Seed for sowing
Sister Perpetua Ndahetekela, from Angola, wrote about what has inspired her in living out our healing charism. ‘I joined MMM because I saw the work the Sisters did in Chiulo, Angola, when I was doing my nurse training. I heard how Sister Brigid Archbold went by bicycle to bring medicines from Cuamato to Chiulo during the war, crossing the Cunene River to get there. I felt that their work with the sick and poor was my calling as well.
‘I now live in Ngaramtoni, Tanzania. About sixty kilometres away is the village of Engurtukoiti, on the side of Mount Meru, in Mulukat Division. Many Maasai people have lived with their cattle on the outskirts of Engurtukoiti for centuries. They are literally ‘on the margins’.
‘When MMM did HIV prevention in the area we became aware that the people lacked maternal and child health services. In 2014, MMM asked Eamonn Brehony, AMMM, and Sister Saratu Benjamin to do a needs assessment in Mukulat Division. The local Catholic parish priest said, “People are generally poor, especially in remote areas. Women are very disadvantaged. Elders say that women are children and their job is to do as they are told.” The assessment confirmed that many villages had not been reached by government services.
‘In January 2015 I was honoured to be asked to begin an outreach service. The village leaders met with MMM and the matron of Oltrumet Hospital, the local government hospital, to decide which villages were in most need. I now work in twelve villages, offering monthly mother and child preventive health care. In a positive show of support many village leaders still attend when the clinic is in their village.
‘MMM has an agreement for the programme with Arusha Rural District. Oltrumet Hospital provides vaccines and sometimes gives a midwife who conducts the clinic with our driver, Msangi, and me. One midwife in particular, Kiboko, is a joy to work with because he has the women’s health at heart. He gives a great example to his co-workers.
‘I start each visit by giving a health talk. After we register the babies, weigh and vaccinate them, we register the expectant mothers. I examine them, offer advice and give vaccinations.’
The seed has begun to grow.
‘In six months, BCG vaccination coverage has increased from 1% to 93% in Mulukat Division. The women are prepared to walk six to eight kilometres with their babies, saying they appreciate the respect the team gives them.
‘One day a mother came to the clinic. This was her sixth pregnancy. I asked which clinic she usually attended. Shyly she said this was her first time to attend any clinic. Neither she nor any of her five children had ever received preventive health care. I thanked God that our MMM charism had reached this woman. I invited her to bring her children for vaccination. She was grateful to know that someone cared enough about her and her family to come to her village. It reminded me of a woman in the Gospel who went to share what she had with another expectant mother in need.
‘We now see the need to expand the programme and make it more holistic, including e.g., health and social education to encourage attitude change.’