By Sr. Prisca Ovat, MMM Kenya 12.06.2022
Everyone is born into a family, not by choice, but divine plan. Through the family unit, we learn to appreciate where we are, its goodness and complexities. Pope Francis published the encyclical – Amoris Laetitia, modelling the family after the Holy family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. In his exhortation, he said, “No family drops down from heaven perfectly formed; families constantly need to grow and mature in the ability to love.” Ethical and cultural values aimed at family togetherness and societal flourishment are essential for this growth process.
St. Mary’s Medical Centre was founded around the slums of Kapsoya in Eldoret, Kenya. One of its initial intents was to offer relief to orphans of deceased HIV parents through daily provisions of lunch and education. Out of the hundreds who have received support, two occasionally return to the facility to work, to give back – one as a medical doctor and the other as a medical student.
Widows/widowers, divorcees, and those who have never been married, but have children, are classified as single parents. However, the notion of a responsible family has been heavily shaped by societal and cultural biases and the stigmatization of single-parenthood. Again, the expectations differ with sex. While childbearing and good parenting are believed to be significantly the mother’s responsibility (often with greater expectations and criticisms), single fathers are celebrated as courageous or heroes for taking up this unusual responsibility. As in most African cultures, “if a child is bad, it belongs to the mother and the father, if good”.
Families’ inability to offer at least reasonably good experiences to their children arises from several factors. Poverty, for example, is one great reason for health inequalities and other societal bigotry. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 1, 3, 10, and 11, as declared by world leaders in 2016, hoped to eradicate poverty, improve health and wellbeing, sustain human settlements and reduce inequalities among countries. With six years gone, and as a MMM working in a slum, I can say from experience that reality worsens by the day. Therefore, parents are forced to take more than one job, rise very early while children are still in bed and return home late to find them asleep again. Single parents are often left with the option of having their children at the mercy of neighbours and nannies, who, in some cases, abuse them.
As Medical Missionaries of Mary, our forever gratitude goes to all our donors and benefactors who support our vision to improve the quality of life experienced by families. While we offer the minimum best available, every government owes its citizens the provision of quality of life.