From Darkness to Light: the Bongolo Eye Clinic

On February 18, 2020 the eye clinic moved into a brand new building. It was constructed over the last 4 years after getting the good news in December 2013 that American Schools and Hospitals Abroad (ASHA), a branch of USAID, would be providing a $600,000 grant toward its construction.

The eye clinic team in front of the new building. From left to right: Marie Claire Ndjimbou, Germaine Djimbou, Dr. Wendy Hofman, Mathieu Mondjo, Dr. Elisée Baruwa, Jean Paul Malola, Patrice Lola Inono, Marius Mavioga, Michel Moubele, Dr. Roger Muhemi, Oscar Boungouendgi, Paul M’bila Bouassa; not pictured: Jeannette Komba

63 year old grandmother Marie Jeanne Mangombi spent the last 5 years only able to discern vague shadows of light and dark through her one remaining eye, which was diseased by a cataract. A cataract is a clouding of the lens within the eye to varying degrees of severity. This condition caused Grandma Marie Jeanne to spend her days in relative darkness, alone in her daughter’s house, shooing her grandchildren away due to fear, anger, and increasing depression. Her daughter, Mbenga Madoungou, who brought her mother from the capital city of Libreville to the eye clinic, simply stated that if you want to get well, the place for life-changing healing and care is Bongolo: “That’s Bongolo,” she said with a smile.

Dr. Wendy Hofman with Marie Jeanne and Mbenga

The day after her surgery Marie Jeanne, Mbenga, and ophthalmology resident Dr. Roger Muhemi danced together with joy when the eye patch was removed and Grandma Marie Jeanne could see clearly for the first time in 5 years! From fear and darkness to dancing in the light, Marie Jeanne’s smile lit up the room! Dr. Wendy Hofman sat down with Marie Jeanne and her daughter to share with them the most profound truth that our savior Jesus Christ takes us from spiritual darkness to light, from death to life, for all eternity. Each patient is presented with the gospel and prayed over either by Papa Paul, the part-time chaplain and part-time receptionist for the eye clinic, or the other doctors and staff there.

Dr. Wendy Hofman examining Marie Jeanne
Dr. Roger with Marie Jeanne and Mbenga

The eye clinic performs about 650 surgeries per year. Eighty percent of those surgeries are for cataracts, which are all are done with intraocular lens implants. Many other surgeries are performed as well as regular eye exams, treatment of medical problems, and prescriptions for glasses.

Dr. Wendy training Dr. Roger in surgery

The Bongolo ophthalmology service was established in 1990 with help from the Christian Blind Mission (CBM). Many of the first surgeries were performed by Dr. David Thompson between the years of 1989 to 1999.

The original 2006 Eye Clinic
  • In 2006 a new building that was to become the permanent home for the eye clinic was constructed on the hospital campus.
  • A young Gabonese nurse, Henri Samoutou, was trained by CBM in Kinshasa, DRC to perform cataract surgeries. Samoutou directed the eye clinic from 2006 to 2008.
  • During that time visiting American ophthalmologists, Dr. Robert Trent and Dr. Christopher Lin, set up and equipped the new clinic alongside Samoutou. Dr. Trent and Dr. Lin continued to make biannual visits for years to support the eye clinic.
  • In June of 2009 Dr. Wendy Hofman, an American ophthalmologist, arrived and started a residency program to train African ophthalmologists.
  • The first graduate of the residency program in 2013, Dr. Elisee Baruwa from the Democratic Republic of Congo, performed Grandma Marie Jeanne’s cataract surgery.
  • Dr. Roger Muhemi, the third and current resident, was the one to examine and dance with Grandma Marie Jeanne the next day when the eye patch came off.
The staff of the Eye Clinic praying in the new building

Dr. Wendy worked with the design team of Engineering Ministries International (EMI), a local contractor Konate Bakari of Hame Sandira Construction, and many international volunteers. The project directors included Paul Davis, Arjo de Vroome, Wendy Hofman, and Pastor Serge Batouboko. The Gabonese Government provided $200,000 and about $50,000 was given by a grant through Samaritan’s Purse for medical equipment. An additional $200,000 is still needed to be raised to complete the funding for the building. Donations can be made to, select “International Worker/Special Project”, in the the box enter, “Bongolo Hospital Special Projects – Eye Clinic”.

Written by Alace Straw, Photography by Ulrich Ilema