Gaspard Maphamuka Nzita was just 13, living in a poor area of what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, when his sister died. Lacking the proper medical equipment, the clinic couldn’t help much. So Gaspard watched as his sister slipped away. Her death seemed senseless to the young teen, and angered him.
“Maybe you will build a hospital some day,” his mother told him, in the way a parent tells a child to work hard if he wants to be a professional football player or rock star. But the words stuck with him — words that defined his destiny.
Thanks to Gaspard’s compassion and hard work, the first phase of a medical facility is nearly complete in the poorest community in Boma, a spot that an ex-bishop once named Bu Lumbengi. Translation? “Because you don’t like me.”
Often when big projects of this kind take place in parts of the world unfamiliar to Americans, the villagers are not required to help; money is collected and sent to those communities. And while that certainly is fine and honorable, people are more likely to step up when asked to take ownership in efforts that will improve their lives. And that’s precisely what is happening in Boma.
Gaspard, 43, with the help of retired Father Joseph Kraker of Akron’s St. Vincent Church, came up with a plan to help poor farmers while funding the facility. Because they are unable to transport their goods to urban markets, farmers near Bu Lumbengi use only about a tenth of their land. Local traders are generally greedy and pay the farmers low prices. And because the farmers have little bargaining power with the traders, they accept almost any price for their goods — keeping their families living in poverty that we can only imagine.
Father Kraker commends Gaspard for being creative in helping his countrymen. He has done many things for them, but we will get to that later.
“We bought a truck,” explained Father Kraker. “It was originally purchased to transport bricks, but then we got this idea to transport food.”
And that’s how the St. Vincent Trucking Co. (the name of which makes Father Kraker giggle) was born.
The idea is to drive the truck from Boma to Kinshasa, a city 500 miles away with a population of about 11 million. There, the farmers’ goods are in high demand. Along the way, the driver makes stops, picking up produce and paying farmers fair market value.
The business plan, prepared by a financial guru in this country, estimated that the trucking company will make two trips and clear $2,000 a week in U.S. dollars. The idea, if they can raise the money, is to have a total of five used trucks, generating $10,000 a week.
“That money will be used to pay for building and the operating costs at the hospital,” Gaspard explained.
The cost of the first phase of the hospital is about $56,000. It is more like a clinic with an emergency room and pharmacy. The second phase, projected to cost around $49,000, will include private patient rooms. The final step is expected to cost about $52,000 and include pediatric care and 350 patient rooms or wards.
U.S. money goes a long way in Boma, where people, desperate for health care, volunteer to make bricks and work as laborers.
“The trucking company will sustain the whole program, as well as sustain the community,” said Gaspard.
“Everybody wins,” added Father Kraker.
More ways to help
Gaspard, who is married with two small children and living in an apartment in Green, came to the U.S. when he was just 17. He has used much of his modest salary as a nurse’s aide at Pebble Creek Nursing Home to help those in his native land.
“He is a very humble, giving man, who would give you the shirt off his back, and then ask you if you want the pants, too,” said Maria-Elena Mollis, a patient of Gaspard’s.
Today, eight of his 10 siblings are living, including Dr. Stephen Nzita, who earned a college education in the U.S., thanks to a scholarship. Using money he made working at Nabisco, with help from Gaspard, St. Vincent-St. Mary High School, the Western Reserve Academy and Green schools, the brothers founded the International Christian University of Congo in Kinshasa, where students receive medical training.
Among other efforts, they started an orphanage in Kinshasa, a city where 50,000 children live on the street. They raised money for a program that gave piglets to families in the Congo so villagers would have food. And they established a network to pray for an end to the civil war that has taken the lives of 6 million.
To help with the prayers for peace, the Queen of Heaven Catholic Church in Green gave thousands of rosaries to Gaspard. They were distributed to those living in the Congo.
For me, it’s such an honor to meet someone like Gaspard and hear about all that he has done. And I don’t know about you, but it makes me look at my life and wonder what more I can do.
Currently, Gaspard and Father Kraker are looking for ways to fund four more vehicles for the trucking company. If you have an idea, please email email@example.com with “Congo” in the subject line.