I want to build a hospital

I’ve been working on this post for a month.  Seriously.  The scariest part of both of my trips to Uganda was the fundraising because I hate asking people for money.  But the thing is, I really believed in those trips to Musana — and both times ended up funded with time to spare! — and I really really really believe in what Musana is doing and I want to see their hospital get built.

So enough beating around the bush.  Here’s the deal: I want to build a hospital.  Or, rather, I want to get a hospital built.  And I want to ask for YOUR help to do that. 

The outpatient wing of the Musana Health Center (photo courtesy Musana CDO).

The outpatient wing of the Musana Health Center (photo courtesy Musana CDO).

It was one month ago today that I got home from Uganda.  That’s hard to believe — in some ways it feels like yesterday and in other ways a lifetime ago.  Afterwards people asked me how the trip was and my response was almost always, “Completely amazing.  And also really hard.”

Soon after I returned, a friend posted on Facebook, “If Disney is the happiest place on Earth, what’s the second happiest?”  Without hesitating I replied, “Musana.”  Maybe I’m biased, but it’s the happiest place I’ve ever been.  Including Disney.  In the local language, Musana means sunshine — and indeed Musana is bringing light into darkness.  Musana is reaching out in love to some of the poorest, most vulnerable people on the planet and providing them with dignity, hope, and joy.  I am honored to have been able to witness what God is doing through them in Uganda.  So from that aspect it was — once again — completely amazing.

But when I was there this year the Musana staff did something for us that they have not done with any other visiting team.  They took us out of the Musana bubble.  Because Musana is a bubble.  They’re doing amazing things, but there are still so many in need in Uganda.

Sure we’d seen people as we walked through town or from the windows of our bus.  But we didn’t know them or their stories or how they lived their lives; we really only saw the Musana school children and Musana staff and Musana projects.  So one morning we were split into four groups.  Two groups went to visit people at their homes and hear their stories — some homes being families of kids who are at Musana school.  One group went to visit some other schools — that didn’t have near the resources of Musana.  When we came back afterwards to share our experiences, it was hard.  Really hard.  

The need is great.  The need is so so so great.  For rescuing children.  For providing education.  For helping widows.  And also, as I learned, for healthcare.

My group went to the hospital.  There is one hospital in town (along with a few small clinics) serving a population of about a million people.  Compare that to Colorado which according to Wikipedia has just over five million people and over 100 hospitals.  From the moment the hospital was put forward as an option I knew I had to go.  Mentally, I tried to prepare myself.  I knew the conditions would be nothing like those I’ve seen in the eleven years at my job.  I knew it would be crowded.  I knew it wouldn’t be clean.

It didn’t matter; I still wasn’t prepared.  I had tried to prepare myself for the conditions, but I wasn’t prepared for the patients.  I wasn’t prepared for the reality of so many suffering people.

It was silent when we walked into the first room — the pediatric ward for those age five and under.  It was crammed with a hundred cribs bearing dirty mattresses.  On the floor by most of them was a straw mat with one, two, even three family members sitting or sleeping on the concrete floor to be near their children.  Every head turned as five white girls walked into the room.  We initially stood by the door, but the nurse told us to walk through.  I could barely meet the eyes of anyone.  Most stared at us in silence the whole time we were in the ward.  All I saw in glances of faces was pain and exhaustion and fear — what you would probably expect from anyone watching their child die in a hospital.

At the debrief later that morning, one of my teammates said that at the home of a severely disabled mother she asked the Musana social worker, “What are you doing for her?  What can we do for them?”  The reply was, “We stand with them.”  In that first moment in the pediatric ward, that is what I wanted more than anything.  To go to each family in turn and pray with them, hug them, cry with them, stand with them, love them.

It was the same scenario as we walked through the other wards, all eyes on us.  In the men’s ward, I couldn’t help reaching out my hand to squeeze the shoulder of a patient who lay skeletal and motionless on a bed except for eyes that followed me.

We were taken to the labor and delivery room where three women in active labor moved about a space the size of my living room.  Other very very pregnant women sat outside the door on the floor.  We were told ten to twenty babies entered the world each day in that room, most by C-section.  From there, to a ward where dozens of women lay recovering from birth.  We noted most did not have a baby with them; I think none of us wanted to ask if the children had been taken home or hadn’t survived.  A few years ago one of Musana’s staff members gave birth in that hospital to a beautiful, healthy baby who caught a fever and died shortly in that same hospital because there was no doctor or fever-reducing medicine.

The good news is that the hospital wasn’t entirely dire.  There was an HIV clinic — unlabeled due to stigma, the nurse wouldn’t even say it but wrote it on her hand — that was pretty nice and clean and well-staffed.  In another room, hundreds of women held infants waiting for vaccines.  I asked which vaccines they were getting and the nurse rattled off an impressive list.  Throughout the hospital the walls were plastered with posters hoping to spread as much health education as possible.  All of the services at the hospital were offered free of charge.

Our visit had started in the superintendent’s office.  On his desk were displayed two plaques presented to the hospital for being the top performing hospital in the country.  Yes, this was the top performing hospital in the whole country.  And even he told us with frustration in his voice how they didn’t have near the resources to treat all the patients that come to them.  In this burgeoning country, the need is just too great and the resources just too few.

