By George Lynch
In 1995, while Nancy Crouch’s father lay in a hospital bed close to death, he indirectly caused the building of a medical clinic in Uganda. He had never been there, knew nothing about the country and probably couldn’t find it on a map. How this came about had to do with his home health aide, a woman named Faith Alexandra Kamya Nasolo Mulira.
Faith had grown up in Uganda. She became a nurse there and eventually accumulated enough money to buy a small tract of land in a village called Masooli. Masooli was extremely impoverished. There was no transportation. Roads were deplorable, more like trails, muddy and rutted. Walking was the only effective means of travel. There were no medical facilities, no medical personnel. Residents, young and old, died from preventable communicable diseases due to lack of basic medical treatments.
Faith was a strong Christian. As she spent time in the village she began to feel a sense of responsibility for these people. She felt moved to do something to improve their lives. Several possibilities came to mind, but she ultimately came to envision a medical clinic to alleviate the awful health conditions. She prayed fervently that God would provide her with the means to make it a reality. She carried that dream with her when she came to the United States in 1979, fleeing Uganda during the Idi Amin Dada regime.
While she cared for Nancy Crouch’s father, she shared her vision of a clinic with anyone who would listen. The Crouches listened and were sympathetic but they had no idea how anyone would go about building a clinic in Africa. They had never traveled there and knew little about the country. They didn’t necessarily dismiss the idea out of hand but they were willing to remain open to what God might have in mind for them.
Then the Crouch’s pastor, Reverend Robert Naylor, got involved while visiting Nancy’s father. He listened to Faith’s story and, captured by her intensity and passion, agreed to help and offered the support of his church in Simsbury. He suggested that she again approach Dr. and Mrs. Crouch who were prominent members of his congregation. Faith, re-invigorated by this new advocate, returned to the Crouches. The Crouches began to think that God was trying to tell them something.
At about this time, they attended the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington. There they happened to make the acquaintance of a fellow who, believe it or not, had government relationships in Uganda. His job was to influence the members of the Ugandan parliament relative to Christian peace proposals.
During an informal conversation it was natural for the Crouches to mention Faith’s vision of a clinic. He told them that if they had any thoughts of pursuing this idea, he could introduce them to some people in Uganda who could offer suggestions as to what they would need to do. The Crouches were still “riding the fence” with regard to this whole idea but they got to thinking about the people randomly coming into their lives who seemed to encourage them. They decided to take a leap of faith, go to Uganda and see what developed. They were fearful of the trip, the rampant diseases, parasites and pollution. They were told not to brush their teeth with tap water. First they prayed for God’s protection and then they went (Someone said, “The brave aren’t those without fear; they are simply those who feel fear yet move ahead despite it”).
In Uganda, they met members of the government who were fully supportive of their proposed project, not to finance it of course, but to promote it in any way they could. Then they discovered that Faith’s son-in-law was the government minister of health. As you might imagine, that was significant! He became their informal agent and strongest advocate.
What caught them by surprise, what they were unprepared for, was the Masooli standard of living. Infrastructure was essentially non-existent. Equipment was primitive. All cooking was done outside. Clothes were washed and drinking water collected from water that dripped off the roof. No one spoke English. Some had never seen a white person.
The Crouches were very discomforted by these conditions. They witnessed the suffering, the pain. Sickly children were right there looking at them. The Crouches were face-to-face with their Christian values; they could walk away or they could do something about it. God’s still, small voice seemed to grow louder. They prayed and listened, and finally decided they would build the clinic.
It was difficult to stay focused. There were so many needs. Young people handed them notes or slipped letters into their car asking for help with their education or for food or clothing. It was very hard to ignore but the priority was the clinic. The villagers themselves did the work. They built it using machetes and shovels. They fired their own bricks. It took them three years. Outside contractors would have completed it in six months but the Crouches wanted the residents invested in it.
Once the clinic was up and running, an unanticipated problem arose. Only 200 patients showed up in the first three months; many more had been anticipated. Although Uganda is primarily a Christian nation, most of the Masooli villagers believed in witchcraft. Witch doctors were thought to have magical powers to cure illness and fight off evil spirits. As such, this new clinic with its doctors and medicines were met with wariness, skepticism and outright fear. This cultural superstition was difficult to overcome. The staff had to reach out to them, talk to them, convince them that they could have both the clinic and their witch doctors.
Today the clinic has one full time and one part time doctor, an administrator, a couple of nurses and nurses’ aides, a lab technician, a pharmacist, and of course 24 hour security. It is supervised by two boards, one in the U.S. and other in Uganda. About 6,000 people were treated last year.
Playwright Leo Rosten said, “I can’t believe that the purpose of life is to be happy. I think the purpose of life is to be useful, to be compassionate. It is above all to matter, to stand for something, to have made a difference that you lived at all”.