A bridge to health

Funds urgently needed to repair Asuley Bridge, the only access to Jema Nyameakola Hospital

by Gary Adornato

Prior to 2017, residents in the town of Jema, which is located in the Western North Region of Ghana, in West Africa, had to travel more than 70 kilometers to the nearest hospital. This was a fact that the local residents were determined to change.

With the support of the Friars of the Order of Friars Minor Conventual, who have served in Ghana since 1977, and the Franciscan Mission Association (FMA), local health care was finally brought to the region’s 10,000 residents with the opening of the Jema Nyameakola Hospital (JNH) in 2017. The FMA also provided support for critical laboratory equipment in the hospital in 2019.

The hospital project was initiated in 2004 by Fr. Joseph Kwame Blay, OFM Conv., a native of Jema who joined the Conventual Friars in 1989, with the blessings of the Order’s St. Anthony Provincial Custody. Fr. Joseph is also the Order’s General Delegate for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation (JPIC) and is also leading the Asuley Bridge project.

The residents of Jema have done their best to repeatedly repair Asuley Bridge, to maintain access to their hospital, but they are fighting a losing battle against Mother Nature.

Reaching the hospital, however, remains tenuous. The only access to JNH requires crossing the Asuley Stream, just 100 meters from the facility’s entrance.

A wooden bridge, which has been in a state of constant disrepair almost from the day it was first put in place, in 2013, during the hospital’s construction, provides the only passage.

“The bridge was created by placing logs across the stream, but those logs have long since rotted and sunk into the stream,” stated Fr. Blay. “The community has done its best to maintain the bridge, but they seem to be fighting a losing battle. In fact, in May of 2020, just one week after the community organized repairs, heavy rains caused the stream to overflow and wash the bridge away.

“The bridge is critical because all types of sick people, including women in labor, have to be carried across the bridge. With calls for help to the Municipal Authority and the Sector Minister producing no assistance, the good people of Jema are once again turning to the Friars for help.”

The FMA is seeking to raise $15,000 to build a permanent concrete bridge to cross Asuley Stream. Rather than well-meaning, but largely unskilled local residents, the project will be contracted to a civil engineer. Still, the community is heavily invested.

Under the leadership of Fr. Joseph, the community is providing a great deal of physical labor and has begun to gather many raw materials, including sand, stones, wood, etc. Fr. Joseph has also begun to solicit donors, with the full support of the Order’s mother province in Padua, Italy. In addition, the St. Anthony Custody in Ghana has added their blessings to the project.

At its best, Asuley Bridge provides unsafe passage for weak and sick patients seeking medical care. You can assist the FMA in building a permanent, concrete bridge for the residents of Jema.

“The need for the bridge is urgent. If more reliable access to the hospital is not established, the hospital could be abandoned,” addd Fr. Blay. “This would adversely affect the health of the community, forcing locals to once again make the long journey to Eikwe (80km northwest) or Enchi (70km southwest), for the next nearest hospitals. In addition, drugs may be wasted or expired because of the low attendance, staff could leave the facility because of safety issues, and sanctioning by the Health Facility Regulatory Authority or accreditation by the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) could be threatened.”

The Friars have established five friaries in Ghana since first arriving in the seventies and healthcare has been a primary focus of their ministry. If you wish to support their efforts to build a sturdy, reliable and permanent Asuley Bridge, you may make a donation to the Franciscan Mission Association, which is raising funds for this project.

According to Fr. Joseph, one need look no further than the key word in the hospital’s name to understand the real driving force behind the work of the Friars and the ultimate success of this project.

“The name Nyameakola is a joined phrase of ‘Nyamea’ meaning God, and ‘kola’ meaning can or able. Joined together Nyameakola means God is able.”

The FMA was founded in 1924 and supports the Friars missionary work all across the globe. Currently, the Order of Friars Minor Conventual serves in more than 60 countries, including Africa, Asia, Latin America and the former Soviet Union. Click here to reach the FMA donation page. Your support is critically needed!

Pictured above: With Jema Nyameakola Hospital pictured in the background (top left), the Asuley Bridge is seen during one of its many repair projects. A permanent concrete bridge is necessary to provide safe and reliable access to JNH.

Gary AdornatoA bridge to health