So Musana is building a hospital.  Last year when I visited the newly-purchased site it was spoken of as a clinic; I guess they decided that the town needed more.  This year we saw a nearly-finished two-story building that will be the outpatient center; they hope to open in November.  The inpatient hospital will be built next door for a price tag of $300,000.  Yeah, that’s it!  About the cost of a house here in Colorado.  A hospital for the price of a house.

A short side story: while on the trip (I think even the same day we went to the hospital) one of my teammates and another volunteer at Musana each got an insect bite.  The bites swelled up to the size of marbles, were painful and full of puss.  As we crowded around trying to figure out what to do, I realized how much I take my health care system for granted.  We had minimal options to try to treat these bites — whatever OTC meds we had in our suitcases.  I for one never even considered going to that hospital; besides not being completely clean, they had hardly any resources and there were people dealing with much worse conditions than a bug bite.  But the seriousness of the bites did make me wonder what the outcome would be if we hadn’t had even those meds.  And sterile gauze pads.  And clean water to wash the wounds.  And enough nutritious food for their bodies to heal.  Could a simple insect bite like this become a crippling or fatal infection if received by a Ugandan without those resources?  Possibly.  (By the way, they both got better — with the intervention of some fancy antibiotics.)

My first day back at work, I found myself a bit stunned walking through the beautiful halls of my workplace.  A clean health center full of quality equipment and hundreds of caring people.  The American healthcare system is far from perfect, but it’s light years beyond what my friends in Uganda have to experience.

But the need is so great.  Have I said that enough times in this post?  Because it’s true.  Uganda is currently the lowest in the world on the median population age at 15.  Survival is hard in Uganda.  I read a book recently that described trying to help in Uganda as emptying the ocean with an eyedropper.  I admit I felt a sense of paralysis.  While I’m excited about the Musana hospital, it still won’t be enough to meet the need.

Then I thought of one of my favorite stories that sums up not just Musana but ministry and even how God asks us to work: the starfish story.

A young man is walking along the ocean and sees a beach on which thousands and thousands of starfish have washed ashore. Further along he sees an old man, walking slowly and stooping often, picking up one starfish after another and tossing each one gently into the ocean. “Why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?” he asks. “Because the sun is up and the tide is going out and if I don’t throw them further in they will die.” “But, old man, don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it! You can’t possibly save them all, you can’t even save one-tenth of them. In fact, even if you work all day, your efforts won’t make any difference at all.” The old man listened calmly and then bent down to pick up another starfish and threw it into the sea. “It made a difference to that one.”

Without a doubt, Musana is making a difference in Uganda.

Children were huddled abused and malnourished in a [supposedly Christian] orphanage praying, “God, save us!”  And he spoke to the hearts of some random young adults who started Musana Children’s Home and got them out.

Parents were praying, “God, our children need to go to school so they can have a better life!”  And he moved and created Musana Nursery and Primary School, exploding with brilliant children and caring teachers.

Widows were praying, “God, I don’t know how I’m going to feed my family!”  And he sent Musana to start women’s projects giving women skills and small business loans to provide for their families while also giving them dignity and standing with them in love.

When the five of us returned to the guest house after the hospital visit, we put our arms around each other and cried and prayed for the people we saw in the hospital.  We prayed God would be powerful and present in their lives.  We thanked God that he had led the staff of Musana to start building a hospital and asked him to bless it.  And I wondered how many people in Iganga had been praying for health care long before we got there.

God is answering prayers through the work of Musana.  Musana staff are faithfully following God’s leading, and inch by inch God is using Musana to change lives.  Making a difference one at a time.  Saving starfish, one might say.

And God is faithful, too.  Watching, protecting, blessing, growing Musana.  Even just the stats from my trip last year to this year: 500 students to 670 students.  Seriously guys, they’re making a difference!  This is an organization to watch.  More than that, this is an organization to get involved with.

I’ve been thinking of a quote I heard that basically says that God doesn’t ask us to save the whole world, but to act where we are with what we have and be obedient in what he asks us to do.  Did the women who founded Musana realize when they went to Africa one summer that they’d start an orphanage?  No.  They didn’t know how to start an orphanage.  But they heard God’s call and followed it and he provided.  And they kept listening.  They didn’t know how to start a school.  They didn’t know how to start a farm.  They didn’t know how to build a hospital.  But they were faithful each time God led them, following even though they were probably uncertain where he was going to lead and how exactly he was going to do this.  God doesn’t call the equipped, but he equips the called.

On the way home to Colorado I was convicted.  Not to move to Uganda and start an orphanage / school / farm / hospital.  I don’t believe God is calling me to do that at this time.  But I was convicted to be faithful with what God has given me.

I told a friend about the hospital and its $300,000 price tag, and she scoffed, “There are rich people that spend that much to have private jets and second homes; they should give their money to do things like this instead!”  I initially agreed, but then thought for a moment, “Why does it have to be the rich people that do it?  I don’t have $300,00 but I can still give something.”

