Sunday, November 12, 2006

Building a medical clinic from scratch

When we got to the Wycliffe meeting, someone handed us a binder that, among other things, included a list of our fellow attendees. I read through the list, saw the names of no one I knew, but saw one last name that caused me to wonder: "Are these people relatives of someone I know?"

The man's name was Adrian Visbeen. I knew a Visbeen once. His name was Al--Al Visbeen. Back in New Jersey.

A couple of days later, I was in a meeting and realized Adrian Visbeen was sitting next to me.

"Hi," I said. "By any chance, do you have relatives in New Jersey?"


"Do you know a guy named Al Visbeen?"

"Yes. . . . He's my brother!"

Al Visbeen, I knew, was a successful building contractor. Very successful. Turns out, Adrian and Al had been partners. They have now both retired. But Adrian pulled out of the business first--16 years ago, about the time when Sarita and I left New Jersey and would have last seen Al.

"I was 52 when I told Al I wanted to retire in two years so my wife and I could do mission work," Adrian told me. "I wanted to sell my half of the business and move on.

"Al was incredulous: 'You're going to give up the company car and all the benefits?!?'"

But Adrian and his wife were determined. Before they had gotten married--he had only discovered this a short time before he made his announcement to Al-- . . . Before they had gotten married, Adrian's wife had thought she was going to be a missionary. "I was sure I was supposed to be a missionary," she said.

But then she got married and forgot the whole idea. Until their kids had graduated and left the house.

"Now what am I going to do? Sit around?"

So she and Adrian decided that they would make themselves available for wherever God led them. They would use their skills to help advance His Kingdom.

And so, at 54, about 16 years ago, Adrian sold his half of Visbeen Construction to his brother and launched off into a new field of service--with Wycliffe Associates, YWAM (Youth With a Mission), and several other agencies. Adrian gave me a letter he had written earlier this year that showed where all they have served: 56 different projects in almost as many different places . . . around the world.

But there is one story of one project I would like to share with you here. It's the story from which I titled this post:

Building a medical clinic from scratch

Adrian and his wife were asked to build a medical clinic on one of the islands in Lake Victoria (Africa).

Not sure why, but for some reason, they brought a wheel for a wheelbarrow, but, apparently, not much else.

When they got to the island, they asked if there was any concrete available.

"'Concrete'?" --No one knew what it was.

"Where can I get some sand?" Adrian asked.

No one had any sand on the island. There was no sand.

"How about cement?"

No one had any cement.

Someone did own a sailboat, however.

So Adrian, said, they sent the sailboat out one day to pick up bags of cement from a town on the shore of the lake. Out and back to pick up the cement: one day.

The next day, they sent the sailboat in another direction to pick up sand from a beach. They tied up the boat and filled it with sand--one shovelful at a time.

Out and back for sand: another day.

Then they mixed the sand, cement and water--local men did it with their bare feet. ("Their skin was tough, like leather!" Adrian said. --I expect so. Indeed, I hope so. Because concrete is quite caustic.)

So they poured the slab on which the clinic was to be built.

Now for bricks.

No one had any bricks.

"Okay," said Adrian. "Let's make them!"

So they smashed a termite mound, ground the clay, mixed it with water, poured it into a six-inch tall brick mold, mashed the clay so it was exactly the height of the mold, then turned the raw brick out onto a black plastic sheet where it would bake in the sun for three days. . . .

Talk about building from scratch!

Oh. The wheelbarrow wheel.

No one owned a wheelbarrow. So they made one.

"We dug a pit, rolled a log over the top, had one guy stand down in the pit and another on top, and then they sawed the log in half. . . ."

I just realized I never got a clear idea of how the wheelbarrow finally worked, but, somehow, the sawed log became the structural basis for the wheelbarrow, and the wheel . . . --Well, the wheel became the wheel for the wheelbarrow! (Of course!)


Why all this labor to build a building whose structural components were like nothing the local population had ever seen? (Isn't that called inappropriate technology--in contrast to (what development agencies normally refer to as) appropriate technology: i.e., technology that is readily supported by the local culture and economy?)

The reason for using this--what seems to be--"outlandish" structural technology: it is durable and it is clean. This clinic should remain useful for decades. The more "traditional" structures last only years. . . .
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