At neglected African hospital, volunteers share 'their skills & hearts'

Baptist Press
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Posted: Jul 08, 2011 5:52 PM
At neglected African hospital, volunteers share 'their skills & hearts'
SANYATI, Zimbabwe (BP)--Volunteers are digging into the renovation of the historic Sanyati Baptist Hospital so new generations of Zimbabweans can experience for themselves the love of the Great Physician.

Many more teams, however, will be needed to complete the ambitious five-year project.

A 17-member team, mostly of Kentuckians, launched the renovation in May, replacing worn trusses and metal roofing on the hospital's pharmacy and medical records warehouse. They were followed by 11 volunteers from Tennessee and Florida. A four-member team from Georgia is on the ground at Sanyati for the first two weeks of July, said project director Peter Sierson of Pleasant Heights Baptist Church in Columbia, Tenn.

As many as 60 teams will be needed over the next five years to complete the project, which is being conducted in partnership with the Baptist Global Response relief and development organization.

The first team of volunteers tore into the roofing work -- an act of faith, considering the roofing supplies hadn't arrived yet, said Mark Byler, a physician from Kansas City, Mo., who serves at Sanyati.

"With only four workdays -- and no roofing materials -- the scene looked challenging, but this group was up for the task," Byler reported. "By faith, they began tearing off the leaky, rusted, metal roofing sheets and piling them in a nearby storage facility. This revealed some very termite-ridden trusses that had to be replaced, as they literally just crumbled to the ground. The new roofing material was on the way -- maybe."

By the end of the second day, however, the roofing material arrived and the team spent four hours unloading the heavy steel sheets by the light of the moon and a pickup truck, Byler said. "What seemed like only hours later, on day 3, the new gleaming-white roofing was in place and skillfully being fastened down," he added.

Other team members spread out through the hospital, crawling up in the ceiling spaces to trace out old wiring systems, Byler said. They ran new wiring for a solar power system that provides electricity for X-ray and ultrasound equipment, the labor and delivery area, the operating room, and immunization and lab refrigerators.

One team member, Tina Weitkamp, a clinical nursing instructor at the University of Cincinnati, spent time teaching nurses and the nursing students about techniques in neonatal resuscitation and how to help newborns in distress, Byler noted. The volunteers finished up their week touching up, applying cement and finishing repairs on hospital equipment.

Texas volunteers Gerald and Bobby Thornton served as on-site project coordinators from Feb. 1 to May 18. Tennessean Don Smith, who recently retired after 22 years as a project manager in hospital construction, followed the Thorntons and plans to serve on site through August.

The five-year "extreme makeover" plan will greatly extend Sanyati's renowned 60-year history of meeting both physical and spiritual needs, Byler said. The hospital treats an average of 35,000 outpatients and 1,800 inpatients a year. The staff performs about 1,000 surgeries and delivers more than 2,000 babies each year. Southern Baptist missionary physician Archie G. Dunaway Jr. was killed at Sanyati in 1978 by guerrillas fighting against the government of what was then Rhodesia.

Byler described the volunteers as "generous, hard-working, dedicated men and women did more than just put up roof and wires; they ministered to people they'd never met before in many ways."

"They shared words of encouragement and prayers with people of the community and patients. They shared devotions with the staff in the morning. They shared a meal at a local village of believers. They shared the Word of God at two different local churches.

"They unselfishly shared their skills and hearts in a way that will last long after the new ceilings start to fade and leak," Byler added. "God's love, shown in this practical way, is making an impact at Sanyati Baptist Hospital."

Mark Kelly is senior writer and an assistant editor for Baptist Press. Learn more about the extreme makeover of Sanyati Baptist Hospital at www.sanyatimakeover.com. For information about volunteering, e-mail psierson@pleasantheights.com. Baptist Global Response is on the Internet at www.gobgr.org.

View a video related to this story here:

Sanyati Hospital: First 'extreme makeover' volunteers from BGR on Vimeo.

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