Thirty years in Saboba

Longtime CHSC staff Bob and Dr. Jean Young are celebrating their 30th year serving in Saboba, Ghana! Dr. Jean Young has provided surgeries for thousands of children, mothers and adults since 1993, while Bob’s work in maintenance keeps Assemblies of God Hospital up-and-running.

From Bob and Dr. Jean’s latest newsletter:

When we visited Saboba, Northern Region, Ghana in February 1992, we knew that the AG Ghana Church wanted us to come to their small clinic, but we were not interested! The place was a health center in a small village at the end of the road with 11 workers and no electricity and no running water.

I was a highly-trained general and pediatric surgeon; I belonged in a hospital. And so we intended to look at Saboba and then politely tell the church, “Thanks, but no thanks.” But the Holy Spirit had different ideas. When we pulled into the compound at the old mission house and stepped out of the vehicle, the Holy Spirit wrapped around us like a warm blanket, and suddenly we KNEW that we were coming to Saboba!

We returned to Saboba to work on January 23, 1993. That first year was brutal; I had never been in charge of a health facility in Ghana before. My prior experience consisted or working in Komfo Anokye Hospital, where my primary duties were as a doctor and a surgeon. Somehow, my new supervisors failed to introduce me properly at the Regional Health Directorate, allowing all kinds of horrible rumors to circulate.

I met a host of outstanding loans because the previous In-charge had used the clinic monies to give his family members loans. The clinic typewriter was with someone. The accounts officer didn’t realize that receipts and cash had to match. And there was an evil spirit in the pharmacy, forcing me to do an exorcism before I could reorganize it.

This was the situation when the Northern Ethnic Conflict broke out on February 3, 1994. We were in Accra for the West African College of Surgeons meeting, of which I was a Fellow. Due to the conflict, we didn’t make it back to Saboba until March 31, 1994. I performed my first hernia [operation] on a patient on April 1, 1994, launching our theater program. That year we notched up 192 major surgical operations.

Our theater crew consisted of Charles Talan, Andrew Mawanye, and me. We sterilized things in a large pressure cooker over a coal pot on the verandah. We began transfusions after losing a 19 year – old mother with placenta previa whose placenta had been hanging out for three days while she bled. I delivered the baby and the placenta just before she died. After that, I marched into the office of the Regional Biomedical Scientist and demanded that he help me establish a transfusion program.

I trained several others, and we began blood grouping and transfusions. Later on, we added HIV testing. (I had previously worked in a hospital laboratory and when we were first in Ghana, I spent time in the lab at KATH.) When we first came, the facility was known as the AG Clinic; however, once we added these other services, we renamed ourselves Saboba Medical Center to reflect our expanded work.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention Charles Talan, the late Joshua Beso, and all the other workers who served sacrificially during that difficult time and since. Some of our workers came to us as refugees from Yendi or Tamale and settled in Saboba to serve in the hospital. We crammed 37 beds, a small lab, a small theater, and a small pharmacy into that little health center building.

The late Tinyie Alhassan and I handled maternity, with Tinyie doing the simple deliveries while I did the complicated ones and the C-sections. I used to spend ANC days with a tape measure hanging around my neck so that I could run back and forth from the consulting room to the palpation room.
The Konkombas have a saying that “One finger does not pick up a pebble.” I was only one finger; there were many others working just as hard or even harder.

In those days, there were no hospitals in Zabzugu, Tatale, Gushiegu, Bindi, Karaga, or Chereponi. The Eastern Corridor hospitals consisted of Saboba, Yendi, and BMC Nalerigu. We had to buy most of our supplies in Kumasi or Accra, and we purchased drip fluid from the factory in Koforidua. Bob and I were the only clinic workers who could move freely out of Saboba, so we would rush out, buy supplies, and then rush back to work. While I was working in the clinic, Bob was maintaining vehicles, creating light sources powered by car batteries, and generally supervising the laborers.

We left Saboba in June 1996 so I could do my MPH in Tropical Medicine. We returned to Ghana in 1998, working first in a small clinic and then joining Ghana Health Service and working at West Gonja Hospital for five years. We returned to Saboba in February 2004 and have been here ever since.

These thirty years have brought struggles, trials, illnesses, and triumphs. At some points, we have had to be out due to Bob’s requiring various operations and then recovering from them. We have seen the hospital and Saboba grow. Our prayer continues to be that the hospital will be a place of God’s praise, a place of His glory, a place of help, a place of health, a place of hope, a place of healing, and a place of Shalom. May the AG Hospital, Saboba continue to be all of those things and may it be a lighthouse of love for all those around it!

Uncle Bob, a.k.a. “Ujamafeni “and Dr. Jean Young, a.k.a.” Uwumborayi



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