Karla Schefter – Germany

Linked with Afghan Links, and with Pictures from Afghanistan.

She is She is one of the 1000 women proposed for the Nobel Peace Price 2005.

She says: “”Over every mountain there is a path”.

See: the Newsletter of the World Federation of Public Health Associations WFPHA, report winter 2007.

Karla Schefter - Germany one redim 50p.jpg

Karla Schefter – Germany

She works for Chak-e-Wardak-Hospital, the Committee for the Promotion of Medical and Humanitarian Aid to Afghanistan.

“Over every mountain there is a path”. Is there a better way to describe Karla Schefter’s humanitarian work in Afghanistan than to quote this Afghan proverb. She faced countless mountains, and still managed to find a path over every one. With her unusual courage, enormous stamina, and seemingly inexhaustible perseverance as well as great personal sacrifice, she created her lifework, the Chak-e-Wardak-Hospital in Afghanistan. For the past 15 years, she has managed this hospital, which has provided thousands of people, especially women and children, with desperately needed medical care.

The story begins when Karla Schefter worked in Afghanistan as a surgical nurse in a team from Germany some 20 years ago. The misery she saw left her no peace. After returning to Germany, she devised a plan to open a hospital in the country’s rural area. With untiring persistence, she collected donations for the project, personally took the money to Afghanistan and began to build a medical unit in the western Wardak province.

From these modest beginnings and after many setbacks, a hospital emerged that cares for some 4200 patients every month, 70 percent of them women and children. Often accompanied by their relatives, people come from far away to seek medical care, and all are given accommodation. In return, the relatives are asked to offer some form of help, whether working in the kitchen or the gardens or assisting in keeping the facilities clean.

The hospital delivers babies, treats internal diseases, performs surgery, organizes vaccine campaigns and provides dental and optical services. Teams of physicians travel to Wardak to offer temporary help by conducting examinations or performing surgery. Another focus of the work is training local personnel, especially women, as nurses, traditional birth attendants (TBAs), and physiotherapists. Upon completion of their education, these people either stay on in the hospital or work with other organizations, such as the World Health Organization (WHO).

Over the years the hospital has been expanded. In addition to consulting rooms, wards, accommodations for accompanying relatives and the maintenance facilities, a small village with ten housing units for personnel has been constructed. Luckily, water is available in sufficient amounts, but diesel generators provide only makeshift supplies of electricity for operations and x-rays.

The loss of trained personnel who would prefer to work in Kabul is a major problem. The hospital tries to defend itself from raids with the help of fences, unfortunately, not always with success. In a time period of 16 years, Karla Schefter saw six government changes, every one with heavy fighting.

Twenty-five years of war completely destroyed the infrastructure of the country’s health and educational system.

During the six years of Taliban rule, female education was forbidden.

Karla Schefter’s work is highly regarded in Afghanistan and the rest of the world. In 1993, she received Germany’s Federal Service Cross and, in 2001, the Human Rights and Nursing Award as well as the Bambi award. She was awarded the ‘Eisernen Reinoldus’ of Dortmund in 2002. In 2004, she received Germany’s Federal Service Cross First Class.

These honors show that Karla Schefter’s commitment to helping the needy in Afghanistan’s mountainous areas is recognized and respected. No setback, whether it be fighting in the vicinity of her hospital, difficulties with supplies, illness or personal persecution could halt this admirable woman from pursuing her goal: to secure humane medical care in a remote region of this country still rife with suffering. (1000PeaceWomen).

The hospital is equipped with two operation theatres, an x-ray station, ECG and ultrasound facilities and a physiotherapy centre. It runs its own kitchen, bakery and laundry and is equipped with three diesel generators. Attached to it is a training centre for women and a small settlement of houses for the staff members and workforce. All this is financed by private donations. During nine months of the year Karla Schefter personally sees to it that donations are properly invested. The hospital did not suffer any damage during the war against terrorism and continues to function unimpeded. (full text).

… wie in Afghanistan, sagt Karla Schefter. Seit zwölf Jahren leitet die Deutsche ein Krankenhaus bei Kabul, als Frau in einem Männerland. Ob unter den Taliban oder einem anderen Regime — sie bleibt … Es war heiß an dem Tag, an dem Karla Schefter bereit war zu sterben. Juni in Afghanistan. Die Malaria schüttelte sie in Fieberkrämpfen, die Amöbenruhr wütete in ihr. Karla Schefter legte sich auf ihrem Matratzenlager zurecht, knöpfte den hellen Baumwollanzug bis oben hin zu und strich den Kragen glatt – ihre männlichen Kollegen sollten sich nicht ihres Anblickes schämen, wenn sie sie fänden. Es wäre ein guter Tod gewesen, sagt sie heute. Aber plötzlich war da dieser Gedanke: Ich habe den Iran noch nicht gesehen. Karla Schefter hatte noch etwas zu erledigen. Und sie hasst Unerledigtes. Also verschob sie das Sterben auf später. (full text).

Manchmal muss Karla Schefter gar nicht lange nachdenken, bevor sie das Richtige tut: Als vor dem Hospital Chak-e-Wardak in den afghanischen Bergen eine Meute junger Taliban mit Steinen auf einen der Krankenpfleger losging, rannte sie nach drassen und warf sich schimpfend dazwischen. Verdutzt zogen die fanatisierten Koranschüler ab, doch die Deutsche gab sich damit noch nicht zufrieden. Sie schloss das Krankenhaus drei Tage lang, bis die örtlichen Kommandanten bereit waren, in Zukunft für Sicherheit von Personal und medizinischem Betrieb zu garantieren. Sogar ein weiteres Kunstststücl brachte sie fertig: Die Taliban-Machthaber in Chak akzeptieren mittlerweile, dass sie Karla Schefters Krankenhaus nicht bewaffnet betreten dürfen. (full text).


Human Rights and Nursing Awards;

Das Chak-e-Wardak Hospital in Afghanistan, wo Hilfe unbezahlbar ist – aber dennoch finanzierbar;

Essentials of Teaching and Learning in Nursing Ethics;

Nursing Ethics Online;


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