Doctor Albert Schweitzer’s continuous strife for his hospital in Lambarènè

William Moffitt Harris – Part 11


In early June 1932 Schweitzer spent several weeks in Scotland and England where he preached, mended and played organs and gave many recitals. During this voyage he was awarded four honorary degrees: at Oxford (Divinity), at Edinburgh (Divinity and Music, granted “in absentia” the year before) and at St. Andrews (Laws). At St. Andrews he was asked to “stand” for the rectorship to succeed General Smuts but turned the offer down saying that his knowledge of English was not sufficient. In Glascow, where Livingstone received his medical degree, a civic banquet was given in his honor.

In 1937 Dr Schweitzer discovered a fresh water spring near the hospital and built a deep well with the help of part of his staff. The first few meters were lined with solid specially  baked white bricks which he laid himself in spite of his age and poor health. On a festive inauguration day he named the well Miss Dorothy Mannering who had been honorary secretary to the beneficent foundation Dr. Maude Royden‘s Guildhouse Fellowship in London, one of the most outstanding sponsors of the hospital at Lambarènè.

A year later, to celebrate the hospital’s silver jubilee, the better off inhabitants of the Ogooué region presented Dr Schweitzer with ninety thousand French francs destined for the acquisition of an X-Ray apparatus. With his extraordinary premonition and foreseeing hard times ahead in the coming years he managed to convince the Community and obtained their consent to spend the money in buying some very important medicines, bandages, disinfectants, instruments and materials for the operating rooms. During the War his decisions proved to be correct. He was lucky enough to have everything delivered just before the War exploded mid 1939. He himself was back in Lambarènè that year in March.

In 1952 the 77 year old doctor received the Nobel Prize award for his advocacy of the brotherhood of nations. In1953 he was bestowed with the “Wellcome” prize by the Royal African Society receiving a good amount in cash which he entirely employed in the construction of the Leper Village.  A couple of years later while on a visit on business in London he was invested by Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace with the ”Order of Merit” given for conspicuous service.

In forty years of intense activity the hospital grew considerably. Over the years the tide rolled on and Schweitzer’s dream was forever expanding. By 1963 there were three hundred and fifty patients and their relatives there interned and a hundred and fifty in the building alongside reserved for lepers. It was staffed by three unpaid volunteer white doctors, seven nurses and fifteen volunteer helpers. Hard labor, as floor and clothes washing, kitchen cooking and cleansing duties were undertaken by local village workers who were never recognized as belonging to the official staff. Most of the time Schweitzer did not even want to remember their names as to him they all looked alike and were always substituting each other in their daily tasks. He used to call them “my children”. The latter were always mumbling over their low salaries and squabbling with each other, but worked hard and when properly supervised did their jobs well enough to satisfy the doctors.

In 1963, the fanatic Islamic Hausas and Ioruba natives from the North and Northwest enhanced by false pretensions and fake news of a nationalistic movement involving Gabon, Cameroon, Benin and other populated areas of Northern-Central Africa, from distant villages, swarmed over Lambarènè and other Christian missions. There they eliminated people taken for being spies or allies of foreign governments, killing many of them, besides many of the patients at the hospital compound. They destroyed precious antiques, any sort of reproduction of living beings, they being human or animal, photographs, drawings and paintings besides books with illustrations of people, animals or statues.