So I made a donation to Musana toward getting that hospital built.  Of course it’s not near enough to finish the hospital, but it was big enough to be a sacrifice and make me panic and almost not go through with it.  Yet I’ve rarely been so convinced that a course of action was necessary.  And I could think of no better investment than putting that money in the hands of Musana.  That money will go SO much farther and make MUCH more of an impact there in Uganda in those lives than it ever could here in America spending it on myself.  It will quite literally change lives and save lives.

* * * * *

I suck at wrapping up blog post, but here goes.  I’ve read countless stories from people about organizations doing charity work around the world and asking people to give money.  Why is this any different?  Why do I want you to support Musana?  It’s not just because there’s a need.  There are needs everywhere!  It’s not just because I believe they are good stewards of the money they are entrusted with.  Even though they are!

It’s the mindset behind what they are doing and why.  It would take far too long to explain here (though I’d be happy to talk with you over ice cream about it), but they do everything thoughtfully.  They approach each project incrementally.  They are not afraid to say something isn’t working and redirect the resources elsewhere.  They are always focused on sustainability, desiring to eventually eliminate all outside funding for their day-to-day operations.  They have great respect for the local culture, and work within it rather than westernizing everything.  And they do everything with incredible love and compassion.

There are other organizations out there that do this too, no doubt.  I admit I don’t know them and there’s too many to go out looking try to find them.  But I’ve found Musana.  Actually, rather than “I’ve found” I’ll say that God led me to Musana.  He’s put this community on my heart and made me passionate about it.

In one of our team meetings after we got back we talked about if just giving money to an organization instead of physically doing something like a missions trips or volunteering is a cop out.  ABSOLUTELY NOT.  It’s a way to release your brothers and sisters onto the world to do ministry.  Your ministry — and mine — can include empowering others to do ministry.  There’s this awesome verse in 2 Corinthians:

So two good things will results from the ministry of giving — the needs of the believers in Jerusalem will be met, and they will joyfully express their thanks to God.

When I give to ministry, it doesn’t just impact my relationship with God by showing faith and acting selflessly.  It also impacts others relationships with God: they thank God for his provision and trust him more!  Growth happens on both ends of the giving stream.  It’s not just that financial needs are met, but spiritual needs are met too.

Okay folks, I think I’ve said enough.  If you want to help get that hospital built faster, here’s the link about the project.  If health care isn’t your passion, you can also help Musana out with their other big capital project: building a secondary school and technical school (The land is purchased and graded! Time to build…).  To learn more about Musana and donate visit their website; you can follow along with what they’re doing by checking them out on Facebook; and you can see beautiful faces with amazing joy by following them on Instagram.

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10 Responses to I want to build a hospital

  1. Suzanne says:

    Can you say something about why Musana is taking donations? Jim had said the a major aspect of Musana was for it be entirely self-sustaining and not donation-based in 3-5 yrs. And I’m certain that was at least 3-4 yrs ago when he said it. Are they only looking for donations for a bit longer or what? I’m trying to get my head around the organization and its work. Thank you!

    • Alissa says:

      Sure! They’re taking donations for these two capital projects – the hospital and the school. I didn’t take a single business class so I may be completely off, but that makes sense to me. At work right now we’re at the start of a capital project almost equivalent to our annual budget and we’re looking for donors to help fund it because despite having a balanced budget it’s incredibly difficult to build that much extra into our budget to pay for all of it on our own. I would imagine the same is true for Musana.

      When we were there, we learned that Musana’s day-to-day operations right now including the school ARE fully self-sustainable. The only part still receiving outside funding is their outreach, but they’re still looking to be fully self-sustainable including that within the next few years.

      • Suzanne says:

        Thanks for the explanation! I know very little about Musana, so I was confused by this donation request because I (mid)understood them as not wanting to take donations. Thanks for the clarification!

  2. Bob says:

    I love that Musana’s Vision continues to grow to serve the Community in Uganda. This capital project will help so many. Thanks for your well written blog. (one of the only ones I have ever read to the end). Thanks for your service to Uganda and the Orphans at Musana.

  3. Shawna English says:

    Donations at Musana can truly be viewed as an investment. Once projects are started they become self-sustainable therefore not requiring any more western funding. Musana’s mission to help the vulnerable means there will always be a need for donations to start new projects like the Hospital but those projects too will become self-sustainable. The difference at Musana is that donor gifts will not continue to fund regular operations but allow Musana to expand its reach and continually impact more people in Uganda.

  4. Judy Howitt says:

    I was just there and you explained the heart of Musana so beautifully! God is all over that place and moving quickly and impactfully through the hands of Haril, Andrea, Lea, and the whole staff. I love all of them. Their love shows in the kids also. Such happy, joyful little hearts! I was sorry I had to go.


  5. Carole says:

    Thank you for sharing. I WANT TO BUILD a HOSPITAL TOO!! From the very first time I heard of Musana at church I have been drawn to the faces, the stories, and the mission. Hopefully it is in God’s plan for me to be physically drawn there (I really want to go!). For now, I will help build a hospital. Thank you for your story. Thank you for including the links that made it so easy to get involved. Bless you!

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