Denver Adventist Hospitals
Offer Help in Rwanda
Workers take holiday to aid others
BY DELONA LANG BELL writing from Walla Walla, Washington
ome people take vacation to fix things around their house, but not Rick Wall. On his last vacation, he traveled more than 9,000 miles to fix things that he will likely never use himself—but that will have a lasting impact on his life, nonetheless.
Wall, facilities director at Porter Adventist Hospital in Denver, spent his two-week summer vacation in Mugonero, Rwanda. Along with his wife, Joy, a registered nurse, Wall traveled there with a group of physicians, nurses and others to help improve health care in a nation of 8.5 million people with only 205 practicing general physicians and no native specialists. The outreach is part of an international mission program sponsored by the four Adventist hospitals in Colorado: Avista, Littleton, Parker and Porter Adventist Hospitals. Each year, the hospitals sponsor 12 healthcare mission trips to overseas countries like Peru, Nepal, Belize and Rwanda.
“We went to provide not just a service, but a mission,” Wall says. “It’s about doing what it takes to help others.”
GIFTED HANDS: Dr. Ben Carson is one of the world's most respected neurosurgeons and a devout Seventh-day Adventist. Carson, 56, said he prays for guidance before every surgery. [Photo courtesy Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly/RNS]
SYMBOL OF HOPE: Nancy Raphael, an operating room nurse from Colorado, meets with patient families outside of Mugonero Hospital—a hospital founded by Adventist missionaries. Once the site of one of the worst mass killings during the Rwandan Genocide, the hospital is now a symbol of the country’s effort to rebuild itself. [Photos: CMBell Company]
The Rwandan mission trips are especially meaningful to Wall and other Adventist employees because of the roots of Mugonero Hospital. The hospital was founded by Adventist missionaries, and a decade ago, it was the site of one of the worst mass killings during the Rwandan Genocide.
Today, however, the Mugonero Hospital is a symbol of the country’s effort to rebuild itself. And nowhere was that better seen than on August 6, 2007, when a Rwandan girl became the first baby to be born in the hospital’s new maternity ward.
The ward replaced a dilapidated building and was constructed largely due to the Adventist efforts. In January 2006, a team of volunteers from the four Denver Adventist hospitals made the first mission trip to Mugonero and saw the need for a new maternity ward. “There are a lot of infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis, in Africa,” says Greg Hodgson, director of mission and community health for the organization that oversees the four Adventist hospitals. “The moms and babies were staying in the general wards and they were exposed to all of that.”
Soon after, a partnership was formed, and efforts to build the new ward began. The Italian Union of Seventh-day Adventists contributed $50,000 to the project, which covered most of the construction costs. A second Denver team returned to Mugonero in July 2006 to help with the construction. “It was very different than anything we experience here,” Hodgson says. “They were bringing in big rocks and breaking them up into gravel for concrete. The ladders were handmade from trees. We worked alongside of them.”
When a third team from the Denver Adventist hospitals returned to Mugonero the following January, they discovered that although the ward had been completed, it was sitting empty due to a lack of supplies. The Adventist hospitals went back to work, paying for a container of beds, equipment and supplies to be delivered just before Wall and his group landed in July of 2007.
While an orthopedic team performed surgery in a country that does not have a single Rwandan orthopedic physician, Wall and others repaired and installed equipment. They fixed a compressor that was needed for the surgeries, installed a surgical light in the new maternity ward and created one working anesthesia machine from two that had arrived broken in the container. The most memorable job, however, was working on a tricycle that could be powered by hand for a woman who couldn’t use her legs and had pulled herself three kilometers to the hospital, Wall says. 

GIFTED HANDS: Dr. Ben Carson is one of the world's most respected neurosurgeons and a devout Seventh-day Adventist. Carson, 56, said he prays for guidance before every surgery. [Photo courtesy Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly/RNS]
MEETING LEADERS: Dignitaries and health care professionals pose for a moment to celebrate the official opening of the new maternity ward.  Left to right: Dr. Marc Habineza, Medical Director of Mugonero Hospital; Dr. Hesron Byilingiro, President of the Rwandan Union of Seventh-day Adventists; Kamali Kalisa Desire, former Administrator of Mugonero Hospital; Greg Hodgson, Director of Missions & Community Health at the four Seventh-day Adventist hospitals in Colorado; Dr. Innocent Nyaruhirira, Minister of State, Republic of Rwanda and local representative from the province.
 “That was amazing,” he says. “These people have hardly any resources and there’s so much work to be done.”
In addition to paying $20,000 to ship the container of supplies, the Adventist hospitals donate supplies for each mission and have helped some employees with travel costs, although employees use personal vacation time for the mission. The return far exceeds the cost, says Jim Boyle, Chief Executive Officer of Porter Adventist Hospital. “Our associates and physicians find meaning in reaching beyond themselves to serve others,” he says. “These projects tend to create a bond between the participants and our organization because they experience our mission firsthand.”
Over the next three years, even more work will be done at Mugonero. The hospitals have obtained $720,000 in grants to train Rwandan doctors in specialty areas, such as general surgery, pediatrics and internal medicine, over the next three years. The Adventist’s work also has inspired other Denver organizations, including Engineers Without Borders and the Denver Rotary Club, to begin working in Mugonero as well.
For the residents of Mugonero, the efforts have brought a beacon of hope to a community that’s known great pain and loss. And for those from Colorado who traded vacation time for a stint of service, a sense of satisfaction far outweighed the long days of work.
“It’s amazing to see the hope in their eyes and their positive attitude even though they don’t have anything,” says Wall.
                               -- Lang is president of the CMBell Company, a marketing and communication firm 

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