201 MMM E-newsletter November/December 2020

201 MMM E-newsletter November/December 2020


MMM Communications, Rosemount, Booterstown, Dublin. Ireland. Tel :353-1-2887180 Fax:353-1-2834626
To contact MMM Email: mmm@mmmworldwide.org

Number 201 - November/December 2020

Dear Friends,

In these days as we struggle to come to terms with the many unprecedented effects of COVID-19, we would like to share a good news story. In September we were proud to witness the ribbon-cutting ceremony of the Sister Bernie Kenny MMM Clinic in Dickenson County, Virginia, USA (see MMM eNewsletter December 2019). In an inspiring speech Health Wagon Executive Director Dr. Teresa Tyson said that the facility is 'an example of how one person can make a difference.' The clinic, which will provide integrated state-of-the art health services to the medically under-served in the central Appalachian Mountains, is named after Sister Bernie  to honor her legacy as the founder of The Health Wagon. It 'recognizes the vision of Bernie who has spent over forty years in Clinchco, championing causes for the needy’.

On 20 November we celebrate World Children’s Day, the date on which the UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). Its website states that all countries that sign up to the convention are bound by international law to ensure its implementation. This human rights treaty includes all children’s rights to survive and to be protected from work that is dangerous, that interferes with their education or that is harmful to their health. Article 35 says that ‘parties shall take all appropriate national, bilateral and multilateral measures to prevent the abduction of, the sale of or traffic in children for any purpose or in any form.

Children should have access to ‘information and material from a diversity of national and international sources, especially those aimed at the promotion of his or her social, spiritual and moral well-being and physical and mental health.’ Especially important today is Article 29, in which parties agree that ‘the education of the child shall be directed to ... the development of respect for the child's parents, his or her own cultural identity, language and values, for the national values of the country in which the child is living, the country from which he or she may originate, and for civilizations different from his or her own.’ The child is to be prepared for ‘responsible life in a free society, in the spirit of understanding, peace, tolerance, equality of sexes, and friendship among all peoples, ethnic, national and religious groups and persons of indigenous origin’ and is to develop respect for the natural environment. Let us all commit to these values!

By 2015 only three UN member states had not ratified the UNCRC. That year two of these ratified: Somalia and South Sudan. Though it has signed the convention, the only state not to ratify it is the United States of America.

On 25 November we mark International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Its website notes that violence may take physical, sexual and psychological forms. These include intimate partner violence, sexual violence and harassment, human trafficking, female genital mutilation and child marriage.

With COVID-19, reports have shown an alarming increase in violence globally. The UN Secretary-General's report stated that ‘accompanying the crisis has been a spike in domestic violence reporting, at exactly the time that services, including rule of law, health and shelters, are being diverted to address the pandemic.’ This is backed up by the experience of MMMs and staff in many of our programmes.

The consequences of violence affect women and girls at all stages. For example, early educational disadvantages are the primary obstacle to universal schooling and the right to education for girls. They also restrict access to higher education and to the labour market.

Other important issues are brought to our attention in December, with World AIDS Day on 1 December and International Day of Persons with Disabilities on 3 December.

We mark International Day for the Abolition of Slavery on 2 December. Its focus is on eradicating present-day forms of slavery, such as trafficking in persons, sexual exploitation, the worst forms of child labour, forced marriage, the forced recruitment of children in armed conflict and debt bondage. Modern slavery is an umbrella term and essentially refers to situations of exploitation that a person cannot refuse or leave because of threats, violence, coercion, deception, and/or abuse of power.

According to the International Labour Organisation, more than 40 million people are in slavery worldwide, including almost 25 million people subjected to forced labour. One in 4 of the victims of modern slavery is a child.

On 10 December the issues highlighted above are brought together on Human Rights Day. In 1948 the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was proclaimed as a ‘common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations’.

The Declaration sets out the fundamental rights and freedoms to which every individual everywhere is entitled, without distinctions of nationality, place of residence, gender, national or ethnic origin, religion, language, or any other status. It takes on special importance with the advent of COVID-19, the effects of which we see not only from the disease itself but also in its wider societal impacts. Restrictions imposed by governments to contain its spread have raised concerns about human rights abuses. Around the world, MMMs, MMM Associates and those with whom we collaborate are finding ways to address these concerns.

In December the season of Advent is a time of hope and waiting in preparation for Christmas, celebrated in the West on 25 December. We might reflect on the recent encyclical Fratelli Tutti by Pope Francis. He points out ‘certain trends in our world’, commenting that ‘the Covid-19 pandemic unexpectedly erupted, exposing our false securities .... For all our hyper-connectivity, we witnessed a fragmentation that made it more difficult to resolve problems that affect us all.’

