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Issue No. 115, January 2012
Seventy-five Years on Mission
Seventy-five years ago, in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, it seemed that our Foundress, Mother Mary Martin, was on her deathbed. Bishop Joseph Moynagh, who received her religious vows, wrote:
"I [had] wired Miss Martin to come with her companions. After some months in Nigeria, the health of the foundress gave cause for great anxiety and it was during this illness that the letter came from the Sacred Congregation of Propaganda Fide authorising me to erect the Congregation of Medical Missionaries of Mary. She made her religious profession on April 4th, 1937. Afterwards, owing to her still delicate state of health, it was advisable that she should return to Ireland leaving her two companions to make their novitiate in Nigeria. From the human point of view the whole future of the new Congregation seemed precarious in the extreme. The Mother Foundress was on her way to Ireland extremely ill. There were but two Sisters on the Missions - novices. There was no support financial or otherwise and the new Congregation was unknown in Ireland. To us who saw Mother Mary on to the boat, her going seemed to be the end of any hope for the new venture. Indeed it seemed doubtful if she could reach Ireland alive."
What a lesson in our success-oriented society! This charismatic woman met with failure many times in searching for her mission in life. Although the Congregation was now founded, which was the first major step in her dream of bringing health care and the healing love of Christ to thousands, it seemed that there was little hope of it reaching fruition.
Nevertheless, as Bishop Moynagh continued with a well-known quote of hers: 'If God wants the work, God will show a way'. "That was Mother Mary's attitude", he said. "And she left Nigeria not at all perturbed by the course of events."
In recent days, there are reports of very worrying violence in Nigeria. We pray for the people affected, and all those in situations of violence in our broken and troubled world. Our Congregational Leader, Sister Siobhan, in her New Year message, draws our attention to the ways in which we are called to bring peace wherever we are.
As we begin this Jubilee Year, news reaches us that two of our Sisters from England, Sister Brigid Corrigan and Sister Helen Spragg, have been included in the Queen's New Year's Honours List. Each will receive an MBE at an Investiture later this year. We rejoice with them and their families and we thank God for the countless blessings we have received over the last 75 years.
This brings you our prayers and very best wishes for health and peace in 2012 and our thanks for your support.
RWANDA: INTEGRATED APPROACH IN RURAL HEALTH CARE
Pierre is ten months old, the youngest of eleven children. He lives in Cyahafi, Rwanda, with his mother, brothers and sisters. Unfortunately, his father often has to work away from home.
Little Pierre had been sick for months. His mother felt desperate when he didn't improve at home. She resorted to a traditional healer. While some local healers can have effective remedies, this one used a hot metal rod over the child's body. The baby was in the traditional clinic for three months, during which time his health deteriorated further.
News of Pierre's situation reached one of our community health workers at Cyahafi Health Outpost. She immediately informed the outreach staff who did home care visits in the area and asked them to visit the family. The social worker and nurses on duty that day went out quickly to the home. They found a mother who was ashamed to take her child to the Health Center. She was afraid that she would be blamed for his terrible condition.
Our community in Rwanda comprises four Sisters who are missionaries from Uganda, Tanzania and Nigeria. Together with their co-workers at Kirambi, they have wide experience of this rural community. They know that a situation like this needs an integrated approach involving counsellors, medical staff, and community health workers, as well as outreach staff. It means working with the family to bring about a positive outcome. It requires much time in the beginning to ensure a good long-term solution.
In counselling the mother, the staff reassured her, letting her know that she had done the best she could in her situation. At the same time, the very sick little boy needed urgent treatment. Sister Goretti (pictured below with Pierre) takes up the story:
"That evening the mother and child arrived at our Health Center with the Cyahafi outreach staff. The child was very dehydrated and severely malnourished. He had marks all over his body and was generally unwell. We discovered that he had suffered from breathing problems since birth. That was the cause of his mother's anxiety about him.
"We fed and washed him, and dressed him in new clothes. The following day we transferred him to Nyanza Hospital. Later he was sent to the University Hospital at Butare. We visit him regularly there and get updates on his condition, which is now improving."
