Bringing Light to the Arusha Lutheran Medical Center

In northern Tanzania, near the famous and massive Mt. Kilimanjaro, lies the town of Arusha.  With over 400,000 inhabitants, it’s Tanzania’s third largest city. At the base of Mt. Meru and close to the border with Kenya, its inhabitants speak mainly Swahili. The city represents a prime location for a certain type of philanthropic institution: the mission hospital.

In February of 2019, Enova Illumination sent me to Arusha as a representative of the Enova Mission Foundation.  My goal was to visit the Arusha Lutheran Medical Centre (ALMC), meet with the surgeons that worked there, and to donate an Enova LED surgical headlight.  Little did I know how amazing these tasks would prove to be.

I flew into Nairobi, Kenya, about 160 miles north of Arusha. I heard ground transportation in East Africa could be slow and flying into a major airport would shorten my travel time. After a confusing and stressful experience finding a bus that traveled from Nairobi to Arusha, I eventually found myself seated on a 12-passenger van heading south towards the border of Tanzania.

The countryside was stunning, almost like a Hollywood version of rural Africa.  Rolling grasslands stretched out on either side of the two-lane road.  Maasai herders could be seen in their colorful shukas walking cattle among the shrubs.  Every town our vehicle passed was bustling with life as the herders and children roamed through the streets.  Little markets sold everything from soda to fresh vegetables.  There was not a chain company or business in sight.

The total distance to Arusha was less than 200 miles, but it took close to nine hours.  We arrived at dark. The driver dropped me at an intersection and pointed to the left, explaining my accommodation was in the neighborhood ahead.  It was hard to believe 400,000 people lived in the city. It was low light; few buildings were taller than one story and the road I took was dirt paved.

I eventually found my accommodation nestled in the quiet neighborhood. I was greeted by the friendly and excited owner, Wilfred.  When I told him my plans of visiting ALMC, his eyes lit up and he said he would send me with the driver in the morning.

The next morning, the driver Jonas loaded me in his car and drove me through the narrow streets.  I didn’t know what to expect from the hospital, despite my excitement to see it.  The area was simple and my trip to Liberia taught me hospitals did not get much funding in sub-Saharan Africa. I could not have been more surprised. ­The hospital was magnificent.

Known locally as Selian Hospital, ALMC opened in 2008 to support the growing city of Arusha.  The sparkling clean and glass-filled façade rose four stories above the gated parking area.  With over 200 beds and 7 operating theaters, the hospital performs surgeries in nearly all disciplines. It prides itself in the modern equipment and technology.

When I arrived, I met with Dr. Paul Kisanga, one of the hospitals directors, at the time. He had an intense look and powerful features. Dr. Kisanga gave the impression of leadership. The hospital was the best in the city, and he took its success very seriously.  His intensity smoothed away immediately upon meeting and his genuine friendliness was apparent.

The hospital does have its problems, mostly from the city’s electrical grid.

“Right now, fifty percent of the time when you are operating, at least a light will go off one or two times,” he said, “in a day, each surgeon has a list of 5-7 patients.”

The hospital performs over 200 surgeries a month, all with the possibility of losing power throughout the procedure.

“We have been looking for another source of light,” Dr. Kisanga says.

We arranged to exchange the donated headlight the next morning.  He asked me to come early for the chapel service and afterwards donate the headlights and tour the facility.

When I arrived the next morning, I didn’t know exactly what to expect.  Many of Enova Mission Program’s donations are done in private, directly to the hospital’s directors or surgeons. After a prayer by the hospital’s priest and some hospital announcements, Dr. Kisanga asked me to come to the front of the chapel.  Most of the hospital’s staff was in attendance, including surgeons, nurses, directors, and janitors.  I suddenly became very nervous.

In front of the room, Dr. Kisanga asked me to say a few words.  I explained Enova’s Mission Foundation was donating a LED Surgical Headlight. I described how the headlight worked, even during frequent power-outages. I gave a brief demonstration of the headlight, highlighting its brightness and adjustability. Finally, my fear disappeared when one of the directors said, “Okay, okay, give it to me.”  The room erupted in laughter. Despite the serious mission of quality healthcare, the tone became lighthearted and friendly.  They welcomed me into their community and accepted the gift.

After my rollercoaster of emotions, I went with Dr. David Halter to view the operating facilities.  Dr. Halter is originally from the United States and was delighted to give me a tour of the impressive hospital. The hospital is equipped and staffed to practice neurosurgery, pediatric surgery, OB/GYN, orthopedics, general surgery and ENT in their four operating theaters.

“The gynecology room has windows inside,” he says, “so it can stay bright during the day even if the power goes out, but the other three don’t have windows at this time.”

Light, it seems, is a constant source of concern.

After the tour I was invited to witness a surgery taking place in the windowed OB/GYN room.  Pediatric surgeon Dr. Catherine Mung’ong’o put on the Enova LED Surgical Headlight and performed on a small child.  As the light from town entered through the window and the light from the headlight shined down on the patient, I began to reflect.  How marvelous it was to be so far from home, near the peak of Kilimanjaro, surrounded by the Swahili language, and see the product I once built being used to improve the quality of life. In a world growing ever smaller, but larger, the connections we make become more meaningful.  The gift to ALMC is just one small example of how we are being brought closer to each other.  But this example, the small connection saves lives.

-Anders

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