Link story: Wookey and Katete

Karen Butt, St Matthew’s Church, Wookey

In 2018 I was fortunate to be part of the Bath and Wells Zambia link 40th Anniversary visit to Zambia. During our travels we made an impromptu visit to St Francis Hospital in Katete in the Eastern Diocese. This hospital has links with several parishes within the diocese and many people from Somerset have also visited over the years.

As a former nurse I was very keen to see the work they are doing and we were shown many areas of the busy hospital that serves a population of 1 million people, with 450 beds and in 2018 almost 34,000 new referrals, a figure increasing each year. It provides the only free health care in the area and is jointly managed by the Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches and supported by charitable groups and Zambian Government Grants.

During the whistle stop tour we passed a group of about 70 pregnant women, there was a brief exchange between our hosts and the women and we moved on, however there was something about these women that connected with me.

During the whole Zambia visit we saw many things, heard and shared many stories and met many inspiring people but once home, it was the image of these women that wouldn’t leave me, so I resolved to find out more.

When in Zambia I had met Esther Mwanza, a woman involved in many social and women’s issues including an Anglican project to prevent Gender Based Violence. I contacted her and tentatively asked about these women. She was able to tell me they are given the name of “The Waiters” and that due to the distances women have to travel to hospital, any first time mums and those with complications in pregnancy, travel to hospital, sometimes many months before they are due to give birth and then stay there until after the babies are born. We discussed the difficulties for them and the impact on their and their baby’s health and together began to see how this time spent in hospital could be such a valuable opportunity to learn skills and gain information that could be useful for their lives and to take back to their often remote villages.

God was clearly at work here as things started to happen! I was able to meet with the Hospital’s Medical Superintendant Dr Banda during the continuing 40th celebrations at The Bishop’s Palace in Wells in July 2018. We had a brief chat about the needs of the Waiters and he gave me the go ahead to come up with a plan.  Then a report was written by two young Waiters highlighting what would make a difference for the women during their stay at the Hospital. In response, a group of people came together from the UK and in Zambia, to begin to support and provide literacy lessons, health and baby care lessons and to run sessions around the Gender Based Violence project. In addition the Nurses’ Christian Fellowship (NCF) at the hospital began to worship and pray regularly with the woman. Even more extraordinary was that a Swedish Government Grant provided funds to improve and extend the living quarters for the women and in what seemed like no time the Waiters had a new dormitory, kitchen and toilet facilities.

When Covid started to move around the world, the hospital had to curtail some of these lessons however they are restarting now. Two local voluntary teachers are involved in providing literacy classes; nurses and midwives from the hospital are giving lessons in childcare and health and Esther will soon be once again running her sessions aimed at preventing Gender Based Violence and early marriage.

I regularly get updates and videos from the Waiters and during this time of lockdown and such distress in the UK and across the world, the voices of these women and the NCF have been a huge boost, kept me looking outwards and reminded me what can happen through brief encounters and amazingly generous people when God is on the move!

Many people have been vital to this partnership and my huge thanks go to Rev. Anne and Tim Legge, Esther Mwanza, Abraham Phiri, Dr Banda, Fred Ntongwe, Diffat Banda, Beatrice Tembo, the nurses and midwives from St Francis and the many wonderful women who have waited at St Francis to give birth.

From the Waiters

 A group of women from the hospital recently met with Abraham Phiri and gave some feedback about what it’s like for them. They said:

The sleeping arrangements are good, even though there are many of them (Waiters), they sleep comfortably and mosquito nets have been given to each one of them.

The literacy program is good and young ladies who left school due to teenage pregnancy feel motivated to go back to school.

The woman wanted to thank the Nurses Christian Fellowship who have been there for them and who pray for them

They said they feel good about the health care classes which are ongoing on as they learn a lot.

The Waiters at Katate Hospital   Literacy lessons for the Waiters at Katate Hospital   Healthcare lessons for the Waiters at Katate Hospital