Speaking about human rights he said, ‘Doubly poor are those women who endure situations of exclusion, mistreatment and violence, since they are frequently less able to defend their rights.’ He points out that
‘even though the international community has adopted numerous agreements aimed at ending slavery in all its forms, and has launched various strategies to combat this phenomenon, millions of people today – children, women and men of all ages – are deprived of freedom and forced to live in conditions akin to slavery.’

He spoke of the plight of migrants. ‘Unscrupulous traffickers, frequently linked to drug cartels or arms cartels, exploit the weakness of migrants, who too often experience violence, trafficking, psychological and physical abuse and untold sufferings on their journey.... In some host countries, migration causes fear and alarm, often fomented and exploited for political purposes.

‘Once this health crisis passes, our worst response would be to plunge even more deeply into feverish consumerism and new forms of egotistic self-preservation. God willing, after all this, we will think no longer in terms of “them” and “those”, but only “us”.'

He challenges us to see that ‘other cultures are not “enemies” from which we need to protect ourselves, but differing reflections of the inexhaustible richness of human life.’ How appropriate this is at Christmas, as we remember that God came among us and shared that human life.

In this newsletter you can read how MMMs, Associates and staff, inserted in their local communities in Kenya, West Africa and Honduras, are creatively supporting and bringing hope during this time of crisis. You can also read the stories of four more women celebrating fifty years of commitment in MMM in 2020.

Thank you again for your interest and support, especially during 2020. We remember you in prayer each day. May you and those close to you experience all the blessings of Christmas.

Sr. Carol Breslin, MMM

‘How important it is to dream together… By ourselves, we risk seeing mirages, things that are not there. Dreams, on the other hand, are built together’ (Pope Francis).


Responding to Emerging Needs

Barely five months after the release of the inaugural Global Health Security Index (GHS) by the World Health Organization (WHO) in October 2019, WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic, the worst outbreak since World War II. The Index had warned that no country was fully equipped to deal with the next global pandemic, due to weaknesses in all 195 member countries’ abilities to prevent, detect and respond to significant disease outbreaks.

MMMs and staff at the thirteen projects in our West Africa Area have felt the impacts of government measures to control COVID-19. These have included closure of national borders and internal travel restrictions, strict social distancing and total lockdown in major cities such as Lagos and Abuja, where we work.

We have ten projects in Nigeria, two in Angola and one in the Republic of Benin. When borders closed, many Sisters on short stay visits were unable to return to their missions, which increased the workload for others. To keep services running, adjustments were made in clinics and outreach programmes, with arrangements for social distancing and hand washing. We needed to provide sanitizers and personal protective equipment (PPE) for staff. We are grateful to our supporters who are helping to defray some of these costs.

Casting a wide net
Other issues related to COVID-19 have affected the communities in which we work. People have the right to correct information but some cannot access it because of factors as diverse as illiteracy, lack of electricity and lack of access to social media. They rely on whatever news is available. Because of political instability people started doubting the existence of COVID-19 in Nigeria.

Our Sisters described a rise in new cases due to misinformation and false beliefs. For some, it has been business as usual: buying and selling in crowded places and attending burial ceremonies, where many people gather. People are taking high doses of hydrochloroquine and of unprescribed drugs such as azithromycine to protect themselves.

The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control provided information on social media and made some efforts to refute misleading news. Two of our facilities created online community WhatsApp groups to reach people who could not attend meetings. These media are only available to people who can use Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, etc., so our staff trained village heath workers to reach people in their homes. These workers helped to translate the information into local dialects. Staff members did awareness-raising in two correctional institutions in Edo State and provided face masks and sanitizers to inmates.

Making connections
MMMs have creatively used the networks they have developed. In Zaffé, in the Republic of Benin, local awareness-raising was intensified by starting a house-to-house campaign and sharing PPE. Some PPE was distributed to mosques and churches. The programme worked with the government, which catered for the needs of the schools, and with the bishop, who provided face masks for the parishes.

The team cared for some sick people in their houses, taking necessary precautions. They also visited an outstation that was not on their schedule in Aklampe, at the request of a parish priest. The people told the team that they had never heard about COVID-19. They asked many questions and the team gave them face masks. They didn't come back empty-handed from this visit!

