“Why has God abandoned us?” .
This cry of desperation was heard from the Bangwa people who, because of a 98% infant mortality rate caused by sleeping sickness and other diseases, were heading for extinction. The Bangwa tribe is a small tribe of about 75000 people in the present South West Region of Cameroon amidst hills and valleys of the Lebialem division. They are known for their spirit of solidarity and togetherness. Seeing the danger of extinction, the Fon together with the chiefs and elders of the tribe, of whom majority were followers of the traditional religion met and came to this conclusion: “Perhaps we have behaved very badly and so God does not listen to us. They appealed to the local Catholic Bishop, Msgr. Peeters for the prayers of Christians to help them in their plight. When Msgr. Peeters went to Rome in Sept. 1962 for the Second Vatican Council, he met with Chiara Lubich, the founder of the Focolare Movement and shared to her the problem of the Bangwas requesting her to offer help.
Moved by that evangelical love of which she and her first friends had started living, Chiara decided to send immediately the first group of focolarini doctors and nurses who arrived Fontem in 1965 and started work at once putting up the first dispensary in a wooden hut. They started taking care of children and sick people with the resources that they had and living among the Bangwa in simple mud huts just like everyone else. There were so many patients who needed treatment and soon the wooden hut was far too small causing an urgent need to build a hospital which was then a real challenge. The present site of Mary Health of Africa Hospital was then chosen near the River Begeuh, where sand could collected from the river and hydroelectricity could be harnessed from the same river.
Within a few months after the arrival of the first focolarini in Fontem, Chiara came to visit in June 1966 establishing immediately a strong bond of understanding with the Fon and the population and also laying the foundation stone of the hospital.
She came back three years later as promised and together with Fon Defang Fontem she inaugurated the hospital which today serves as the regional reference center and has saved countless lives. She expresses her recognition of the values she has found in the Bangwa people: “never, in any other place, have I found such kindness, goodness, such profound human values, so much love and faith as here in Fontem.”
Other realities came about following the needs of the people and to facilitate the work the focolarini had started like Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College, the hydro-electric plant, carpentry, workshop, garage and nursery school.
The lives of the focolarini practically based on living the Gospel brought about a rapid spread of Christianity and led to the inauguration of the lively St. Clare’s Parish in 1975.