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Number 182 - March 2018
On 8 March we celebrate International Women’s Day. It is also United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace. These events celebrate the contributions of women to society. When women’s gifts are suppressed and unacknowledged all of humanity suffers as a result. This year, International Women’s Day follows on a new movement for women’s rights, equality and justice.
As MMMs, we seek to emulate the attitudes shown by an extraordinary woman, Mary, Mother of God. Far from a passive and unquestioning human being, she was a person of reflection and action. Soon after learning that she would be the mother of Jesus, she set out to share her news with her cousin Elizabeth and to be of assistance to another new mother. On arrival she proclaimed what God had done for her and announced that God had brought down the powerful and lifted up the lowly – quite a revolutionary message!
A poor woman, Mary had to give birth in difficult circumstances; at the time, she was homeless and made do with a manger for her child. She was often left to ponder on what promised to be a controversial future for her son. Sensitive and kind, she called his attention to the dilemma of a young couple when the wine ran out at their wedding. At what seemed to be the end of the disciples' hopes, with other women and the beloved disciple she stood near the Cross of Jesus. Later, she was part of the company of believers as they devoted themselves to prayer while awaiting the coming of the Spirit.
Like Mary and our foundress, Mother Mary Martin, MMMs seek to be women of contemplation and action – to be women who are in solidarity with those who are suffering and ready to work to bring healing with those in need.
International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination takes place on 21 March. The theme for 2018 is ‘Promoting tolerance, inclusion, unity and respect for diversity in the context of combating racial discrimination’ (UN website).
Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. Every person is entitled to human rights without distinction of race or any other kind. These rights are cornerstones of human rights law. Yet racism, intolerance and xenophobia are problems in all societies, and discrimination is widespread, often targeting migrants and refugees. Fear of strangers or foreigners or of what is different can prompt some of these attitudes and reactions.
During the season of Lent we have an invitation to examine our lives and return to God. We might make it a time of reflection on how we contribute to structures of injustice in society and work for change, even in a small way. We might ‘discover and embrace the giftedness of difference, especially in our communities, to be agents of peace, healing, forgiveness [and] reconciliation’ (MMM Acts of Tenth Cong. Chapter 2015) - and learn not to fear.
During Lent we also might ask: ‘Who are the poor and excluded in our time?’ Among them are the estimated 20.9 million victims of human trafficking (HT) globally (International Labour Organisation). Of these, about 55% are women and girls. Instead of being able to share their gifts and reach their full potential, helping to make their world a better place, they are viewed instead as objects for exploitation and profit.
Sister Mary O’Malley, who raises awareness about HT and assists victims in Nairobi, Kenya, prepared a Way of the Cross based on her experiences. You will find it on the home page of our MMM website. You can read it online in separate pages or download it as a booklet. May it inspire you to work for an end to this modern-day injustice, wherever you are.
In this newsletter you can read about the faith and trust that has allowed us to begin and carry on in challenging situations. In recent days in Uganda, we have been handing over the remaining programmes in which we were involved in Kitovu, as well as those in Makondo. This is enabling MMMs to pioneer new ministries in the country. We are also marking five years of presence in South Sudan.
We are grateful to all of you who support us in countless ways to make the work possible. We remember you in prayer each day. Please pray for us as well.
Sr. Carol Breslin, MMM
‘A pebble cast into a pond causes ripples that spread in all directions. Each one of our thoughts, words and deeds is like that. No one has a right to sit down and feel hopeless. There is too much work to do’ (Dorothy Day).
Pilgrims and Pioneers
Medical Missionaries of Mary first went to Uganda in 1955, in response to a request by Bishop Joseph Kiwanuka for Sisters to staff a hospital in his diocese. He had come to Ireland in 1950 and met Sister Gemma Breslin, who was working at Kimmage Manor, the mission-sending house of the Spiritan Congregation in Dublin. He told her that he had asked many congregations to come to Masaka, but they had all said no. The next day he would be going to ask Mother Mary. Sister Gemma promised that she would pray that Mother Mary would agree. Little did Sister Gemma realize that she would be one of the pioneers who would make Bishop Kiwanuka’s dream come true.