Other societal impacts
As MMMs we have a special focus on the health of mothers and children. Of concern during the pandemic have been reports of an increase in child abuse in the community. Our programmes are human rights-based and use a community-centred approach, promoting a culture of safeguarding. An MMM Area Safeguarding Officer liaises with project safeguarding officers, committees and leadership; staff and management are aware of appropriate responses. Thirty-two Safeguarding Champions are in place in our West Africa Area and a Safeguarding Champions WhatsApp group supports members and shares information. These have contributed immensely to how Sisters, MMM Associates and staff engage with safeguarding policies and procedures.

For example, when attending to abused children brought to our facilities for treatment, the safeguarding team takes up the case. They carry out advocacy visits to families of victims, and tell them how and where to report. Sometimes parents and guardians are not aware that children are being abused at home, school, or church in spite of physical evidence. Our staff members give holistic care to the victims and families and collaborate with other agencies e.g. Gender Desk, responsible for the family unit and children’s rights in police stations; Ministry of Women’s Affairs and Development, etc., to ensure justice and support for victims and to prosecute the perpetrators.

Encouraging community solutions
During COVID-19 restrictions, staff at our facility in Torugbene in the Niger Delta creeks observed an increasing number of abused children being brought in by parents or guardians for treatment and an increase in the severity of abuse. With the closure of schools and curfews, children are spending more time at home so abusers have greater access to them. Staff also noted an increase in gender-based violence.

Civil authorities in this region are located upland and access to them is usually extremely limited. Access was impossible with travel restrictions.

Awareness-raising on the trend was included in the sensitization campaign on COVID-19 in Torugbene. The programme encouraged the community to establish a local magistrate’s court to tackle child abuse and try offenders. They established the court, and if offenders are found guilty, they are transferred upland to be handed over to civil authorities. The presence of a magistrate is helping the community take ownership of the issue and empowering families to speak out against abuse.

Community participation is an essential ingredient for mainstreaming safeguarding of children. This requires ongoing consultation with communities, including children, to understand their context and needs. The initiative of the magistrate court was born from community members and so has community support.

Proving to be Neighbour

While we continue to hope for an effective vaccine for COVID-19, the consequences of the ongoing pandemic are being felt especially in economically poorer areas of the world, already trying to cope with serious health and social challenges. This is the case for MMMs and programme staff in Kenya – in overcrowded Mukuru kwa Njenga, in Nairobi, and further north in Kapsoya, Eldoret.

In the early stages of the epidemic, government-imposed restrictions included school, mosque and church closures. There are curfews, travel constraints and reduction of numbers at gatherings. Then industries and companies that offered daily casual jobs were shut down, increasing unemployment where jobs were already scarce. Seeing how these realities were changing the wider context in which we work, MMMs and staff discussed how to respond to emerging community needs and human rights concerns.

Adjusting strategies
Further community and house-to-house awareness-raising was done to counter information from media sources that was sometimes inaccurate and that led to fear, anxiety, anger and violence. Sometimes people were afraid to access health care. In Mukuru, sensitization also took place using megaphones, reducing numbers at gatherings. The numbers of people reached in Kapsoya and Mukuru surpassed 100% of the targets.

There were risks involved in this activity, which were demonstrated during door-to-door sensitization in a ‘hot spot’ in Mukuru, Zone 48, where there is a lot of violence. The residents were angry because programme staff came only with information - without food, masks or sanitizers. The residents had heard that the government provided these items and they had not received anything. The staff suggested that the people meet with their village chief to discuss their concerns. This calmed the situation and the local people listened to the messages. In Mukuru, programme staff also worked with the ministry of health through the county public health officer in giving information about COVID-19 to village elders.

An unforeseen consequence of the lockdown was being able to reach more men with information; many more than usual were at home because of unemployment. Unfortunately, because abusers now spend more time at home and schools are closed, our MMMs report a great increase in child abuse and gender-based violence.

Increasing hunger
Many children and clients with TB and/or HIV/AIDs are becoming malnourished. Mukuru Health Centre lobbied different companies for help and a partner donated food baskets for 1600 families. A basket can feed a family of four for one to two weeks. The donor promised to make another supply for 400 families. This will be an ongoing need.

At the same time, hygiene practices have improved and staff have seen a reduction of stigma for people with COVID-19. Young people, community health visitors and community leaders learned to prepare safe drinking water and are sharing this knowledge with the wider community. Also, by working with the elders and an NGO in Nairobi called Athi-water, a water point was provided for each of the eight zones in the area. Now 500 to 1,100 people per day utilize each water tank. Community members refill empty tanks and supply soap.

