KRAKOW, Poland – Every summer, dozens of physicians from Poland spend their vacation treating under-served patients in Africa. Dr. Bartek Guzik, a full-time cardiologist in one of the busiest hospitals in Poland, is one of them.
(Guzik’s wife, Paulina, is a frequent contributor to Crux.)
It all started last summer, when a Polish organization asked Guzik to join them in Kenya for a medical mission in Mutomo, one of the East African country’s poorest and least developed areas.
He returned home after a month, having fallen in love with Africa, and was distressed over the desperate need for more medical care, especially qualified doctors.
“The needs were simply overwhelming, so I decided to start my own medical mission the following year to engage more doctors in a different region,” Guzik told Crux. “And now every day I’m waking up in Uganda thinking it’s rather a miracle that the mission we called ‘Doctors Africa’ came to be.”
It took a year of preparation to establish the team of three doctors and 30 medical students from Jagiellonian University (founded St. Jadwiga of Krakow in the 14th century), tons of paperwork and literal months of begging for the money to fund the mission, since it costs around $3,000 per person.
The mission sends teams in groups of 6, 2 doctors and 4 medical students. Guzik hopes that when the students graduate, “Doctors Africa” will spread to many different countries on the continent.
“Many people look at millennials as if they are only demanding” – he said – “but the truth is, if they have a purpose, they work like crazy and happily dedicate their free time for charity works.”
The Archdiocese of Krakow, the Jagiellonian University, the local branch of the Order of Malta and several private donors offered financial help; but it was the money collected in parishes that made the trip happen.
“Our kids were collecting money as the most eager volunteers of all times – they may be quite successful bankers in the future,” the Polish doctor said.
The goal of the mission was twofold: Examine and treat as many people as possible, and help establish a lasting medical infrastructure.
They brought suitcases of equipment to the Franciscan mission in the Ugandan village of Kakooge and trained local medical personnel in using them.
Guzik said people came to the mission not only because of the Western doctors, but because the new equipment allowed for better diagnoses than had been available before in the area.
The “Doctors Africa” mission is trying to break some stereotypes: “In the western world we tend to think that only we have enough stress to cause high blood pressure and panic attacks,” the doctor told Crux. “The reality is that the life of the people here in Uganda is way more stressful than ours – with poverty, lack of jobs and lack of education for their kids.”
What the Polish mission wants to minimize is the “come and gone” effect.
“If we come for a month and leave Africa without leaving anything there, it’s a waste of time,” Guzik said. The most important thing they do is not just donating equipment, but offering training to the locals – medical officials, nurses, and even teaching first aid to children so that they can in turn help their parents and classmates – “and maybe even become local doctors in the future.”
Guzik says his work was inspired by his mother, who passed away 10 years ago.
“When I was a teenager and I had too much time she used to tell me – don’t fool around, go join the Knights of Malta ambulance service – and, well, at least with that I listened to my mother,” he said.
Now a Knight of Malta himself, the Polish doctor also said he draws inspiration from Pope Francis and his Papal Almoner, Polish Cardinal Konrad Krajewski.
“Their idea of the Church as a field hospital really touched me. Assisting the poor is the way the Church should be at its best,” Guzik said.
The first initiative of his team was a medical tent for the homeless during a Christmas Eve meal in Krakow’s historic town square. The mission in Uganda is one of two the Krakow-based organization is running in Africa this summer; his colleague, a gynecologist from Krakow, is in Tanzania with two medical students.
“It is, of course, always a matter of choice – helping kids in Africa means I don’t have time for a vacation with my own kids,” – Guzik admits. “But on the other hand, passionate parents can be inspirational in bringing up their kids.”
He noted his 9-year-old has already announced he has decided to join his father in Africa in 3 years’ time: “I have no idea where he got that number, but probably being 12 years old sounds adult enough for him.”
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