Visiting a hospital in Madagascar
If not for the sign stating so, I never would have guessed I was looking at a hospital.
The odd assortment of buildings with scraggly grass growing in the dusty red dirt between them did not resemble any of the images the word 'hospital' brought to mind.
No arrows pointed potential patients to check-in. No directions were posted to help visitors find their loved ones. It was a far cry from the thoughtfully laid out hospitals (complete with plenty of signage) I had been to in North America.
But this wasn't North America.
This was Ambovombe, the capital of the Androy region in Madagascar.
The only hospital around for hours, people walk from far away to Ambovombe seeking medical treatment.
Since February 2014, the OM Madagascar team in the south, alongside local believers, have been going twice a month to the hospital to pray for the patients and distribute care packages containing rice, oil, candles, and soap.
I've been in hospitals where you can't go twenty feet without running into medical personnel, but throughout our visit, I glimpsed only one nurse. (Please note: none of the patients seemed distressed; I just wondered how difficult it would be to find a nurse when urgently needed. No call buttons here!)
Although medical staff were scarce, family members were not. Perched on the edges of beds, sitting on the floor, leaning against the walls - each patient was surrounded by a mix of parents, siblings, spouses, children, and grandparents.
When someone from outside of town is admitted into the hospital, their whole family accompanies them, regardless if they have to leave behind a small business, crops, or livestock.
This is one of the reasons why the care packages are so greatly appreciated. It can get expensive paying for treatment, staying at the hospital, and feeding everyone, while generating no income.
The patients' reactions when we entered their rooms (each room had three or four patients) surprised me. Immediately, blankets were thrown off or shirts were lifted up to reveal the source of their discomfort. I hadn't expected them to be so forthcoming with personal information, but stories of cattle bandits, work-related accidents, and bug bites were quickly told to explain the scars.
Later, I asked a team member about this, and she said that that was how it always was; the patients were justifying their reasons for being in the hospital. They wanted to make sure we understood that they were legitimately injured and therefore should receive our aid. In this case, the care packages.
The Androy region is hard to access due to poor infrastructure and road conditions. Those who do make the 995 kilometre three-day journey from Antananarivo, the country's capital, to Ambovombe have to travel in convoys and only in the daylight for fear of bandits. I was told before that the Tandroy people feel forgotten and isolated from the rest of the island, but it didn't sink in completely until I visited the hospital.
It tugged at my heart that they felt they had to defend themselves. That they thought we, people from the capital of Madagascar as well as from other countries, would look down on them and belittle their needs because of the rural area they come from. How do you fight that mindset that tells a person that where they come from defines them?
One of the team members remarked how the visits to the hospital have made her realise that “we need to pray and pray for the peace of the Lord to be with these people. We have a great responsibility to pray for this area.”
Join us in praying for the Tandroy people in Madagascar.
“Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ...” - Colossians 4:2-3 (NIV)