Combating increasing poverty
Activities have been developed to give community members knowledge and new skills. Young people visited institutions in other slum areas and learned how to engage in small businesses. The youth group Milimani was trained in income generation through garbage collection (taka ni pato = garbage is income). After training and four months of follow up, they began to save money. Others have set up small enterprises like chicken and duck rearing at their homes - because of lack of space - and sell the poultry or their eggs. They also bought some hand carts with their savings and hire them out. After receiving start-up capital of 250 shillings (2 euro) each, they are now saving 500 shillings (4 euro) per week. Another youth group has obtained a boda boda (motorbike) for hire as a taxi. These enterprises are all progressing very well.

Opportunistic traffickers
A consequence of travel restrictions is that more people are being trafficked locally. Traffickers cannot move victims across international borders and between counties. This is borne out by Sister Mary O’Malley, MMM, at Counter Human Trafficking Trust – East Africa, based in Nairobi. Our MMMs in Mukuru say that the number of victims they are rescuing from human trafficking has increased significantly.

For example, Mukuru Health Centre staff rescued a six-year-old child who attended a clinic after she was burned by the woman with whom she was living. The staff found that the child had been trafficked and began their rescue mission. The child received appropriate support from a range of organisations with which the health centre collaborates.

Working closely with and in the community has revealed the innovative ways human traffickers use and frequently adapt to traffic children and young people. This has resulted in better ways to find victims and collaborate with stakeholders to rescue them.

'It is an act of charity to assist someone suffering, but it is also an act of charity, even if we do not know
that person, to work to change the social conditions that caused his or her suffering' (Pope Francis).

A Time of Jubilee

The following are the stories of four more of the sixteen MMMs who mark fifty years of religious profession this year. They have served in a wide variety of ministries in seven countries on four continents. We are reminded of the passage from the book of Leviticus quoted in our May/June 2020 newsletter: ‘And you shall hallow the fiftieth year and you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you: you shall return, every one of you, to your property and every one of you to your family ...  For it is a jubilee; it shall be holy to you” (Leviticus 25, 10-12 (NRSV)).

While our celebrations with family and friends did not happen as we planned because of COVID-19 restrictions, we are grateful for the many other ways in which we marked this milestone. Several Zoom meetings and assemblies included prayers and good wishes from MMMs and Associates around the world. We also appreciated gifts of health, the support of others, and the blessings of fifty years of life on mission. These were made possible by responding to a call ‘to a radical following of Christ in a religious congregation of women: the Medical Missionaries of Mary’ (MMM Constitutions).

Sister Ruth Percival is from Derby, England. After profession, she trained as a nurse-midwife and in 1977 was assigned to Tanzania, where she spent twenty-one years. She first worked in Makiungu Hospital, a busy general health facility. In 1984 Ruth joined two other Sisters to start a primary health care project among the Maasai people. She also served in MMM leadership and worked on the archdiocesan AIDS team.              

In 2001 Ruth was assigned to Solihull in England.  She helped weekly in the parish primary school and, with a friend, was instrumental in starting The Solihull Welcome. This ecumenical group befriended refugees and asylum seekers and helped them to access services. Ruth also helped her home parish in Derby to set up an exchange project with the Archdiocese of Arusha, Tanzania.

In 2012 Ruth moved to Ealing, London, where she was greatly committed to mission awareness work, traveling many miles to speak in churches around the country. She was also active in the local parish Justice, Peace and Care of Creation Group and raised awareness about issues such as climate change. In June 2020 she moved to our MMM Motherhouse in Drogheda.

Sister Siobhan Corkery is from Aghinagh, Coachford, Co. Cork. After profession she trained as a nurse-midwife in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda. In 1976 she was assigned to Nigeria. Apart from several months doing mission awareness in Ireland, she spent most of the next twelve years in Nigeria, working in rural hospitals and clinics. She then did mission awareness in the USA and returned to Nigeria in 1990, where she spent three more years. After some training in pastoral care Siobhan worked for six months in refugee camps in Rwanda in 1994.

In 1995 she took up her assignment to Brazil, where she did pastoral work for eight years and served in MMM leadership. In 2003 she was elected to our Congregational Leadership Team, continuing to live in Bahia, Brazil. In 2009 she was elected Congregational Leader and moved to Rosemount, in Dublin. She is currently serving her second term in this ministry.

Sister Carol Breslin was born in Rockville Centre, New York. She lived in several towns in New York State and now calls Bloomington home. She joined MMM in Winchester, MA. Carol qualified in medicine in Ireland at UCD in 1979. In 1982 she was assigned to Nigeria, where she worked for twelve years in several missions.

