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Issue No. 126, December 2012
Together on a healing mission
For many of us, December is the month in which we celebrate Christmas, the birth of Jesus, God with us. (Many other Christians, especially in the Oriental Church, mark this feast in January.) It is a time when we especially remember our friends and supporters who have helped us to bring healing and hope to so many.
In this last month of the year it seems appropriate to highlight the MMM core value of a willingness to serve the common mission. Our documents say: "This is an attitude of open mind, open heart, and open will, which cultivates availability and a shared sense of mission. Medical Missionaries of Mary 'reflect on the signs of the times...respond to God with creative fidelity [and are] ready to walk in paths that are new.'" This is a value that influences our discipleship.
This newsletter features various ways in which we share Christ's healing mission with others. Sister Irene Balzan's diary shows the excitement of the three MMMs in orientation for their first visit to the Republic of South Sudan. Sister Martine Makanga presented the keynote address at the University of Limerick during the Chaplaincy's Social Justice Week in October. She presents some of the challenges and concerns of medical missionaries in Africa. We tell you about another of our generous supporters, HOPe, based in New York, that work with the MMM team in Choloma, Honduras, sending much-needed assistance to Casa Visitación.
At Christmas we are grateful for the birth of a child. The care of mother and child is of special concern for us, but unfortunately it is still not a priority for governments and global decision-makers. Sister Martine made this all too clear in her presentation. In her article you will read about the reality for many women and children in Africa, and indeed in many other places. She showed some of the data gathered by the World Health Organization (WHO) that are indicators for global standards of health.
For example, the under-five mortality rate in sub-Saharan Africa is 148/1000 live-births (estimated by World Vision to be 4.5 million children in 2007). The maternal mortality rate in sub-Saharan Africa is 500/100,000 live-births (2010).
Contributing to these figures is the situation of too many women and children who are refugees. The number of refugees of concern to UNHCR was 10.5 million at the beginning of 2011. About two-thirds of the world's forcibly uprooted people are displaced within their own country and are known as internally displaced people (IDP). Like refugees, they were displaced by conflict, generalized violence, and human rights violations. There were an estimated 27.5 million IDPs globally in 2010. Africa was the most affected continent, with 11.1 million IDPs in 21 countries.*
From these numbers it is obvious that hundreds of thousands of women must give birth without proper care, unattended, in refugee conditions, and that too many children spend their early years in unstable, at-risk situations.
As we remember a mother and the birth of a divine child, also displaced and later refugees, that first Christmas night, may we be inspired to make a better world for mothers and their children today.
Thank you so much again for working with us to bring about the reign of God for which Jesus prayed. May you be truly blessed.
Sister Carol Breslin, MMM
* Source: UNHCR and the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre [Also at the beginning of 2011, a further 4.8 million registered refugees were being looked after in about 60 camps in the Middle East by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.]
Listening to common voices
Sister Doctor Martine Makanga, MMM, chose 'Medical Voices from the Developing World' as the topic for her keynote address during the Chaplaincy's Social Justice Week at the University of Limerick (UL) in October. A paediatric surgeon, she consulted other MMM doctors in Africa for her challenging presentation.
Sister Martine focused on the reality of health today, especially in Africa. She showed data from the World Health Organization (WHO) that are indicators for health standards. The under-five mortality ratio in sub-Saharan Africa is 148/1000 live-births, compared to 4/1000 in Ireland. It was 8/1000 in the USA in 2009. Of the world's total of child deaths, 51% are in Africa.
Another important indicator is the maternal mortality ratio. In sub-Saharan Africa, it is 500/100,000 live-births (2010), compared to 3/100,000 in Ireland. It was 24/100,000 in the USA in 2008. The staggering fact is that in sub-Saharan Africa, 162,000 women die during pregnancy, labour, or from delivery-related complications each year.
Seventy-five years ago Marie Martin founded the Medical Missionaries of Mary, with a special concern for mother and child. How relevant that vision still is today!
Martine spoke of challenges in our MMM healing ministry. We often work in conflict situations. It is difficult to provide even basic health services when confronted with the need for emergency relief for internally displaced persons and refugees. Civilian populations are victims of violence and the effects of trauma can be overlooked.
Cultural factors affect us. Some medical interventions may not be acceptable, e.g. caesarean sections. In many African families, decisions (including medical ones) are taken by the male head of the family. Women often need a male relative's permission to go for treatment. As a result, women and children often present late at health facilities - sometimes too late to be helped.
