No one believed Dave Bowman’s first “humanly impossible” undertaking could become a reality. When the Rockford man, retired and with poor health, discovered that the Lost Boys of Sudan, brought to Grand Rapids in 2000, had never had access to health care, a dentist or doctor, he vowed to build a hospital in that war-ravaged country.
There was no infrastructure there—no roads, airport, buildings, government. Bowman remained undeterred. “I asked God how this could be and asked people to do something,” he said.
Finally he understood that he had to take the first step and go to Sudan to get the project started. He formed a nonprofit organization Partners in Compassionate Care Sudan (PCCSudan.org). Less than a decade and thousands of volunteer hours and dollars later, the Memorial Christian Hospital (MCH) was built and staffed, and sees 60 to 70 people a day.
Bowman doesn’t believe in offering free services to the Sudanese people, but in helping them build an economy where they can use the resources at their disposal. With this in mind, he is on to his next series of what he calls ‘”humanly impossible tasks.” He wants the hospital to be self-sufficient by the year 2015. He wants to help the people in Sudan have access to clean water. He wants to see an economy become established, with drip irrigation, fish farms, and a year-round landing air strip.
“It may sound impossible. What hospital is self-supporting, even here in the United States?” Bowman asked. “Is that possible, humanly speaking? No. I believe it’s going to happen.”
Bowman described himself as practically floating in the air since his recent return from the World Medical Conference. While there he saw an example of an incredibly efficient water filter. Water-born illness is the prime source of sickness and death in Sudan, especially in children. The filters are small, simple and efficient. Bowman bought 100.
Bowman said he wanted to be sure the filters worked before taking them back to Sudan. He took some water from his tap and ran it through the filter. Then he filtered some water from a fetid duck pond near his Bostwick Lake home. Both samples went to the Kent County Health Department for testing. They came back clean. The filters cost just $50 each, but Bowman has no intention of giving them to the people of Sudan for free.
“In Sudan, fifty dollars is two chickens. Sixty-five dollars is one goat. A cow is five hundred,” he said. He believes when people realize they can independently provide for themselves, they will stop waiting for handouts and be able to sustain agriculture, fish farming, and other means of providing a livelihood.
Gradually, the ideas he is bringing to Sudan are taking hold. He visited the local government and saw five tractors. “Is there any chance you can give one of those tractors to the hospital?” he asked. He didn’t get a yes, but he didn’t get a no, either. “When I went back and asked again, they gave one of those 80 horsepower diesel tractors to the hospital,” Bowman recounted.
Providing a way to have access to safe water would make a huge difference to the people who live in Sudan. They have never seen stairs, never seen water from a faucet, and are used to taking their drinking water from ponds where cows wade and defecate. In part because of water-born disease, four out of five babies die as infants.
“My plan is that we will raise money in the USA to purchase these water filters and then have volunteers take them to Sudan when they go,” Bowman said. “I believe that there are many families who will contribute $50 so a Sudanese family can drink clean water and improve their health. I started with my own family last Christmas by telling them that we spend way too much on each other. I suggested that we cut back on what we spend and give that money to purchase filters that will provide clean water for families in Sudan who have nothing.”
At the hospital, Dr. Ajak may discover a patient is sick because of the drinking water and tell them about the filters. When Dr. Ajak sees a patient and their sickness is related to water-borne disease, he can tell them that the reason they or their child is sick is because of the dirty water they are drinking and then explain to them the importance of the filters.
“The Sudanese respect Dr. Ajak because he is educated,” said Bowman. “I believe his explaining this to them will motivate them to purchase a filter.”
As Sudanese begin purchasing the filters, they will support the hospital as well. “We want the hospital to become self-sustaining by 2015 so the Sudanese can eventually take over the running of it themselves,” Bowman reiterated.
“Another benefit of having one of these filters is they do not have to boil water any more, which will save on fuel [wood or charcoal],” Bowman stated. “These filters can produce between 300 to 500 gallons every day. One family will not use that much water, so two or three families living close to each other can go together to purchase the filter. They can use this water for cooking and drinking.”
Bowman will be returning to Sudan in January with his 100 filters. “Once these have been sold to Sudanese, the MCH will have $5,000 toward the operating expenses. We will be starting to improve the health of the community, and helping Dr. Ajak to be able to see more patients for other health related issues,” he said.
If families want to make a tax-deductible contribution to this cause, they can send their check—made payable to Partners in Compassionate Care—to: Partners in Compassionate Care, PO Box 150278, Grand Rapids, MI 49515-0278.