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Son follows father's selfless footsteps to Africa

By YUAN HUI in Hohhot and ZHANG XIAOMIN | China Daily | Updated: 2023-05-29 09:29
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Jia Jianhong talks to patients in a hospital in Rwanda on May 4. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Thirty years ago, 53-year-old Jia Cen was working as a pediatrician in Rwanda as part of a team sent by China on a two-year aid mission. Today, his son Jia Jianhong, 54, is working as a translator for the 23rd Chinese medical team dispatched to the African country.

Both father and son are from the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region People's Hospital.

"My father's experience made me yearn to get involved in foreign aid work," said Jia Jianhong, director of the hospital's international cooperation office, who arrived in Rwanda with 14 others last December on a one-year aid mission.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the dispatching of Chinese medical teams to foreign countries.

Over the years, Chinese doctors have treated patients, exchanged ideas with local doctors and shared their experience and technology across the vast African continent.

Back in 1991, Jia Cen was the hospital's deputy director of general pediatrics at a time when the autonomous region's health department was preparing to send the 6th national medical team to Rwanda.

"As a Party member, I felt I should respond to the call and help the African people. So I applied to join without hesitation," he recalled.

He arrived in Rwanda in April 1992.

Based in a hospital in Rwanda's Eastern province, which is about 160 kilometers from the capital, Kigali, they were faced with basic working conditions, scarce medical resources and a language barrier.

Although many of the details are now blurred in his memory, Jia Cen still remembers the first sentence he learned in the local language — asking patients if they had a cough.

For him, it is a source of pride to see his son follow in his footsteps and serve as a translator for the medical team, helping patients, local doctors and the medical team members communicate.

Since they arrived in Rwanda, Jia Jianhong and his colleagues have not only carried out routine diagnosis and treatment work, but have also spent time engaging with the people, including during Chinese Anesthesia Week, when they shared ideas and best practices for administering anesthesia and managing pain during surgical procedures with Rwandan doctors, and donated medical supplies.

"Team members paid to help some poor children go to school and bought them books and stationery," he said, adding that Rwanda has undergone remarkable changes since his father worked there.

"Many people can speak a few words of Chinese, and many wear T-shirts with Chinese characters."

From time to time, father and son talk via video call and discuss the changes in Rwanda.

When Jia Cen worked in Rwanda, it would take several months to receive a letter from China because of the lack of transportation and poor communication between local postal workers and the Chinese team members.

He still remembers returning to China through Tanzania in April 1994.

"In one Tanzanian village, people boiled hot water for us with a kerosene stove when they learned that we were a medical team from China," he recalled.

"We deeply felt their friendship. I think it is precisely because of the selfless assistance of our motherland to Africa that we were treated so warmly."

He said he has always told his son to take advantage of his expertise and serve as a bridge of friendship between the Chinese and African peoples.

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