciated, not only by us, but the hundreds of patients we’ve seen over the past few weeks!
After having the party of a lifetime, we have had the most incredible, heart-breaking, joyous, exhausting, and life-changing week! So much has happened, it’s hard to even think of where to begin.
We worked a couple 14 hour shifts, made a few ambulance trips, treated a small child with cerebral malaria, experienced the gruesomeness of the public hospitals here, we even ran around in the pitch dark after sundown with solar lanterns helping a patient who was having a miscarriage! We saw the devastating effects of traditional healers, tried our best to treat a baby with bacterial meningitis, and pulled an impromptu night shift to save a life.
I am exhausted. All of us are. But in the best way possible. Lives are being saved, changed and transformed by Shammah Health Center. We saw almost 60 patients on the Monday after our opening ceremonies, and we had to lock the gates before 11 AM because we couldn’t handle any more. We are almost at 600 unique patients, not including those who have returned for repeat visits.
I was treating a patient in one of our hospital beds who had malaria so severe that she was having difficulty standing. A few hours later she burst out of her room dancing and praising the Lord! She said she was healed, gave me the biggest hug and said that she was going to come to our opening ceremony the next day and celebrate with us! Sure enough, she came, and found me in the crowd of people, calling my name, praising God, and hugging me without wanting to let go.
One man came to us a couple weeks ago quite sick from malaria, and we sent him home with his treatment. He returned the week after completing the medication with no change. He still had malaria, we were thinking maybe a resistant form to the medication. So we gave him another round of the same treatment and gathered around him in prayer. He returned this week completely clear, praising Jesus, and thanking us for caring for him.
Then there was little Sandrine. A 6 year old malnourished girl with severe pneumonia, who had been left untreated by her family until it was too late. She presented to us completely unresponsive, dehydrated, in respiratory failure, breathing over 100 times per minute, with her heart racing over 240 beats per minute. In Canada, we would have immediately called an emergency code and she would have been intubated and placed on a ventilator. She was so confused that we had to restrain her arms to prevent her from thrashing about. We treated her with oxygen, got an IV inserted and began to treat her and monitor her as best we could. Although we are not an overnight clinic at this point, Josh and I really felt in on our hearts to keep her overnight and Josh pulled a night shift. He was up for over 24 hours straight! It came to the point where he had to tell the family that we were not sure whether or not she will live or die, and we prayed over her. We had done everything we possibly could, and given her the best care she could have received anywhere in the country. Despite some ups and downs through the night, as we fought her fever and provided fluid resuscitation, even started a second IV line, she made it through the night and we started to see improvement by the morning. One of the best moments of my life was when I greeted her the next day and she looked at me, and reached her hand out to shake mine. It was a lonely, challenging night for Josh, but the sun came up, and Sandrine was still alive!
Patients are reporting how they feel loved, respected, and part of a community here. The care is affordable for them, and we are working towards self-sustainability. Patients are coming to our daily health sessions and learning so much on disease prevention. We have had over 70% of our patients who have incurred debt come back to pay their balances. We are breaking new ground here in Burundi as we treat patients first, and allow them to make restitution after treatment has been given. We had a lady who we saw on day one come back on Thursday, over a month later, to pay off her debt. Incredible. Patients are moved by the fact that we provide them with the care they need and trust them to return to pay. Because of their gratitude they want to come back. We have had a few patients join our work program, also a new initiative here in Burundi, where if they are not able to get the money to pay the health centre back, they can choose to come and work for us on our malnutrition project instead. Our first work project patient was so moved that she had this opportunity, she cried in gratitude. Patients who are acutely ill are asking to stay with us instead of being transferred to the local hospital. Please pray that we get the funding and staff necessary to keep the clinic open during the night!
With all the spiritual attacks and opposition we have faced to open the health center, we have wondered “what is going to be so special about this place, that satan is trying so hard to prevent it from opening?”
Now I know. I really know.
We have been blessed to receive Hannah & Andy Faulkner from the UK for 6 months! Hannah is a paediatric nurse and Andy is helping start our malnutrition program and helping in the clinic where he can. He’s an incredibly skilled Do-It-Yourself-er, and has been extremely useful for us! You can read about their stories HERE. God brought them to us at the perfect time. We would not have been able to handle this past week without them. They have become fast friends and are an amazing addition to our team. We are also happy to welcome our new Burundian nurse, Evariste, who is also a pastor and had been challenged to volunteer his time with us. He fits into our team perfectly and has been a massive help in allowing us to see patients faster, has been praying with our patients, and been a great encouragement to our staff.
Andy brought us a surprise with ambulance lights and a siren to put on our truck! He also drilled in an IV pole and we put a medical mattress in the back of the truck, donated to us by Boyle McCauley Health Center (my old place of work). Now we have an official ambulance! Ambulance sirens are the only thing I’ve ever seen that can make a Burundian jump out of the way into the ditch! We’ve already used it four times!
Our staff has really pulled together as a unified team and through the hectic business of this past week, we remain stronger than ever. I do believe we have the best staff in the entire country, each one hand-picked by God. The vision that we saw for Shammah Health Center is already coming to fruition. All all the Glory goes to God!
As Josh and I sat at the opening ceremonies, soaking up every bit of the event, we looked out at over 150 guests and the 300+ community members who came to celebrate with us. Josh and I thought of all that we have been through this year, and we looked at each other knowing what the other was thinking…“We made it. This day is really here. God is so good.”
As I lay here exhausted, so happy that it’s the weekend, I can’t help but think how this has been one of the best weeks of my entire life…and I can’t wait until Monday.
With love and appreciation,