On a recent Friday evening at the Parish of the Transfiguration in the Mabatini neighborhood of Mwanza, Tanzania, George Stablein and I waited in the church hall for invited attendees of our seminar to arrive. A white bedsheet was hung over the parish chalkboard, the computer slides were queued up, and George and I both felt the nervous energy of a first-time presentation of this sort.
Slowly members of the parish council began to trickle in. One came through the blue metal doors of the hall, then a few more, and finally our goal of eight was reached. Under any other circumstances, the large church hall populated by just eight attendees sitting a measured 6 feet apart would be considered a failure; in fact, the distance between people would probably be considered eerie. But in this time of the coronavirus, this was a complete success.
As COVID-19 continued to spread throughout Tanzania, George, a fellow lay missioner and friend, had approached me with an idea. George, who in his primary ministry serves as a pediatrician at a rural hospital south of Mwanza, also participates in our parish’s public health ministry. Following a virtual seminar he attended with lay missioner physician Susan Nagele, he felt an urgent responsibility to educate our community on the nature of the coronavirus.
We compared our observations that while news of the global death toll, ventilator shortages and delayed political response rocked most of the world, our community in Mwanza seemed largely unchanged. While many Tanzanians look to the government for information and directions on protocols surrounding the virus, we both felt that our Mabatini Public Health Program should be part of the community response.
After a meeting with the parish priests, Maryknoll Fathers John Eybel and Lam Hua, and Natalia Kadio, the coordinator of Mabatini Public Health, our plan was launched. George and I would collaborate on a presentation concerning the essential information on the coronavirus.
We decided to first invite local government leaders to the parish to take part in a short workshop with a chance to ask George questions about the nature of the coronavirus. After the local government leaders, members of the parish council were invited, followed by the chairpersons of the parish’s 28 small Christian communities.
Because of the urgency of disseminating this information, George and I moved quickly to organize the events and put together a presentation that included information on the transmission, symptoms, protective measures, and global outcomes of the coronavirus.
As a pediatrician, George was the obvious choice to handle giving the presentation and answering the subsequent questions.
With the help of the Maryknoll priests and Natalia, the presentation has now been given four times for all of the aforementioned groups. George and I have both been impressed by the quantity and quality of questions that have arisen after each presentation. Questions about transmission of the virus through food, the possibility and timeline of immunization, and the dangers of public transportation are all on the minds of Mabatini residents.
As the coronavirus continues to ravage the United States and other countries spanning the globe, it is so easy to feel helpless. For those of us raised in American culture, our desire for control and unfettered productivity is threatened in a novel way.
George and I are incredibly grateful to have the opportunity to organize and lead these seminars, but know that this is just one small part of the global solution.
Photos by Sam Janson