We are sent to share the life of people in other cultures and face language challenges. We learn to multitask, taking care of administration and advocacy, buying drugs and equipment. Modern technology is often lacking, so we make do with very little and rely on clinical acumen. We are faced with personnel shortages and fake drugs and reagents.
Missionary health services are perceived to be more humane than those of government, so facilities are often swamped with patients. Demands from donor agencies absorb huge amounts of time. Our priorities do not always match theirs and we cannot allow ourselves to be 'donor-driven'. With all that we see to be done, a big challenge is knowing when to stop! Missionaries have a high incidence of burn-out.
There are challenges for those from 'the West'. We need to be adaptable, to have humility, to be willing to listen and mentor. We need to share our knowledge with traditional midwives, healers, and wisdom figures.
Martine also spoke about what we are proud of as Medical Missionaries of Mary in Africa. We are with those most in need, delivering a good, much-needed service. We collaborate with Ministries of Health, local authorities, and people of goodwill. Working in other cultures, we have learned a lot from a human and professional point of view. We have valued the support of volunteers and friends.
While general medical and surgical services are needed, our experience in the developing world shows us the equally-important need for a more holistic agenda. MMMs have been pioneers in areas such as community-based healthcare, palliative care, and the needs of people affected by HIV and vesico-vaginal fistulae. We have worked to empower staff and communities to care for their health, the earth, and human development. Research and advocacy must be part of this: there is no health without respect for human rights.
Finally, Sister Martine emphasized that to reach our goals we need human and financial resources and collaboration with local governments, partners, and people of goodwill to bring about health for all with equity, justice and peace.
She offered a challenge: Will you join us in solidarity with the health adventure in Africa?
[Sister Doctor Martine Makanga is currently undertaking a PhD in Medical Sciences at the Université Libre de Bruxelles in Belgium. She is shown 2nd from L with other MMMs; UL chaplains; Ronan Barry (Mission Alive); and 4 UL medical students who did electives with MMM in Makiungu Hospital, Tanzania.]
HOPe: Working with MMM to bring life to others
HOPe, based in Yonkers, New York, is a non-sectarian charity dedicated to changing lives in the developed world. It is "an energetic, optimistic, positive, and enthusiastic organization. It sees the possibilities of hope - a positive energy with transformative powers. At least 90% of the funds raised go directly to our charitable projects." The organization now supports Casa Visitación in Choloma, Honduras.
Gerry O'Shea, Public Relations Officer for HOPe, talks about his own experience of working with us.
"I recall clearly how impressed I was by Sister Joanne Bierl the first time we met. She listened carefully to our ideas and spoke approvingly of our plans, stressing the importance of working with people who treated the poor with dignity. She had wide experience as a missionary, and her words and demeanour conveyed a thoughtful, non-judgmental, and humble approach to her work.
"A few years later, four of our members visited Sister Joanne in her new missionary assignment in a very poor parish in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. We heard of the great need for a community health clinic to serve the people in their parish, most of whom lived in small huts that reminded us of drawings of the 'homes' of the Irish peasants around the time of the famines in the 1840's.
"HOPe committed to funding towards that clinic, Casa Visitación, and some educational and feeding programmes. While we are a small organization with limited funds, requests by MMMs for support tend to be viewed very favourably by our members because we know we are dealing with very committed and devoted people.
"In 2011, Vincent Collins, from HOPe; his son, Ian; and I spent a few days in Honduras, mostly with Sister Renée. We spent a lot of time in Casa Visitación and visited destitute familes in their huts on the hillside near the Sisters. Vincent Collins talks frequently about the outstanding work of the nuns. We in HOPe look forward to continuing our close relationship with the MMMs."
Sister Renée Duignan, from the team in Casa Visitación, writes about what working with HOPe has meant.
"HOPe has been our partner in mission since we began this ministry in Choloma in 2004. Over the years nine members have visited us and continue to take great interest in our work with the poor. Two of them, one of whom is a Spanish speaker, gave workshops on conflict management to our staff. They were using a manual on this topic in New York schools and translated it into Spanish, enabling our staff to share the material with our 120 volunteers. This was very beneficial because it dealt with conflict in the family.
"In 2008 we built Casa Visitación and HOPe donated about half the cost of the building. Three members attended the opening ceremony.
