The United Church of Zambia Mwandi Mission Hospital is located in the village of Mwandi, midway between Livingstone and Sesheke, in the southwest corner of Zambia. The environment is harsh lying on the edge of the Kalihari Desert. Mwandi would indeed be a desert if not for the Zambezi River. As it is, the Lozi people, who are the primary inhabitants of Zambia’s Western Province, have to deal with severe drought or flooding on a regular basis. Lozi villagers are subsistence fishermen and farmers, growing maize as their primary crop. Wealthier Lozi raise cattle, goats, pigs, and chickens. The average daily income in the area is less than $1.00/day. Most of the almost 8,000 Mwandi villagers live in thatched roofed, one-room mud houses with no electricity or plumbing. They travel from one place to another by walking, by riding bikes, or by oxcart. Other rural less developed villages are scattered in the catchment area of the hospital. Approximately 25,000 people live in that catchment area. Travel from village to village takes many hours and sometimes days when walking or riding a bike. Even by vehicle, it can take 4-5 hours to drive along sandy, bumpy roads to reach the furthest Rural Health Center.
By all standards, entering Western Province, Zambia is like stepping back in time. However, in the last several years, aspects of 21st century modern life have arrived in the land of the Lozi. A newly paved highway from Livingstone brings taxis and busses into the village. A cell phone tower has propelled communication from discussions around the village cooking fires, at church and in the market to text messaging between villages. Satellite dishes powered by solar panels can be found on the sides of mud houses owned by a few of the village’s wealthier inhabitants, such as traditional healers. While technological and transportation advances have brought prosperity and interconnectedness, they have also increased the spread of HIV/AIDS.