The Pukumani Project that assists in sprucing up the Katutura State Hospital is not just about painting – it is an act of faith that changes everyone involved.
By Catherine Sasman
Blue-clad security guards at the entrance of the Katutura State Hospital wave through people on foot and in cars that go through the gates. The guards sit on plastic containers or balance on the sides of old wooden chairs with their bottoms out. Two ragged-looking floor mops and some washing rags hang limply over a stop sign next to the small guardroom. Dirty plastic bags that got entangled in the barbed wire that encircles the hospital flap in the wind.
Once past the guards, one encounters yellow-painted steel railings and more fences that part the tarred road. The yellow railing is mangled in places; the fencing has holes in it with some of the poles holding up the structure slanting.
The steps leading to the entrance of the outpatients’ section is broken in places, with blood spatter and food scraps sticking on the surface.
The public has been up in arms over the state of Katutura State Hospital, an outcry that reached a crescendo when water pipes at the hospital burst last year, leaving the health facility in dire need for running water.
But the Ministry of Health and Social Services, as well as the management of the hospital, and perhaps more importantly, the Ministry of Works, Transport and Communication, said at various occasions that the situation is being addressed and that things are getting better.
The situation in the hospitals and the general health sector has become so critical that at one stage Health Minister Richard Kamwi made a plea to the private sector to help.
The public perception, however, remains doubtful, if not negative.
“The hospital is not clean,” criticised Gideon Tjongarero, who sits on a concrete slab in the sun outside the hospital. “The place is overrun by cockroaches; there are condoms in the toilets. They do not clean the floors;
they stand with a broom in one hand and push it back and forth. They should remember that they are being paid to do a proper job.”
Diana /Uiras has been coming to the hospital on a number of occasions to have an unsightly growth on the side of her neck attended to.
“This is not a place where one feels he/she can get better,” she says.
Joseph Kasanga is another patient who has come in for a check up after being infirmed at the hospital in December for some weeks.
“Some wards are clean, but others are not,” he says. However, he was happy with the treatment he received.
“The sisters give you a lot of love; they treat you in a humane way.”
Another visitor to the hospital, who preferred anonymity, complained that there is no pest control system in place, even saying mice nibble at babies lying in their cots.
Another one claimed that nurses wash patients with disinfectants and cream them in with floor polish, sneering that the curtains at the windows seem not to have been washed since the 1970s.
Another complaint was that there is no hot water in the hospital and that the air-conditioning system is not working. Nurses use kettles to heat up patients’ bath water.
For Margareth Bennett, visiting the hospital was a life-changing event.
Visiting an elderly gentleman in the hospital one day in November 2006, Bennett remembers the dismay she felt when she saw the flaked painting on the walls, washed out curtains and railings hanging loose and torn.
“I thought to myself, ‘It is not a pleasure to be here. Why can’t somebody do something about this?'”
She claims she heard a voice saying: “Why don’t you do something about it?”
“I turned around and asked the old gentleman if he had said it. He said he did not. I believe it was the Lord’s voice that spoke to me on that day.”
This experience did not automatically propel her to “do something”. It took some time of soul-searching, talking to people and, she says, a lot of praying.
“There were a lot of arguments not to get involved, not to do anything. There was no money or time.”
She took that December to reflect on the matter. And the next year, the Pukumani Project – literally meaning ‘celebration of life’ – was born to serve as a non-medical service to State patients.
Today, every first Saturday of the month hordes of volunteers report at the steps of the hospital, armed with paintbrushes, sand paper, cleaning equipment and tools to “do something”, to change the face of the wards in the hospital for the patients.
“For me, this project means touching the patients, addressing the needs of the patients,” says Bennett.
The centrality of particularly the Katutura Hospital in the public health sector cannot be ignored. Of the estimated 2.1 million Namibians, a mere 258??????’??