Mozambique health professional grateful to local church
MIDDLEBURY — Jeremias França, a missionary with the General Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church (UMC), returned to Addison County last week to address the congregation at the Middlebury United Methodist Church (MUMC) that was so instrumental in his education as a hospital administrator.
França has been the administrator of Chicuque Rural Hospital in his home country of Mozambique since 2000, and has brought many important medical innovations to his region of the African country, including HIV/AIDS testing and treatment centers.
“I think my message is to thank them, to show my gratitude for their support,” said França, 48, prior to addressing the congregation on Sunday. “(I want to tell them), ‘Thank you for what you have been doing, and thank you for the friendship in this great mission we have.’”
The mission França speaks of began in 1993, when Leicester residents and MUMC members Lee and Bonnie Adkins traveled to Mozambique as part of a volunteering and mission program through the United Methodist Church. Along with 26 other members of Methodist congregations in New York and Vermont, the couple paid their own way for a chance to spend two weeks working in the sub-Saharan African country.
“Our main purpose was not necessarily that our work was expert, but that we wanted to express our solidarity and love to the people in Mozambique by coming over and being with them,” said Lee Adkins.
“Solidarity and love” can perhaps best describe the relationship that soon formed between the Adkinses and França, who served as their interpreter during their visit.
At the time, França was an administrator-in-training at Chicuque Hospital, where he had been treated following an automobile accident in 1990. Two American Methodist missionaries, who had been performing administrative duties during their mission but were preparing to return to America, identified França as a potential successor.
When the Adkinses met França, he had gone as far as he could in his schooling in Mozambique — which, unfortunately, left him at a roughly 9th-grade level by American public school standards, and unqualified to become the head administrator of the hospital.
After returning to the United States, the Adkinses found out just how important França was to the future of Chicuque Hospital: They were contacted and asked if they would sponsor his education, in America, to become a qualified hospital administrator.
As much as they knew they could not foot the entire $120,000 bill themselves, Lee and Bonnie Adkins also knew they could not turn their backs on the opportunity to help França get a proper education. They formed an international committee within the United Methodist Church to collect pledges for the purpose of sponsoring França’s education at Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos, home of a stellar hospital administration program. The fund soon totaled roughly $260,000 — enough for França to bring his wife and four children to the United States for the duration of his education. França completed the program in six years.
“I did not have the best English for college,” França recalled in an interview last week, “but I was able to read and write, so things did work out well even with all the challenges.”
After graduating in 2000, França returned to Mozambique to become the chief administrator of Chicuque Hospital — the only hospital administrator with a master’s degree in all of Mozambique. In the past decade, under França’s leadership, the hospital has been transformed. It now provides free HIV testing and AIDS treatment, a malaria prevention service, sanitary birthing centers and a blood bank. França believes his hospital has made a real difference in the surrounding area.
“I try to be critical of my own performance, but just looking at what the situation was before, and where things are right now, I believe some changes may be attributed to our involvement in the process,” he said.
The hospital also used to lack oxygen for its emergency care ward, and used a converted car as an ambulance. Through donations to the United Methodist Church sponsorship fund, the hospital now has oxygen and two genuine ambulances.
Perhaps França’s greatest area of influence, however, has been in the realm of public health education. He established the Center of Hope to help educate citizens of Mozambique about the conditions that lead to HIV, AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, in an effort to prevent them entirely.
“We laughingly say (that) he started (the Center of Hope), and now his hospital will go out of business,” Lee Adkins said.
França is proud of how far his hospital has come in just a decade, and is energized by the success of the Center of Hope. He sees the recognition of the importance of public health education spreading to the far reaches of Mozambique, and into the government itself. Recently, the president of Mozambique launched a campaign of public health education and women’s health.
Such a campaign, said França, “calls for a civil society and everybody to take part in the process. I think our institution can play a good role in that process. And that’s what all health education is about, so it was good that the head of the nation was able to recognize the need and make a public request.”
Specifically within the realm of public health education, França knows there is more work to be done, and he plans to be involved in that process for years to come. For now, however, he is excited to be in Vermont, where he took the opportunity to speak at Methodist churches in Burlington and Rutland, in addition to addressing the congregation in Middlebury.
“It’s beyond description. It’s just God’s blessing,” said França, of the opportunity the MUMC helped provide to him. “It’s very difficult to find the proper words to explain and describe it, because you never get there. It’s just God’s blessing.”
Reporter Ian Trombulak is at [email protected].