"Because one HOPe member speaks Spanish, our staff were able to write projects to the group. Over the past five years they have supported sixty students from deprived families. They help with our homecare programme, which provides food baskets, medicines, and hospital referrals for thirty families each month. In December 2011, HOPe sent us a container with medical supplies, a stove, washing machine, school supplies, bicycles, etc. We shared at least one-third of these goods, e.g. medicines, crutches, and wheelchairs, with groups with which we collaborate.
"Most of all we appreciate their encouragement, their interest in the staff, and their visits when they spent time with some families in our programme. They realized that their efforts were making a difference in the lives of many people in Choloma."
"You are called to an extraordinary adventure." (MMM Constitutions) ... And the extraordinary adventure begins!
As you read this article, the first pioneer MMMs will have been to Juba, capital of the Republic of South Sudan, to continue preparation for our new mission. One of the team, Sister Irene Balzan, sent us her diary of their orientation programme in Nairobi. Following are some excerpts.
"19 September 2012: We arrived at the Missionary Benedictine Sisters in Subiaco, Nairobi and began with prayer with Sr. Kay Lawlor, MMM Area Leader for East/Central Africa. The centrepiece was the candle from our MMM 75th Jubilee celebration in Kenya, Mother Mary's picture, our Mission Statement, Constitutions, and Acts of Chapter. Sr. Kay emphasized that we are not going only as professional women but as committed religious of three nationalities. We committed ourselves to reflect on Mission as expressed in our Constitutions.
"20 September: Mr. Andrew Otsieno, AMMM, facilitator, helped us with team-building. We saw why we need to work as a team on this new mission and reflected on scripture passages showing the characteristics of an effective team. We looked at our leadership styles as motivators, implementers, and team players, and our unique talents. This helped us to recognize our strengths and weaknesses, understand our relational needs, and build community. We identified possible tension areas and learned how to accept our differences.
"23 September: Sr. Giovanna Sguazza, Provincial of the Comboni Sisters, shared a history of Sudan and South Sudan and events that led to South Sudan's independence. We hope to begin in the state of Western Bahr el Ghazal. It is in Wau Diocese, under Bishop Rudolph Deng Majak.
"In this down-to-earth session we discovered that we will need gum boots, hats, raincoats, and closed shoes to prevent jiggers. We found that bread-making will be part of each one's portfolio! She emphasised the importance of food and rest so we can offer good services to the people.
"24 September: Today we studied the findings of the exploratory visit of Srs. Imelda Ukaumunna and Kay to Wau. With Kay we reflected on our MMM mission statement and why we are going to South Sudan. We are invited to be a healing presence through God's healing love and to develop an open heart, mind, and will. We will walk with the people rather than correct them. We need to be assertive in recognizing our own needs and the needs of others. We looked at the process of reconciliation, where pain is acknowledged and healing of memory begins. We need to question ourselves on how we may have contributed to the pain. Once we understand the pain, we move towards reconciliation and forgiveness.
"25 - 26 September: Sr. Geneviève van Waesberghe, MMM, gave us input on Capacitar, followed by practical movements. Capacitar is a package of practices that "empower healing, wholeness, and peace in the individual and in the world." Geneviève shared her vast experience of the positive effects of Capacitar on children and adults who have undergone trauma during conflicts and natural disasters. (R: Srs. Odette, Chinyere, and Irene during the Circle of Light movement)
27 - 28 September: We mapped out a strategic plan for our first visit to South Sudan in November 2012. During our visit we will attend a five-day orientation organized by the Comboni Congregation in Juba. Srs. Odette, Chinyere, and Imelda Ukaumunna will then go to Wau to arrange accommodation and a contract. Our missioning will be in January 2013. We received a South Sudanese flag and three bracelets, with St. Bakhita's mementos.* (L: Srs. Chinyere Iwunze, Irene Balzan, and Odette Nahayo with the flag of the Republic of South Sudan)
"This concluded the first part of our orientation programme. We feel very privileged to have had this time together. To the Republic of South Sudan we go!"
Sister Kay Lawlor writes: "We were so fortunate to be invited to join the Combonis and Solidarity with South Sudan, who are organizing the programme in Juba. The Provincial of the Comboni Sisters has been so helpful. People are excited about our coming and are so welcoming."
*Josephine Bakhita, a Sudanese-born former slave, became a Canossian nun in Italy, living and working there for 45 years. In 2000, she was declared a saint.