Ever since Mother Mary Martin set off by canoe to visit villages in the delta area of Nigeria transport has always been a major factor in delivering health services. Many roads in the areas of Africa where we work are not tarred. Often, they are mud roads, or tarred in the past but tropical rain causes large pot holes. Vehicles need to be tough – and so do the sisters!! MMMs are often assigned to some of the world’s most remote and poor areas. Access to these areas is a challenge that like many things, the MMMs have to overcome on a minimal budget. Ever resourceful, MMMs use whatever they can find to get them where they need to go often in an emergency or urgent situation.
MMM uses trucks, pickups, and land rovers where necessary. In the early days, bicycles were in common use for students going to college in Dublin. There was great excitement in 1960 when the Archbishop of Dublin gave the Sisters the gift of two motor scooters for this purpose. Bicycles are still often used for visits when roads are impassable. They can also be adapted to serve as stretchers for carrying patients in areas where an ambulance cannot pass.
In the more remote areas, like the desert area of Turkana in Kenya where MMM ministered for many years, there were no roads at all. Some of the Sisters learnt to fly small planes so that they could carry medical supplies and patients for treatment. Sr. Nina Underwood was nicknamed “The Flying Nun”! In Ethiopia, lack of roads saw the Sisters take to riding mules on the mountain tracks.
Other areas are challenged by water. Sometimes the rivers rise, flooding the roads. Ambulances and trucks stop, the journey continues by foot to the river bank and small boats are used to ferry people and supplies across the river for yet another walk on the far side until reaching some form of transport again. Bridges are also often swept away as the rivers rise.
Wherever we go, whatever we do, we will use whatever means of transport that is available to reach out to those in need. Planes, ships and trains bring Sisters from their home countries to the most needy areas. But that is just the start of the journey…