The Nyahuka Health Center is a place of hope and despair. Hope because hundreds of children come each month and most leave healthy and happy. Hope because there are several Ugandan workers who work hard, love Jesus and love the patients. Hope because the Myhres have invested blood, sweat, tears and soul into this health center for the past 17 years and the community sees it as a place of healing. Hope, because it is a place where we can truly love the poorest of the poor at a point of time in their life when they need it most. Hope because of stories like 2 year old Simon, who came in with a small dark spot on his hip. This spot ended up being an area of dead tissue resulting from questionable medicine given by a local healer. This spot grew into a 9 inch by 9 inch area where all tissue died leaving his muscle exposed. Each day we came in and watched the area grow and tunnel beneath his skin across his buttocks and down his leg. We tried different medicines. We treated the wound and debrieded dead tissue. We prayed. And we prayed. I was certain we would have to at least amputate the leg and wondered if this child would lose his life to the spreading infection. Then one day the tissue began to heal. 5 weeks later and this child has almost complete closure of the wound and is walking around with no problems. Its amazing! There are so many stories like this where a child comes in seizing from severe malaria or with rotting flesh from malnutrition and leaves a few weeks later better off then when they came. Their smiles speak a universal language of hope, love, life and gratitude.
Despair because it is a place where my heartbreaks every time I enter through the gates. Children die here. It is a cold and hard fact. Children die of infections, dehydration and malnutrition. Most of these really are preventable if the resources and workforce was available. Unicef just visited our site to check on our nutrition program. This past quarter we had an 18% death rate for our children enrolled in their Severe Malnutrition program. It is unacceptable, but how can we change this? Children are brought to our center starving. Their skin is swollen and peeling from the lack of proteins. They have no muscle and you can see their hip bones where their bum should be. We have a great program, but the children need to be treated sooner. By the time the parent, grandparent or aunt brings them in, it is too late. The disease is often the result of a deceased father and the mother, who now has no income watches the child waste away- or the mother has been abandoned and has no way to gain income, or a sibling is born and breastfeeding is stopped before the child has a chance to build up a nutritional base, or the family is just so poor that during harvest time they have some income and food, but in the in-between they eat non-nutritional roots- hoping to survive until the next job. Other children suffer from TB, HIV, or sickle cell disease which eats away at their nutritional base. Still others suffer from chronic infections of malaria or intestinal parasites. The result is a death rate of almost 20% in the district and a population of children that are anemic, stunted in growth and in brain development. The need is great. Despair also because the workers are few. We have chosen to work in a Ugandan health center and not create a Mission hospital. Our hope is to bring lasting growth and reform within and not an oasis of health outside of the normal pathways. As a result we see the troubles of a broken system and the effects on the population. Our despair is that the health clinic is understaffed leaving only 2 Clinical officers (similar to physician assistants) to serve a population of >50,000 people, one doctor to serve a population of 300,000 and not enough nurses to fill all the shifts to care for these sick patients. With my responsibilities to the team and Christ School, I am headed to the hospital only twice a week. This is really just enough to see these children, change a few medicines, do ultrasounds and pray. It does not significantly change care at this point. I love the other aspects of my job, but despair aches in the back corners of my heart where I shove these thoughts until I can return to the health center.
How does this go with being a man? Where is the help? Where are the resources? Anyone reading this knows the problem and is helping. But what about the rest of us? Who is willing to stand up for these children? Do they deserve less because they are born in Africa? Does God love them less? I DO NOT THINK SO! Yet, we love them less. As a man, we are called to love the unlovable, forgotten and defenseless. It is a privilege to do so. It is hard. It is often lonesome. It often is filled with despair. But we reserve the hope that these children are not forgotten, that they are loved and that redemption is coming.