By Tammy Partsch
Reprinted with permission of the Nebraska City News Press
NEBRASKA CITY – After many years of planning, one priest’s vision to see a medical clinic built in his hometown in Africa is coming to fruition.
Father David Azambawu is assistant pastor at the Church of the Holy Spirit in Plattsmouth. Originally from the 8,000-resident farming community of Chiana, Ghana, Father Azambawu was introduced to Nebraska in 2008 when he visited the area on a mission appeal. Father Azambawu came on behalf of the Bishop of the Diocese of Navrongo-Bolgatanga.
On his visit to the Midwest in 2008, Father Azambawu met Nebraska City residents Patrick Gress and Dotti Easter of St. Benedict Parish. The three became friends.
“When Father Azambawu visited the area parishes,” Easter recalled, “he spoke about the needs of the people of Africa. This was an awesome opportunity to help people we will never see.”
Gress felt the same way. When Father Azambawu asked him to visit Ghana in January of 2012, Gress jumped at the chance. What he saw changed his life.
“The village of Chiana had been working on building a maternity clinic for a long time,” Gress said. “Father gave them $400 to buy some more bricks for the building.”
Gress said that seeing how far $400 would go in that impoverished region made him realize there was much he could do to help.
“I’ve always wanted to do a mission,” Gress said. “To do that, you need a structure, water, and electricity. They had none of that.”
The concrete blocks Gress saw outlined the footprint of what would become the Villa Regina Maternity Center.
“There is a great need for a clinic in Chiana,” Father Azambawu. “The nearest hospital is 15 miles away and those in need have to walk or ride a bicycle there.”
Father Azambawu said that although construction on the building was slow, patients started arriving almost immediately, waiting on rickety chairs placed on a dirt floor. There are no living quarters, which means there are no resident nurses or doctors. Two nurses travel on motorcycle to Chiana to see about 200 patients a week. The roads in that part of Ghana are not paved; bad weather equals washed-out roads. And even though the structure is built, that doesn’t mean the clinic has everything it needs. Just last fall, a solar-powered well was dug nearby, finally providing the facility with running water. The building still does not have electricity.
The second phase of establishing a clinic in Chiana includes gathering supplies and materials. Father Azambawu, whose appointment to the Church of the Holy Spirit is part of a sabbatical, said the residents of area parishes stepped up once again. A 40-foot semi-trailer filled to the brim with medical supplies, clothes, books and other equipment is currently on its way to Chiana, thanks to local individuals and organizations.
Gress’s farm south of Nebraska City served as a staging area for donations. Volunteers have gathered off and on since January to pack the trailer. Donated supplies include sheets, blankets, clothes, wheelchairs, medical supplies, microscopes, shoes, school supplies, books, household goods, bicycles and plenty of obstetrics equipment.
“The clinic trains traditional birth attendants,” Father Azambawu said. “They also hold special classes to teach mothers how to care for their babies and themselves.”
One of the biggest donors to help outfit the Chiana hospital was CHI Health St. Mary’s in Nebraska City.
“We have always bought good equipment and taken care of it,” said CHI Health St. Mary’s president Dan Kelly. “Our new hospital in Nebraska City gave us the opportunity to upgrade most of our equipment. This left us with a ton of good, used equipment that could be donated.”
CHI Health St. Mary’s donated three birthing beds, three exam tables, four baby stations and seven hospital beds.
“The Ghana project was a really good fit for where we were,” Kelly said. “They were building a clinic and had no equipment and needed simple things, such as beds and gurneys. We hooked them up with enough to get them off to a good start.”
Father Azambawu said they also received a generator from Catholic Social Services. It was packed in the trailer along with all the other equipment. When it arrives, the generator should be able to provide the clinic with electricity.
The trailer was picked up from Gress’ farm March 16. It will be moved by railroad to New York and then shipped to the port city of Tema, Ghana, by the end of April. From there, providing all the shipping documents are correct, the trailer will be on the road for five days before it reaches Chiana.
Father Azambawu said he is grateful for the love and support he has seen in Nebraska.
“People are so very kind and generous,” Father Azambawu. “I know without their help, we wouldn’t have this.”
Gress said that his visit to Ghana in 2012 illustrated to him that he could make a difference.
“Other people saw that, too, and it all came together,” he said.