We finally had time as the McCropders to sit down last night and discuss our recent trips, so now we can feel free to share them with all our you! Eric and I will write about our time in Burundi, and then Heather and Jason will post in the next few days about Madagascar. Liberia is still on the table too, and the Cropseys are still planning to visit next month.
As mentioned before, Burundi is a small country southwest of Kenya, sandwiched between Tanzania, the DRC, and Rwanda. It has suffered through the same ethnic/tribal conflicts as Rwanda over the past 20 or so years, with civil wars being fought between the Hutu (majority group) and Tutsi (ruling group) people, and peace has only been present now for about 6 years. The good news is that people are very optimistic about peace. We heard from many many people that Burundians are tired of war. One man wisely said that although we cannot predict the future, the attitude of Burundi seems to be that now is the time to build, and invest, and move forward. We saw lots of evidence of that in our 5 day visit.
Burundi is a really beautiful country, and is similar to the Kenyan landscape (at least the part by Tenwek) in a lot of ways. Lots of hills, a scattering of trees, green. It was the end of the dry season when we visited, so lots of haze and brown, but we got a good idea of how it will look after the rain. We stayed mostly in Bujumbura, the capitol city of 1 million people, crowded but much less "cosmopolitan" than Nairobi. Things would probably be harder to come by in terms of western comforts, but we were pleasantly surprised by the availability of some things, including Hershey's syrup, Pampers, Cheerios, and Mountain Dew!
Burundi's one tourist attraction--a rock marking the possible site of the famous Livingstone/Stanley meeting. As in, "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?"
Our contact in Burundi is a man named Bishop Elie Buconyori. He's the head of the Free Methodist Church in Burundi, and spent a number of years in Kenya and the US getting training (although is is originally from the central part of Burundi). He's now the head of a school called Hope Africa University, which initially started in Kenya about 10 years ago, but moved to Burundi in 2004 as the war was ending. It's a Christian university which is highly respected in the country, offering lots of different programs, from business and theology to nursing and education.
Eric with Bishop Elie and the Dean of the medical school
Hope Africa University, entrance to the main building (in use, but still being built)
In 2005 the newly elected president of Burundi (also a Christian) asked HAU and the bishop to consider starting a medical school at HAU. There are 2 other med schools in the country, the University of Burundi (which accepts 300 students/yr and graduated around 30, yikes!) and a small school in the north that no one seemed to know much about. But for a country of 8 million, there just aren't nearly enough doctors currently, and not nearly enough getting trained. Despite minimal resources, HAU decided to accept the president's request. This year, the first accepted class is starting their 5th year of training. Med school is a 7 yr prospect. Students are accepted right after high school and the first 4 yrs are classroom based learning in the general/biological/health sciences. Then years 5-7 are more clinical in nature, hopefully more clinic and hospital based. The problem is that there aren't really any doctors available to do the clinical (and in our opinion, most important) part of the training.
What do med students learn about? Apparently the Starling curve, cardiomyopathies, Swan Ganz catheters, and bleomycin...
Thus far, students have been rotating though the University hospital in town, although it's not their "home turf." Even the university hospital, the "premiere" hospital in the country, has very limited resources, not enough staff, and patients sometimes wait for months to get appropriate treatment. Bishop Elie's vision is for HAU to do their 3 years of clinical training at their own hospital site, a mission hospital named Kibuye, approximately 2 hours from Bujumbura, the capitol. On Wednesday of our trip, we visited Kibuye. It was started 50+ yrs ago as a missions hospital by the Free Methodists. It's still technically a mission hospital, although no "white folks" have been working there for awhile. There is space for about 90 patients in the hospital, although while we were visiting about 120 were squeezed into those beds, and there is only one full time doc working there (a Burundian generalist). There are also about 120 people seen in the outpatient clinic every day by nursing staff. Initially the thought was that this hospital would not be big enough for our team of 4-6 doctors. However, Bishop Elie plans to turn Kibuye into the primary teaching site for HAU, and to do this he has plans to expand the hospital to 250 beds. There is already a 30 bed maternity building halfway finished, and plans in the works to build 2 more patient wards and start an eye program. He told us multiple times during our visit that the only thing they need now is doctors to staff the hospital and teach the students!
Family members congregate in front of one of the patient wards
It's hard not to get caught up in the excitement of the Bishop, and it really does look like a good option in a lot of ways. The Faders are equally excited about Madagascar, although the opportunity there would look quite different. Pray that we will have discernment to find our way, and that if not us, God would be raising up others to join His work in Burundi!