DR. Congo. Mission in the forest

Mexican Comboni Brother Juan Carlos Salgado is a doctor and has been working in Africa for the past 16 years. We ask him to shares his experience with us.

I am working at the mission hospital in Mungbere in the Democratic Republic of Congo.. Lots of people come to us from far off places, even though Mungbere can only be reached by motorcycle, bicycle or small plane. Most patients arrive by motorcycle. The most common medical needs are malaria, dysentery, fractures, AIDS and respiratory problems. We have a total of five doctors two Comboni Missionaries, two local Congolese and a volunteer from Italy, working with the help of 30 nurses. Besides taking care of the hospital our team also teaches at the nursing school.

Part of my work consists in supervising five health centres within a 30-mile radius. Back home it doesn’t sound like much, but to cover 30 miles it takes me about three hours travelling through the forest, the tall grass, mud and army roadblocks. The soldiers know I am a doctor so they usually let me pass, but at times they ask for money.

To reach one of the centres I have to cross a river, which is not always easy. The reward is that in the area there is a lot of good fish. Not too far away there is a national park and people hunt all kinds of wildlife. Generally, however, people are subsistence farmers. I am constantly amazed by the generosity of the people I meet. They open their humble homes to me, they feed me and make me feel like part of the family. If I have to spend the night anywhere, people get together at night around the fire. We visit, pray and someone watches over me all night long.

There was a time when things around here were much better. There were plantations and progress seemed to be around the corner. Then the Congo, one time called Zaire, fell apart due to wars, political corruption and foreign business interests. By God’s grace the soil is very fertile, so that people can still make a living by farming.

Not far from our mission there are several Pygmy villages. They live deep in the forest, are hunters and gatherers and have an intimate connection with nature. Since time immemorial Pygmies have been looked down upon by neighbouring tribes and by the colonizers to the point that many consider them almost less than human. Instead, they are simple and friendly. We have always tried to protect them and even suggested ways to improve their lot, such as taking up farming. However, they prefer their own ways.

Several families are now sending their children to school and some of them have already completed high school. Some of the girls have become midwives and work in the health centres. Others are learning dressmaking from the Comboni sisters. We hope that their love of nature and their simple lifestyle will influence their surroundings. They are close to God, even if they do not known it.

After 16 years of ministry as a missionary doctor I still look forward every day for what God has in store for me. It is a great satisfaction to have the opportunity to foster the gift of life at all levels, both spiritual and material. The gratitude of the people I live with is my reward already on earth.