In 1996 Carol was assigned to Ethiopia. She worked as a physician at Catholic Cathedral Clinic, run by the Little Sisters of Jesus, as she took over as  administrator of the MMM Counseling and Social Services Center in Addis Ababa. The Counseling Center provided comprehensive HIV-related services for people affected by HIV and their families. During that time she was also administrator of St. Mary’s Laboratory.

Carol served at various times in local MMM leadership and did mission awareness in the USA. She was assigned as director of MMM Communications in Dublin in 2011. Since 2016 she has been coordinator of MMM publications and maintains our MMM photo archive in Dublin.

Sister Patricia Lynch is from Glasgow, Scotland. She taught physics and chemistry before joining MMM and trained as a laboratory technician after profession. In 1974 she was assigned to Spain, where she served for a year. She then worked in Nigeria and did promotion work in England. Patricia returned to Nigeria in 1980 and spent most of the next twenty-one years at Urua Akpan, working as a laboratory technologist in our busy general hospital. She was also vocation directress.

Patricia returned to Ireland in 2001 and trained as a hospital chaplain. From 2002 to 2013 she was a chaplain in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda and also served in MMM leadership. In 2013 she took on yet another role as MMM Congregational Secretary, based in Rosemount. In 2019 Patricia moved to our community in Terenure, Dublin, where she is currently based.

Handing on Hope

In recent months COVID-19 has brought both challenges and opportunities to Honduras. While MMMs and Associates have continued essential services as far as possible, their very presence is a sign of hope and courage for people enduring great social tensions.

In Choloma, Sisters Rosalinda and Renée are ’immersed in our local communities and connected to the wider world, especially through social media.  Our task now is to be open to the Spirit to respond in new ways that all may have life. Here in Honduras, with COVID-19, the people asked us, “Are you going to go home now?”

‘At the beginning of May we reopened Casa Visitación, with special attention to the protection of our staff. It has been a busy time.  We are doing rapid COVID tests in the clinic and we had to employ a second doctor for the dispensary.  There is also an outbreak of dengue.  Despite fear and anxiety it is heart-warming to see all the care and concern for one another.’

Responding holistically
Though many people are back at work, there is still high unemployment, with increased domestic violence, abuse, depression and anxiety in general. The government is doing a lot to implement the protocols to prevent viral spread but infections have increased, especially over the past two months with the gradual opening up of factories, some businesses, etc.  There is a growing need for counselling with all this stress. Casa Visitación works with two psychologists from the area who give free phone consultations.

The programme gives school supplies and some fees for 150 children from deprived backgrounds. While schools and colleges are closed, about 60% of the students have some Internet access and study from home. Others have no computers or televisions, highlighting societal inequalities. Staff and volunteers monitor 35 children with malnutrition, bringing food and medicines, and visit families at home.  Many cannot comply with social distancing because they live in small quarters where water is in short supply.

Sirleny Peña, AMMM, the project coordinator, is on the Catholic Church National Pastoral Social Commission.  She has Zoom meetings with the social committee, diocesan health committees and similar groups. Staff Kenia organizes Zoom workshops for the youth, pastoral care groups, etc.

The plight of migrants
In early October yet another caravan of 2000 people left the area for the USA via Guatemala and Mexico. They will pick up more people along the way. The risk to these people's lives is great; they have no protection against COVID-19, yet they are motivated to improve their situations. Many are desperate with no employment and no hope to provide for their families. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees group in the area is involved with Casa Visitación in relation to migrants. People in need who come to the dispensary are referred to this group.

The Sisters say, ‘We take one day at a time. We are grateful to be able to help a little and feel supported by the people.’

In Marcala, our MMM Associates found different ways to communicate with each other. They created a WhatsApp group to share themes and give support. The themes for this year were: ecology and spirituality, feelings, body language, care for the Earth and seeking God. Their reflections helped to build trust and confidence and to understand the difficulties that people face, especially the sick and elderly in their homes.

Most of the Associates work with pastoral care and support some families in remote areas with food and medicine. One works with the local Red Cross, facilitating workshops for youth and supporting children with cancer.

In September, Connie Saldivar, AMMM, in the USA, facilitated the Zoom meeting for the Associates of Choloma, Marcala and some from Brazil. The seven Marcala Associates will renew their covenants in 2021. They have expressed the desire to continue their journey with us and keep the MMM charism alive in their different works.
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