By the time of our MMM Silver Jubilee in 1962, there were four Sister-nurses and one Sister-doctor staffing the hospital and a nurse training school in ‘a place called Kitovu, high above the town of Masaka’, where the convent windows looked out on Lake Victoria (MMM 25 Year Book).
In their early years in Kitovu the Sisters were helped greatly by a young woman, Katharina Nakintu, a receptionist in the bishop’s residence. She became their interpreter, introducing them to the local culture and helping to pave the way for their new work. Several years later she was to become our first Ugandan MMM, joining in 1962 and taking the name Catharina Laeticia.
As the hospital grew and developed, MMMs and staff provided health services during good times and challenging times, including many years of war.
Creative responses In the early 1980’s MMMs became involved in a battle of a different kind, but one even more deadly. Sisters working in the Great Lakes region of East Africa were asked to investigate a ‘new disease’ called ‘slim’. Local doctors recorded symptoms they were seeing in increasing numbers of patients but the cause was unknown. These were the first cases of AIDS in the region.
Before the availability of treatment for HIV, thousands were suffering and dying from AIDS. Because the government acknowledged the problem, MMMs and staff at Kitovu were able to develop comprehensive services for those affected. These included counseling and testing, with an innovative programme for behaviour change. A mobile AIDS home care programme was initiated and a palliative care component was added in the mid-1990’s. Basic medical care and social support were provided to countless families.
Programmes also addressed the needs of thousands of orphans whose parents had died in the epidemic. Among the approaches used were farm schools, where children learned agricultural skills and were able to have basic education. Because many people were too sick to farm their land, food distribution was organized.
As the need grew for assistance to people with cancer, especially for pain relief, palliative care was extended to more patients in the Mobile Outreach Programme. Chemotherapy for people with Kaposi’s sarcoma and for children with Burkitt’s lymphoma was also made available.
Meeting other needs The staff in Kitovu Hospital and its community-based programmes encountered many women with obstetric fistula hiding in indignity and gross poverty. To reduce the incidence of fistula and provide services for those affected, a fistula repair programme was started. It developed into a training programme for doctors and nurses from around the world.
By 2001 the Daughters of Mary (Bannabikira Sisters of Bwanda) were prepared to take over the management of the hospital. We handed over in November of that year, with three MMMs remaining in a supportive role.
Other Sisters based at Hobart Avenue have continued with projects in the town of Masaka. They have helped to provide clean water with wells. Many people have been trained in income generating activities and in agriculture. They help those with disabilities to access services. They have worked in prison ministry and with people affected by alcohol and other drugs.
Extending the reach: Makondo In 1970 a medical team began making monthly visits to Makondo, fifty kilometers west of Masaka. Health problems included malaria, anaemia, malnutrition, and diarrhoea. The area later had the highest incidence of HIV in the country. Seen as a place of great need, a permanent MMM community of four Sisters was established in 1991. They built a health centre and offered mother and child welfare clinics and laboratory facilities. An outreach team to surrounding villages assessed children’s health and held vaccination clinics, health talks and nutrition demonstrations. Mothers received antenatal and postnatal services.
Soon another basic health issue was identified. There were no rivers or streams in the area and people got their water from swamps and hand-dug depressions. Springs that fed these sources proved to be contaminated, resulting in water-borne diseases. Working with the local people and Masaka District Local Authority, a project was started to protect the springs and dig wells. By 2001 a total of 38 springs had been protected and shallow wells were constructed. Each well supplied about three villages. They were close enough to walk to without much hardship. The people said it was like the miracle of the wine at Cana.
In the wake of the HIV epidemic, people living with AIDS in 63 villages near Makondo were assisted with medicines, food, material support and counselling. Saint Kizito’s Home provided for the basic needs of hundreds of orphans. Many young people out of school could not afford school fees and had no employment. They were bored and got into problems. They were offered sessions on friendship formation, resistance to negative peer groups, drug abuse, HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases and behaviour change.
To ensure the sustainability of these programmes, community members received training and follow-up. Working with people affected by HIV/AIDS was stressful and staff attended meetings for support and to recognise stress symptoms early.
