‘ The Forgotten Hospital’ is Songa Adventist Hospital, set in a remote southern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo not far north of Zambia.
It is quite a journey to get there. Plane to Lumbumbashi, the nearest big city. Then small plane to Kamina, then truck along a dirt track with many potholes and travelling bicycles laden with palm oil for 6-7 hours, arriving at Songa, in the dark.
This hospital is waiting for help – it feels and looks forgotten.
But when one arrives at this remote place, there are literally 100s of children shouting with delight and the voices in the night from this very dark place amidst tall palm oil and mango trees, is a wonder.
Many mango trees line the main road through the hospital campus. They produce fruit every year but no one knows how or preserve, dry or use these delicious fruits. They eventually rot and waste away except for those that are eaten on the spot.
Palm oil trees are in abundance. Primitive methods to extract the oil is used. Much more could be done with this fledging industry.
The pathfinders are very active at Songa and they welcome all visitors and care for them – guarding and guiding 24 hour a day. One feels very safe with a pathfinder or two in full uniform beside you all the time – and always guarding the place you sleep.
The old mission houses and buildings are in a sorry state of repair. Some are completely dilapidated. None have running water, electricity or functioning toilets.
Missionaries Christopher Robinson and Gilbert Wilmore were the first to come in 1927. This began a long history of mission workers coming and going. There are a few lonely graves in this mission area – children of missionaries who died as young children, one being shot at while travelling home through Zambia, the neighbouring country.
The hospital was famous for its care over a wide area. A leper colony existed for a long time and over 400 patients used to live here and find help and healing and hope.
Even today the hospital campus also includes a primary and high school and offers education and outreach to a wide area – a radius of more than 100 km.
Many patients come a long way to seek help at this hospital. They walk, ride bikes or find a lift in an old truck or ancient ambulance.
The people live in extreme poverty yet manage to keep hope alive.
Mwilambwe, with his wife and small child walked 750 km to seek help at this famous hospital. They were not able to find it here but fortunately and praise God, the team from Nairobi turned up and Joy Butler managed to raise funds from Australia and NZ for this family to go by truck and train (a 3-week journey) to Lumbumbashi where he underwent surgery at the Adventist clinic. He is now back home and well – a new life is ahead which was otherwise doomed.
Because of limited and inadequate equipment, many people cannot be helped and will die. This ‘infectious’ theatre bed will cause problems. The surgeons operate two or three times a week with the help of the solar energy they manage to collect from panels outside.
The toilet situation is abysmal. No toilets or showers in the hospital are working. This latrine is some 50 metres away from the hospital and the only door is the palm branch beside it. Staff, patients and others use this sometimes.
The maintenance building is in a sorry state. Rusted vehicles and broken machinery lie amidst dust and grime. This beautiful table is a reminder of days gone by.
Until just recently, there has been no running water and girls cart water from the pipe about 2 km away. These girls are bringing water to the house where visitors stayed and they seemed to use a lot of water!
The water is piped and the young women collect it from this point
The rivers and streams are full of good clean water – management is needed to bring the supplies to the hospital
But there is adequate supplies of water nearby – in streams and rivers. The pipes and taps need repair and maintenance. Fortunately in the last few months this has been somewhat rectified thanks to the continued efforts and support of AHS (Adventist Health System) and the generous support of donors.
There are no lights, no telephone system and certainly no internet access at this hospital. What a wonderful it would be if this could be changed and upgraded.
There is no bedding supplied for any patients. They lie on old broken matressess and they bring their own cloths to lie on and under. Fortunately the weather is not too cold.
But through all this there are many people waiting and wanting to help. This picture shows most of the staff – the doctor is on the extreme right. Many of them have been at Songa for 30 years or more and would love to see their hospital functioning efficiently and reaching out with better news and help.
The two doctors who work there, have managed to set up some solar panels and they are able to harness power to perform simple operations and connect their computers sometimes.
This happy secretary has typed his reports for many years on this one trusty typewriter which the hospital owns. He types balance sheets and other important items with fancy edges all around – just like we did in the 60s in high school.
Patients bring their own supplies – bedding as well as lights, soap, food, drinking containers and anything else that might help to make their stay more comfortable.
Family members are always there to watch, wait and hope. They supply the food for their loved one and provide care and love. A nurse or doctor occasionally does what they can to help.
Nurses dispense medicine, check sick babies, comfort distraught mothers and keep the old bathroom door locked – this bathroom does not work.
The laboratory at Songa is a clean and bright place. This young man was trained by a missionary many years ago and he attempts to keep his laboratory spic and span. But he has no water to come from the taps – he waits patiently and hopes for better days.
Many spots in the roof of the hospital cause leaks when it rains. Walls are cracking and repair and maintenance is critical in most areas.
This bathroom appeared to be only one in the hospital yet it is locked. The taps, pipes and whatever is needed to keep a bathroom functioning is not working.
The hospital truck had been broken for 5 years, waiting for money for spare parts. This faithful driver who drove this truck many kilometres in the past is hoping for better days.
The nursing school accommodation was a huge disappointment and it appears that the trainee nurses live in squalor. The nursing school was a bit better with some old equipment but much more is needed.
Student nurses live in appalling conditions – totally unsanitary, unclean, untidy – we have no idea why this should be. When we visited the hospital, they were away on leave. They live in an old dilapidated house, completely unsuitable for any young women.
This dilapidated old house was an appalling place for student nurses to live.
The young and the old look for help and encouragement. The old have seen better days and are hoping they will return.
This old 100 year old pastor is calling for restoration and believes that AHS can be like the story of Lazarus – where Jesus raised him to life again. He trusts that this will happen to Songa, with God’s help. We must not disappoint him.
Children and mothers are everywhere as in every place in the world. They are God’s children and look hopefully and in anticipation of better things.
The old and the young wait…..hoping……..looking longingly.
Songa is still a beautiful place. This old church might be falling apart but it is like a light in a dark place. DR Congo has been and is still a country with lots of turmoil and trouble because it is so rich in natural resources. Other countries all around it fight for its resources and the people suffer. Songa mission and church offer hope amidst all these troubles.
The Songa Adventist Hospital is still a refuge and can be a stronger refuge, a place of healing and hope. There is no real need for it to die of neglect and for it to be forgotten.
These happy children, like children everywhere, are happy and responsive to love and care.
Songa Adventist Hospital
In the Democratic Republic of Congo Africa - Adventist Health System -