ECU Field Journal: Africa

Marie's Blog from Lambaréné, Gabon<-- back

Albert Schweitzer Fellow
July 25, 2008

After finishing the proverbial drinking-out-of-a-fire-hydrant, third year of medical school, I am about to embark on a long-awaited journey to work at the Albert Schweitzer Hospital or Hopital d’Albert Schweitzer in Lambaréné, Gabon, where I will live and work for the next three months. Where is Gabon, you ask? It is considered a part of central Africa, and is bordered by Congo, Cameroon, and the Atlantic Ocean. Why this hospital? The Albert Schweitzer Hospital is the product of the vision and dedication of Dr. Albert Schweitzer. Long story short, Dr. Schweitzer was a renaissance man of sorts, who answered a call for help. He literally became a physician for the sole purpose of helping the people of Africa. After falling in love with the region of Lambaréné and people therein, he literally built a hospital out of a chicken coop and began practicing medicine. Even after more than 90 years, including periods of political unrest and war, his hospital lives on and cares for the people of Gabon.

I learned about the Lambaréné Schweitzer Fellowship from Benjamin Gilmer, the first Schweitzer Fellow from the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University. He gave a presentation on his work and experiences there, and his stories inspired me to apply. The fact that it came about because of Dr. Schweitzer, whom I had learned about years before, really excited me. When I was 17, I spent a year in France as an International Rotary exchange student. I came to know of Dr. Schweitzer during a visit to Gunsbach, France, his hometown in the region of Alsace. At this time in my life, I already knew that I wanted to become a physician, so I was especially interested in seeing his pictures and hearing the stories of Africa and his hospital from our tour guide. Before leaving Gunsbach, I sat beneath his statue, thinking how wonderful it would be to realize such dreams as he had—helping so many.

Having grown up in a small town on the water in North Carolina, I imagine that I share some similarities with the people of Lambaréné. It too is on the water, bordering the Oogué River, and most of the population depends on the water for both work and daily living just as my hometown did. I am looking forward to seeing how they live, what they must endure, and what diseases confront them in this setting. I want to learn what health care means to them, what the physician-patient relationship is like, and how it compares to our own. Living in eastern North Carolina, I have learned much about rural medicine and the disparities therein. How does this compare to Gabon, where I understand people come from hundreds of miles away to be seen in Lambaréné? With so many questions, I am eager to learn, to explore, and to serve the Gabonese people. I know that I will bring Gabon back to North Carolina with me, sharing not only the knowledge and experience in their community and health care, but sharing Dr. Schweitzer’s “Reverence for Life” and what passion it brings to others.