The Wetteraus receive a goat in appreciation for their support of the Nundu Hospital, Democratic Republic of Congo.
Dansville couple share their talents in Africa
Gifts of appreciation come in different sizes and shapes. The present a Dansville doctor and his wife received couldn’t be brought home to the United States.
Dr. Norman Wetterau is a physician at Tri-County Family Medicine physician. His wife Nancy is a retired Dansville Spanish and art teacher, Dansville Central Schools. Both were short-term faculty in February at Hope Africa University, Bujumbura, Burundi in Africa.
While in Africa the Wetteraus were invited to Nundu, Democratic Republic of Congo, to visit the hospital that they had been supporting for over 20 years under the auspices of the Free Methodist Church. It was a 30 -mile trip of five hours over difficult roads from where they were staying at Hope Africa University.
“We were a little hesitant at first, but we felt so protected by God and the people in their welcome,” said Norm.
It was at the hospital during a ceremony that the Wetteraus were recipients of the thank you gift, a cultural show of friendship and love dating back to Biblical times.
“The people gave us a live goat. No one has ever given me a goat before. It wouldn’t fit in our suitcase,” said Nancy.
“I have been given a lot of awards in my medical career. I was awarded family physician in the state once. This is the most special gift,” chuckled Norm.
The goat was re-gifted graciously by the Wetteraus back to their hosts.
The Wetteraus’ journey to Africa originated over 20 years ago, and has three unique connections. They fit together logically right from the beginning in Norm’s viewpoint.
“I was intrigued by the name, Nundu, right when I was starting my medical practice in Nunda, New York,” said Norm.
Wetterau also knew an American doctor at the Nundu hospital in the 1980’s.
Thirdly, it is a Free Methodist Hospital founded and supported by Americans in the Free Methodist Church denomination. The Wetteraus are members of the local Dansville congregation. The Congolese now run the hospital.
Throughout those years the Wetteraus knew that civil war and unrest between the Tutsi and Hutu raged. The hospital and its 60 clinics continued to function, however. They provided a huge amount of care to an area population of more than 100,000 people. The militia would ransack the hospital of equipment. In order to keep it open, the staff would hide supplies in the bushes. They were courageous and determined explained Norm.
This winter the Wetteraus went on their fourth trip to Hope Africa University. The couple team-taught medical psychology to undergraduate students in English using an American approach to learning. That included opportunities for hands-on experiences and group activities.
Students had a lot of book knowledge explained Norm. His goal was providing them with the practical experience. For example, students had memorized the steps in using a stethoscope from reading a textbook. Wetterau taught them how to utilize the instrument properly.
“It is something we can teach together. We compliment each other,” said Nancy.
Capitalizing on a marriage commitment of 46 years and Nancy’s teaching background, the couple role-played for the students in the classroom.
Nancy and Norm showed future doctors how to interview patients by setting-up possible situations that they might encounter. They role-played types of stressors that affect the human body during medical emergencies. Students observed and asked questions.
“Norm teaches the heavy science and I set up the class activities, make tests and grade them,” said Nancy.
Since the Wetteraus started coming to Hope Africa University, they have brought computers and flash drives to Burundi. Students received online textbooks with the latest information. The Wetteraus showed students how to access current material. They explained the importance of keeping abreast of the changes in medicine.
The large screen TV for the students was a teaching tool to observe viruses, such as e-coli, and how to distinguish one from another.
Future doctors in Burundi will face conditions in a country that is one of the five poorest in the world due to civil wars, poor access to education and the effects of HIV/AIDS. They are encouraged by their government to stay in the country according to Norm.
“The people are connected to each other and are aware of the social issues-the refugees, homelessness. They are committed to their faith,” said Norm.
Nancy and Norm ate a traditional diet of fruit, vegetables, rice, bread, some meat and chai [tea] while staying in a home setting.
Nancy remarked that they became accustomed to listening to the sound of drumming at the hospital complex gates all hours of the day and night. Drumming is a part of the cultural heritage of Burundi passed down for centuries. Drummers use drums made from hollowed tree trunks covered with animal skins.
“We are raising money and raising teachers,” said Nancy of plans for a trip to Burundi for other volunteers this summer.
“There is not a single x-ray technician in the country of Burundi. Accidents are common and there needs to be training for students in the use of equipment,” said Norm.
“We are trying to expand learning,” said Nancy of their visits to Burundi.
“I would much rather do something in my travels,” said Nancy. “I want to know the local people. That’s why I taught English when I traveled to China.”
The familiar adage, “it is better to give than receive,” is the way of life for Nancy and Norm Wetterau. They put into practice what they believe.
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