KENYA: COUNTERING HUMAN TRAFFICKING
Sister Mary O'Malley, based in Nairobi, has recently been in the port of Mombasa, trying to get awareness of human trafficking off the ground. Early in the New Year she and her team will provide workshops there for Training of Trainers. She tells us:
"Mombasa is a hub for the trafficking of people. Traffickers are at work in all four of Kenya's coastal districts, from the border with Tanzania to Lamu on the North Coast."
While she was making arrangements in Mombasa, her colleague, Radek Malinowski, was giving input at the second Nairobi Counter Human Trafficking Symposium for faith-based and grassroots organizations. This brought together 57 organizations from East African countries.
The Symposium acknowledged the growing awareness in the international community about the gravity of the problem of human trafficking. Today, this is one of the most pressing human rights problems. It stressed the urgent need for sustained and concerted action at national, regional, and international levels to prevent, monitor and combat human trafficking.
It also emphasized that human beings are made in the image of God. Immoral acts affecting human dignity affect society negatively. This is an issue that needs reflection in faith communities, society, governments, and the media.
Sister Mary (right) and the volunteers and youth workers in her team know a lot about the major factors fuelling this most cruel trade. These include poverty, ignorance, illiteracy, unemployment, porous borders, widespread corruption, gender discrimination, and deteriorating economic conditions.
They believe that legislation and law enforcement alone cannot provide sufficient prevention. Factors inherent within the patriarchal culture that promote oppression of one gender need to be addressed.
There is a great need for awareness programs on human trafficking, such as those that Mary and her team are organizing. Indeed, these should be intensified to expose the dangers of human trafficking and improve knowledge of anti-trafficking laws.
Protection of the human rights of survivors, and not only crime prevention, must be of paramount consideration.
For many years, the issue of human trafficking has been a priority for MMM. Our Constitutions urge us to be involved where 'the need for true human development is great and the people are awaiting the liberating and healing power of the gospel.'
Other news just reaching us is that a radio Documentary on the Turkana Desert, including interviews with Sisters Andrea Kelly and Bernadette Gilsenan who pioneered our work there in 1962, goes out on RTE radio on January 2 at 18h. A podcast can be downloaded here.
WELLNESS EDUCATION,TRAUMA HEALING and TRANSFORMATION
MMM doctor Sister Genevieve van Waesberghe, is an International Capacitar Trainer for Africa (www.capacitar.org) She has recently been conducting workshops in Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania. The New Year will bring her to the Democratic Republic of Congo to work with partners of human rights organizations. She will also collaborate with the group 'Solidarity with South Sudan' in the 'Building Peace Project' in the dioceses of Malakal and Wau.
This extract from her account of recent travels in Uganda gives us an idea of the needs:
"Near Jinja, we completed the second of three training modules in Multi-cultural Wellness Education. Participants included psychologists, counsellors, teachers, peace activists, and four youth leaders from Gulu in the north of the country, where people have been affected by the activities of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). Last year, they were among 75 young people who attended a Capacitar workshop. Among the group were 15 young people who had been abducted by the LRA and later escaped. During the evaluation, one of the youth leaders said: 'Capacitar has given me the courage to live'.
"Moving on to Jinja and then to Kampala, there were two further basic workshops for a total of sixty religious women and men and priests on sabbatical studies. Among them were seven Sisters from Eritrea. We taught them simple practices for self-care and how to manage their emotions and deal with stressful situations.
"Afterwards I went by bus from Kampala to Adjumani, a town near the border with South Sudan. There I worked with seventeen primary school teachers. They were still traumatised by LRA incursions. Some children had been abducted from the school. Some teachers were from Sudan. On the last day it was wonderful to hear from them that for the past two nights they had slept well, 'without nightmares'. For one of them, it was the first time in years that he was able to sleep without having a light on all night. They spoke openly about their trauma because 'now we know what we can do to heal ourselves, to manage our fears, and we can help our families and our communities.' They felt empowered and filled with hope.
"That day, I met a big challenge! The Head Teacher told me she had promised all the children they would also have a session! There were over 800 children. I got the teachers to put into practice what they had just learnt. They were great. We worked with groups of about 80 children for 30 minutes. The children were so keen. This picture shows an exercise where they learned to let violence go and reach for peace. I know the practices will be integrated in the daily routine of the school to help children to focus, to heal themselves from trauma, and learn to live in non-violent ways."
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