My Zambia Trip and the Baluba Healthcare Project
The Baluba (Lost Community) inhabit a remote area of central Zambia, approximately two hours north of the city of Ndola, a city in Zambia's Copperbelt Province. Deep in the bush, the trail into the heart of this approximately 2000-member community is impassable during the rainy season. Their sole source of water is the local stream. There is no electricity. Housing is partially assembled cinderblock squares, with little or no furniture. Some have thatched or tin roofs.
Displaced from their original dwelling place by a major deforestation project, the Baluba wandered for months before settling in their current location. Hence their name, Baluba – Lost Community. The Baluba's sole mode of transportation is walking. They do not have cars, motorcycles, or bicycles.
How you might ask did I end up as a visitor in this remote community over 10,000 miles from my home in Ft. Walton Beach, Florida. A good question. I blame it all on an amazing young Zambian fellow named Victor Chimfwembe, who is pastor to many of the Baluba, and caretaker of more than several of the community's orphans. Victor and his equally amazing wife, Rachael, have committed their lives to the Baluba – to those who are lost and those who are suffering. They are missionaries in the truest sense of the word.
I first encountered Victor at a gathering of local clergy. He was in America on a fund-raising tour and had been invited to speak at their monthly ministerial meeting. Victor spoke in perfect English. He described his early life as an orphan on the streets of Zambia, and his journey from a life lived on the streets to a life lived in service to God. Victor spoke with passion about his call to bring love and hope to those who were living in despair, especially the children orphaned after the AIDS-related deaths of their mothers and fathers. Within the space of a few short minutes, I knew that God was calling me to work alongside Victor and the Baluba.
As Victor was ending his presentation, with hope in my heart, I asked if healthcare was a concern for the Baluba. He responded with a big "yes." And that, was the beginning of my journey to Zambia and my partnership with Victor, Rachael and the Baluba.
My goal in visiting Victor and the Baluba was to offer a day of teaching and to understand as fully as possible both the strengths and the needs of the community. I also planned to visit local resources such as hospitals, pharmacies, and nursing schools. Finally, I wanted to be certain that by the time I boarded the plane for my 10,000-mile journey home, a plan of action had been developed and agreed upon by everyone.
During my four-day stay Victor, Rachael and I covered many miles and visited many places. I was continually amazed at the resources at hand in Ndola, just two hours distant from the Baluba. A very large hospital with a dedicated HIV/AIDS and TB program; a pharmaceutical distribution center that stocks every medication imaginable at prices far below anything we encounter in the US; and a nursing school whose director indicated that she would be in favor of collaborating with us in developing a community nurse program for the Baluba.
But, eclipsing all of those resources were the Baluba themselves. From the moment of my arrival, celebrated with singing and dancing, through the day of teaching these wonderful people were an incredible surprise. It was abundantly clear – they wanted to learn – in every way. They wanted to learn how to prevent diseases such as HIV and malaria so prevalent in their lives. They wanted to learn how to take care of themselves.
At the end of the day, exhausted and very dusty, I sat silently among this group of amazing people and could not believe all that been accomplished in just a few short hours of teaching. Group leaders for various projects had volunteered to be trained; several people became expert at taking blood pressure readings; both men and women fearful that they were HIV-infected came forward for testing; and Victor had arranged to take at least 10 people into Ndola the following week for TB testing and HIV clinic registration.
At the close of my visit in Ndola, as I sat with Victor and Rachael I emphasized over and over again how many assets the Baluba had among them. We agreed that identification of four to six leaders who would be trained in specific areas was critical, and that community growth that came from within was by far preferable to having people outside the community come in as "experts." We formulated a plan that would allow for this training and for the ongoing purchase of over the counter medications that Victor and Rachael could distribute in cases not requiring specialized medical care. We discussed a community healthcare nurse program. We agreed that indeed, God had brought us together, and in that we were most blessed.
For the moment, our plan is quite simple. Here in the US we have established a provider network on the "What's App" application (i.e. dermatologist, nurse, pharmacist, infectious disease MD, etc.). Victor can contact the network providers at any time with questions, pictures, and/or thoughts. Our providers can be back in touch with him immediately, advising him as to what medical action should be taken.
On a monthly basis a qualified nurse, identified by Victor, will visit the community to teach basic public health information and to triage those who present with medical complaints. We are in the process of developing a monthly budget that will provide funds for basic over the counter medications and the community nurse salary. The nurse will have the authority to dispense these medications to those with simple complaints (i.e. arthritic pain, cough/congestion, sores and simple wounds, etc.). The nurse will also have the authority to test for HIV, malaria, and diabetes. For complex medical issues, the community nurse will work with Victor to establish referrals and transportation to medical resources in Ndola.
We will implement our plan in May 2019 and give it a three-month trial – time to work out the kinks. During that time, we will also establish a fundraising plan and determine whether or not we need to develop additional components to our work in the Baluba community.
During all of this we remain amazed at the grace that God has bestowed upon us as we journey together with Victor, Rachael and the Baluba.
Pictured top: Clelia and the Baluba people. Photo credit: Clelia Garrity.
Pictured bottom: Victor, Rachael, and Clelia. Photo credit: Clelia Garrity.