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Let there be light: Huron Rotary Club gift provides solar suitcase to brighten African clinic

Posted: Monday, Sep 23rd, 2013

Sarah Grings, second from left, stands with a new mother and midwives following the first birth in the Longa clinic aided by light from the solar suitcase purchased by the Huron Rotary Club. In the next photo, Dan Grings, right, and another man carrying the solar suitcase, walk to the medical buildings where the unit was installed in Longa, a village in Congo. And next, the men install solar panels on the roof to provide power. The ladder is simply a bamboo pole. PHOTOS CONTRIBUTED

In all respects it was like any other ordinary birth at the main health center in the village of Longa in Congo — except for the single light shining down from where it hung suspended from wooden pole rafters.

“That was the first use of the lighting set up for a delivery while it was still dark, and the midwives were just amazed at what a help it was to have proper lighting for a delivery,” said Sarah Grings, the eldest of seven children who grew up in Congo with missionary parents Dan and Christine Grings.

“I discovered that they were actually doing C-sections and other surgeries (appendectomies, hernia repairs, etc.) by flashlight,” Grings said via email. “The midwife told me a story of how one night, just as they started an emergency C-section, the batteries in the flashlight died. They had to go searching in the village to find more batteries in order to continue with the C-section. You can imagine what a blessing and help this lighting source will be for that clinic.”

Grings, whose family has been supported by Calvary Baptist Church in Huron for many years, came to Huron in 2008 to attend the Dakota Wesleyan nursing program on the Huron campus, graduating in 2010 highest in her class.

She also received a $500 scholarship through the Rotary Club, and prior to returning as a missionary to Congo last winter, she spoke to the club about the need for a solar suitcase to provide needed lighting for medical procedures.

The Huron Rotary Club gave Grings the $1,500 needed to purchase a solar suitcase. To help her treat patients as a missionary, Grings also traveled to Antwerp, Belgium, to take a course on tropical diseases, which began in March and ended in June.

She was reunited with her parents in Congo, and on July 22, she left on a two-week trip to Longa to install the solar suitcase, along with her father and several others.

“We traveled two days by vehicle to reach the town of Dibaya-Lubwe, and from there we traveled by canoe for four days to finally get to the village of Longa,” Grings said. “I grew up in Longa.”

Grings said she was 8 years old when a nurse came from the United States and opened up the first clinic in this village. The health center that was established now serves more than 7,800 in that area.

“Seeing her work and working with her really sparked my interest in nursing,” Grings said.

During the wars in Congo in the late 1990s, the clinic in Longa was looted and most of their equipment was stolen.

“Improvements have been made in recent years, but until we installed the suitcase on July 29, the clinic still did not have any form of electricity other than flashlights,” Grings said.

She and her father helped train the staff on the use of the suitcase, which uses solar panels to generate electricity. Because the walls of the building are made out of clay bricks, they secured the suitcase-sized solar unit to wooden framing to install it.

“One of the LED lights was secured in the main consultation-waiting room and the other was installed in the delivery room, which also functions as the operating room.”

Grings also brought a hand-held fetal Doppler system for the clinic, and trained the nurses and midwives in its use.

“We encouraged them to send us reports periodically on how the system is working and how it is benefiting the population,” Grings said.

“On July 30th, I participated in their prenatal consultations with more than 20 women present,” she added. “I taught the midwives on the use of the fetal Doppler system. I wish I had taken a picture of the old, wooden pinard horn they were previously using.

The clinic helps in the delivery of an average of 18 babies a month — sometimes more.

“The staff at the center asked me to please tell you all thank you for making this solar suitcase available to them,” Grings said. “I know it is a tremendous help and will improve conditions in the clinic dramatically.”

Grings is now ministering with her parents in Kinshasa, a city in Congo of more than 9 million.

For the complete article see the 09-22-2013 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 09-22-2013 paper.

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