Moving on By 2016 our work as Medical Missionaries of Mary in Uganda was entering a new phase. Our MMM Constitutions urge us to constantly ‘reflect on the signs of the times’. While it can be difficult to let go of long-established ministries, like our foundress we want to ‘allow the Spirit to unfold the charism that is given to us.’ We looked at our realities and how our programmes in Kitovu and Makondo had developed and matured. Local staff had been trained and again, there were groups ready to take over. This realization encouraged us to make plans to hand over these ministries and move on, to become pioneers again in other areas of great need.
After much reflection, we decided to begin two new ventures in Uganda. We accepted invitations from the bishops of the rural Diocese of Kasana-Luweero and the urban Diocese of Kampala. Needs assessments were carried out to decide how best to use available human, material and financial resources. After the assessment in Kasana-Luweero we chose to go to Migyera Parish, approximately 155 km north of Kampala in central Uganda. Three Sisters were assigned to research the new work in Kampala. Two of them have had an exchange experience to learn how a new ministry develops. While the research is still in the early stages, we have found a house for our base in the capital.
In the meantime, on 27 February 2018, our MMM Sisters handed over our programmes in Makondo to the diocese. The Daughters of Mary Congregation will be responsible for running them, as they will for those in Kitovu. Walking in paths that are new (MMM Constitutions) More than sixty years have passed since the pioneer MMMs travelled to Kitovu. Religious life has evolved since then, as have the needs of the people of Uganda. Our MMM East/Central Africa team, composed of women from Uganda, Nigeria, Brazil and Tanzania, and our Sisters assigned to Uganda, are beginning a new work. This new generation of MMMs is responding with the same faith, trust and generosity as the Sisters who made that first journey so many years ago.
'That they may have life' (Jn 10:10)
Sister Martine Makanga is a consultant paediatric surgeon at the Mater Misericordiae Hospital, run by the Sisters of Mercy in Nairobi, Kenya. She is also a mentor to the four resident doctors who are doing their post graduate training in general surgery. They have a five-year program to get a master’s degree.
In addition to this demanding schedule, Martine goes up country once a month to a rural area of Kenya to do a paediatric surgery clinic. This allows poor children to have a free clinic. In 2018, she is participating in three free cleft lip/cleft palate surgery camps in Pointe-Noire, Republic of the Congo, her home country. Each camp is for ten days.
Martine is especially committed to providing cleft lip and cleft palate repair surgery. She told us about what inspires her in her mission of healing, which often involves logistical challenges and travelling in areas of unrest.
‘I have been busy these days. I have to be ready to trust the Lord, to go and be with those who suffer, to heal the sick in God's name. This is what drove me to start the work.
‘There is a great stigma attached to having a child with a cleft lip, and sometimes a cleft palate. Some couples are ready to divorce, having had a “deformed” baby. The child is often hidden in the house. Children are mocked by other children and cannot go to school. Adults are not able to train for a job or get married.
‘Despite this, many families cannot afford the costs involved in having surgery to repair a cleft lip. In Congo they would have to travel to the capital, Brazzaville, which may be up to 515 km away. There is the added anxiety of not having a relative there to help with transport, accommodation, and food.
‘I reflected, “Jesus is in these people who suffer. What can I do?”
‘Jesus responded, “Go. Don't be afraid. I will be with you. Be with my people, with those who suffer, with those who need your help, your smile. You have received so many gifts from the Lord. Give them freely to the sick.”' ‘Christ has ... no hands, no feet on earth but yours’ (Teresa of Avila). ‘I cope in these difficult areas because I know that God gives me strength and I have the support of my MMM community and our benefactors - people of good will who encourage me to continue the work. May God bless them.
‘Then there are the families of those who after surgery are happy, have hope in their future, can smile, go to school, become engaged for marriage, or look for a job. I am grateful to all of them.
‘All this gives me strength to plan and travel despite a few challenges. I am grateful for the support of MMM to continue our healing mission, to care for the sick with compassion in the name of the Lord, wherever it will lead us, following our MMM Constitutions.
‘God is there, I believe. May God use us - use our hands as gifts to give service for God’s glory to our brothers and sisters who need our help.’
