1977-1986 – The Fifth Decade – “Teach my people compassion.”
In 1977 in Nigeria, a new initiative at Ukana was started to respond to the large number of handicapped teenagers in the area.
For some time, calls had been coming from the United States to look at the needs of many people in that country for whom health care is a luxury they cannot afford. We were asked to provide some service that would acknowledge these needs, as well as the generosity with which the American people had supported MMM since our first foundation there in 1950. This led to the establishment, in 1978, of an MMM house in Clinchco, Virginia, a town in the coal-mining region of Appalachia.Meanwhile in Kenya, in April 1978, three more Sisters were pioneering a venture among the Tugan people at Kipsaraman, in the hills high above the shore of Lake Baringo.
On 12 September 1979, Julius Nyerere, President of Tanzania, visited our Motherhouse and the International Missionary Training Hospital in Drogheda. “We really want committed people,” he said. “I hope that our lay people can learn from your dedication. If we can get just a little bit of that, then I am sure we will develop our country.”
As we completed ten years of work in the city of São Paulo in Brazil, we decided to take on new work in the town of Colorado in the State of Parana. This decision had lasting implications since it was there that we met the young women who became our first two Brazilian MMMs, Sister Maria José and Sister Cleide.
A year later, in 1980, the work expanded with the opening of a third house on the periphery of São Paulo. Also in 1980, a novitiate was opened in Arusha, Tanzania for young women in East Africa who wanted to follow the MMM way of life. Plans were beginning to develop a residential training centre a few miles north of Arusha at Ngaramtoni.Nothing in all our experience to date could have prepared us for the new demand that the 1980s would bring. It first came to our notice at Masaka, Uganda, where many people were coming to the hospital with an illness the local people called ‘Slim’. Before long, the world was talking of this developing pandemic, caused by a virus – HIV – leading to acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS).
Even as this new health threat was spreading, affecting rich countries as well as poor, we were still dealing with some of the old health threats like Hansen’s disease (leprosy). In 1980, MMM responded to a request to become involved in Liberia, on the west coast of Africa.We had lived through wartime in Nigeria, Uganda, Ethiopia and Angola, and dictatorship in Brazil, but in 1986, as MMM prepared to celebrate its fiftieth birthday, the issue on our doorstep everywhere was how to come to terms with HIV/AIDS – a battle closely linked to the war against endemic poverty.