Gaining Perspective in Mwandi, Zambia

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The summer before my senior year was a summer of personal transformation.

My name is Hannah Stadtler, and I’m a biology major hoping to eventually go to medical school. This past summer started off with a Davidson Research Initiative-funded experience, where I explored the relative biotoxicity of hookah smoke on lung cells. However, my research was put on pause for a trip to Zambia.

Photo of Mwandi Mission HospitalEvery summer, Verna Case (Davidson’s associate dean for teaching, learning and research) takes a group of nine students to Mwandi, Zambia, to learn about and work in a rural healthcare setting, the Mwandi Christian Mission Hospital. I was particularly excited, not only because of the obvious “going to Africa,” but because I am currently on the executive board of the American Partners, a group of collaborating fundraisers that organize and execute a large number of projects at the Mwandi Mission Hospital.

I sat on the board for about a year prior to getting to see the hospital in person, and I was thrilled for the opportunity to replace the theoretical with real experiences. The day I finally boarded the plane to Johannesburg was a day long awaited. After landing in South Africa, taking a connecting flight to Livingstone, Zambia, and then driving four hours on treacherous roads to Mwandi, we finally arrived at the hospital, and it was good to jump right into work. The nine of us split up into groups of three and spent the next three weeks in rotating shifts—one group worked at the outpatient department, one at maternal and child health, and the last at the hospital, doing rounds with the sole doctor on site.

Maternity ward at Mwandi Mission HospitalDuring our three weeks, we saw death, hunger and, worst of all, apathy and complacency with disorganization and inconsistent care. Going into the Zambia trip having board experience was a double-edged sword—I knew a lot about the history of the hospital and things that could be improved, but I also had expectations and ideas for fixing those things. Being faced with apathy and contentment with a system that is contingent on keeping illegible medical records in dilapidated notebooks, and simultaneously realizing that it’s not my job to fix everything, was a hard pill to swallow.

There were a lot of very hard days and a lot of frustrations, especially as our Davidson group grew to love the people at Mwandi. We were at the hospital for three short weeks, but still made many close friends—friends I’m sure none of us will ever forget. We were privileged enough to sit in on three-hour church services, take walks around the village, and assist at the hospital, all of which made the community, faith and love that exists in that rural African town extremely evident.

Conversations with Martha, Eunice, Kelvin, and the other wonderful individuals at the hospital made the hours spent combing over HIV records riddled with inconsistent names and information worthwhile—the people at Mwandi reaffirmed over and over why the work we were doing, however frustrating it could be, was impactful. Overall, this past summer had a large impact on my perspective on life, and was an experience that I wish everyone could have.

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Hannah Stadtler

Hannah is a senior biology major from Spotsylvania, Va.

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