After years of planning the day finally arrived. The Shoshong pilot project opened its doors
today, Wednesday, August 22nd. After all the planning, meetings, discussions and
preparation, it is very exciting to see the doors open for the first time, a milestone in the future
of spine care in the developing world.
The site preparations had begun in June, with some hard labor from Doug Brandvold and
Grant Winter who helped clear all the garbage and level out the future site for the clinic. The
contract for construction of the portacabin was won by Team engineering in Gaborone, who
did a fantastic job building to our exact specifications. Unfortunately miscommunication led to
Site preparation with Dr. Doug Brandvold and Dr. Grant Winter
Team delivering the portacabin with no intentions of hooking it up to services – power and
water. The day they were to finish (2 days before we were to open) I had to convince them to
hook up the power, and I had to run and scrounge armoured cable from a Mosque
construction site in Mahalapye. Back at the site Dr. Becky Carpenter and I began to help dig
a trench for the power cable but were brought to a halt when we hit a water pipe (there are no
warnings or drawings to indicate the location of water pipes). After sealing the leak and
calling water utilities to come and turn off the water, another worker managed to hit the main
water pipe to the entire clinic facility. Although this caused a considerable flood, the strike
managed to hit the pipe exactly at the main water shut off valve that the water utilities had not
been able to find after 3 months of looking. Eventually it was all repaired, but a 2-hour
electrical hook up kept everyone at the site for an entire day. That was Monday.
Tuesday morning we went to the village Kgotla – the main meeting place for the village, where
we were on the agenda to speak along with the chief and a local MP. We sat through long
speeches in Setswana until it was my turn to introduce WSC to the village. My words were
met with great enthusiasm, but we could not stay to chat as we had to gather and move all
the furniture and supplies that had been collected over the past several months in anticipation
of the opening. Again, through miscommunication, some of the furniture that was ordered
through Mahalapye Hospital had not arrived (in fact it had not even been ordered) so we
instead took our camping tables and furniture for something to work on.
By the end of the day, we had brought most of the equipment to the clinic, and had a final
load of furniture in the trailer ready to go for the drive to the clinic the following morning.
We arrived at the clinic Wednesday morning with our translator Temo who has been working
with us at the Mahalapye clinic since January and is familiar with our protocols and forms.
We have been very lucky to have someone who is so competent, hard working and
Within 10 minutes of arriving villagers started to crowd around the front of the clinic. As I
unloaded furniture and set up the clinic Becky began to book patients and Temo began to
interview. By the time the first patient was ready for an exam, 29 new patients had been
booked, we had run out of intake forms and had to tell the rest to come back Friday to book.
We saw 7 new patients on the first day while also trying to get everything working and set up
properly. We still have a lot of little problems to resolve but enough is together to run the
clinic as we slowly fine-tune and decorate.
One of Becky’s first patients presented with a specific set of signs and symptoms. The patient
was happy to learn that a diagnosis of menopause was completely normal and timely for a
woman her age and was eager to learn more about it – something we take for granted as
general knowledge made for a big relief in this woman’s day.
We have also recruited a spinal cord injury patient to start an exercise program for others in
wheelchairs that will be run twice weekly, the days when the clinic is open. The program will
be run in the property beside the clinic with exercise equipment that I brought from Canada.
The pace and environment in Shoshong is peaceful, the people are warm and quick to smile
and laugh. If the first day is any indication, this will be a productive and pleasant site for the
future of the clinical, research and education programs that WSC is developing.
Thanks to everyone who helped move this project forward, in particular the volunteers who
have come to Botswana to help on the ground – Sarah Potthoff, Doug Brandvold, Grant
Winter and Becky Carpenter.