Sister Irene Balzan, from Malta, is based in Wau, South Sudan. March 2018 will mark five years of MMM presence in the world’s newest nation. As Irene provided us with an update on the activities in Wau, she also wanted to express our deep gratitude to our friends and supporters who have made the work possible.
‘The MMM Community-Based Health Care (CBHC) programme is located in Jur River County, on the eastern side of the Jur River on the outskirts of the town of Wau. The main catchment area is Eastern Bank, with a population of 20,000 to 25,000 people, living mostly in grass-thatched huts. A forty-three-year old bridge linking Jur River County to the town was in dire need of repair. It was renovated in December 2017.
‘We work in camps of informal settlements of returnees from the war. There are two private primary schools, an agricultural school, and one government primary health care centre in the area.
‘We are present in the reality of political instability and sustained violence that have been pervasive in South Sudan for most of its almost six years of independence. The resumption of widespread fighting leaves civilians at risk of further mass atrocities.'
• Almost 4 million people have been forced to flee their homes. • There are now 1 million South Sudanese refugees in Uganda. • There are also nearly 1 million refugees in Ethiopia, Sudan, DRC and CAR (WHO/ OCHA, 2017).
‘A total of 1.9 million people are internally displaced (UN/OCHA 2017). The spread of cholera, malaria and kala-azar worsens the situation. The October analysis of food security stated that nearly half of the population - 5.1 million people - would not have enough to eat between January and March 2018 (UNOCHA 2018).
‘Our overall aim is to help the community to have a better quality of life.’
‘Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can’ (Arthur Ashe). ‘To reach the people, we continue to hold health education sessions on personal and environmental hygiene, the importance of immunisation, key household behaviours, cholera prevention, malaria, tuberculosis, first aid, breastfeeding, antenatal care, and preparation of oral rehydration solution. These are integrated with our expanded programme of immunization (EPI) outreach sessions.
‘In 2017 we gave 3,336 immunizations in the outreach programme and we noted an overall increase in the number of mothers attending. Mothers said that they have been able to save on transport costs. Otherwise they would have to travel to town for vaccinations. We also gave vitamin A supplements and distributed soap and insecticidal nets. The nets were provided by the Ministry of Health (MOH).
‘In collaboration with the MOH, UNICEF and OXFAM, we participated in a cholera awareness campaign in the camp for internally displaced people.
‘In October and December we organized food provision and distribution to 121 internally displaced families.’
For sustainability ‘Of course monitoring and evaluation are essential. We hold twice-yearly meetings about EPI with the chiefs, sub-chiefs, community mobilisers and vaccinators. We meet with our hand pump mechanics to ensure that water pumps are working properly and are being maintained.
‘We also participate in networking meetings on health and nutrition; water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH); cholera preparedness, and other meetings organised by the MOH.
‘We are happy to say that preparations are going ahead for the opening of the MMM Healing Centre in March/April 2018.’
Meeting obstacles ‘Challenges are many, including recruiting and retaining staff, who can get better pay elsewhere. We are coping with the general environment of insecurity. And we sometimes find ourselves frustrated when people, including our staff, have a different concept of time!’
Just being there ‘An important aspect of our ministry is simply being present to the people. The sense that someone cares about their welfare has had an effect on people’s mental well-being because many suffer from a sense of hopelessness and despair.
‘With other religious congregations, we organized a Christmas party for about 400 children in the internally displaced people’s camps. We provided food from donations you gave.
‘We sometimes use our MMM Core Values for reflection during internal management meetings. We discuss their implementation in our daily experience, especially in offering hospitality to guests and in our commitment and solidarity with the poor especially during times of crises – “sticking with something even when times are rough” (MMM CLT 2016).
‘The values of compassion and creative fidelity challenge us to constantly seek new ways of responding to the changing reality of South Sudan and how best to be bearers of our healing charism. We want to share these values with newly-employed staff in 2018 when the healing centre opens.
‘As we mark our fifth anniversary in Wau, we say thank you to everyone who has helped us to bring hope and healing to the people of Eastern Bank.’
Walking in trust ‘And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: “Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
‘And he replied, “Go out into the darkness and put your hand in the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way” (Minnie Louise Haskins).’
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