Ever since the Christian Brothers have had a novitiate in Tamale, novices have been inspired and challenged by their experiences as volunteers at Shekhinah Clinic and the Shekhinah Feeding Programme. The Clinic and its founder, Dr. David Abdulai, are household names in Tamale. They provide medical and feeding assistance to the poorest of the poor for absolutely no charge. Their vision statement, proudly written up over the verandah of the Outpatients building, proclaims: Services in the clinic and feeding programme are aimed primarily at the poor and destitute, purely for love of God and neighbour and are absolutely free. They depend unconditionally on Divine providence.
Dr Abdulai (centre, with his wife Miriam) receiving the Martin Luther King Jr. Award (for his contributions to peace and justice) earlier this year from the American Ambassader to Ghana.
It is now 20 years since Dr. Abdulai carried out surgery on a woman under the mango tree near to where the Outpatients building now stands. At that time, Dr. David knew that he wanted to serve the poor, but had no facilities. He recalls how he was aware that the situation for the woman was desperate, and that he was taking a risk, but he put himself in God’s hands and went ahead. The operation was a success and the woman recovered.
From that dramatic beginning, the Shekhinah project has taken root, with the main clinic comprising an Outpatients department, facilities for surgery and limited inpatient care, a pharmacy, and accommodation for those in need. These include people living with AIDS (for whom here is a hospice) and mentally and physically challenged people who have been abandoned by their families and don’t have anywhere else to go or call home. Shekhinah has expanded to include a mobile feeding programme and another clinic at Wamale, just beyond the eastern fringe of Tamale.
Many of the people served, especially by the feeding programme, are destitute and some have mental illnesses (in many cases the result of untreated cerebral malaria). Prisoners in Tamale Central Prison and patients abandoned by their relatives in other hospitals in town are also provided with a solid meal every day. During the years it has been running, the feeding programme has not missed a single day in its service of the destitute, prisoners and the abandoned.
Doctor Abdulai saw the need of the local people who were suffering due to lack of access to healthcare because they could not afford to pay. As someone who grew up in abject poverty, he had not forgotten his own experiences and has a deep compassion for the poor. All his siblings died at young age due to sickness, lack of access to medical facilities and malnutrition. His mother was a beggar and his father a leper. He was helped to grow and acquire an education by priests and well-wishers until he joined university and sought help from the government.
Novices Romano (left) from Kenya, and Hazeley (right) from Sierra Leone, at work in the Shekhinah pharmacy, preparing drugs for distribution.
A convert to Catholic Christianity, he has a deep faith in God’s unconditional love for all and in God’s providential care, especially for Shekhinah. He recounts with a wry smile that he has only applied for grants twice in the 20 years of Shekhinah’s history, and failed both times! Shekhinah depends completely on donations, which support not just the clinics and feeding programme, but also the team of volunteers who staff the project (there are no salaried employees, only volunteers!).
Dr. Abdulai is grateful for the assistance he received in getting started from the Congregation of Missionaries of Africa and the Congregation of St. Gildas Sisters (UK), and for the financial support Shekhinah continues to receive from a network of donors across the world.
Dr. David is a charismatic person, in the fullest sense of that much-abused word. The fruits of the Spirit are seen in his dedication to and love of the poor, his easy, warm manner with all, his simplicity and his ready smile. David Abdulai’s faith and commitment have much to teach us who aspire to follow Jesus in the footsteps of Edmund Rice. He is truly an inspiring and challenging person, a living saint.