Salesian Missionary Establishes Hospital for Vulnerable Population in South Sudan

An image representing John Lee Memorial Hospital in Tonj, South Sudan.
Credit: Tonjproject

An Italy-based member of the Religious Institute of the Salesians of Don Bosco (SDB) has facilitated the establishment of a gynecology and obstetrics hospital in the Catholic mission of Tonj of South Sudan’s Rumbek Diocese.

A report by Mission Newswire earlier this week indicates that Fr. Omar Delasa, a medical doctor, facilitated the establishment of the 50-bed capacity John Lee Memorial Hospital with the support of volunteers “to provide for those who otherwise might not have access to medical care.”

Named in memory of Fr. John Lee Tae-seok, a Korean SDB missionary and doctor who served in Tonj mission of Rumbek Diocese, the hospital has two operating theaters, several delivery rooms, an analysis laboratory and a house capable of accommodating about fifteen volunteers who help in bridging the gap in maternal healthcare in the region.

On its website, the leadership of Tonjproject, a brainchild of Fr. Delasa through which he facilitated the establishment of the hospital says, in Warrap state within which Tonj falls, “the estimated maternal mortality is 2,173/100,000 with more than 40 percent of women not receiving assistance of any kind during pregnancy, childbirth and the puerperium.”

“Due to the unavailability of adequate health services, almost all women give birth at home, without any assistance,” the leadership of the Salesian project in Tonj mission adds.

Though working in the Sesto San Giovanni region of Italy’s Archdiocese of Milan as a Cleric, Fr. Delasa often flies to the world’s youngest nation “whenever possible” to oversee the operations of Tonjproject, the leadership of SDB has said in the Monday, January 18 report.

As a volunteer medic, Fr. Delasa’s decision to facilitate the establishment of the hospital was inspired by his first visit to South Sudan in 2006, when the country’s people were fighting for self-independence from Sudan.

It was during the visit that he “felt great affection for the people in Tonj who had fought so hard and had so little,” officials of the 161-year-old Religious Institute say.

In South Sudan, “There are many forgotten lives and problems that nobody wants to take on. Around all this sadness that often takes the name of exclusion, poverty, war, hunger, there is the fantastic world of volunteers,” Fr. Delasa has been quoted as telling the Italian edition of Marie Claire magazine.

He adds, "I want people to understand Tonj, its problems, hospital, children and their mothers. Volunteers have the opportunity to dig a well, build a new photovoltaic system, set up scholarships, buy medicines and train health personnel.”

In the interview, the Salesian missionary says of his work as a volunteer medic in Tonj, “This passion, which is much more to me, is a vocation. It was born by chance. From an early age, I understood that the poor and the needy could have an important place in my life and in my choices.”

In the January 18 report, the volunteer medic explains that his desire to serve the vulnerable was nurtured in his hometown, “a very small village” in Italy’s Bergamo Mountains “where people know each other and help each other.” 

Making reference to his childhood experience of a close-knit society, the Italian-born Cleric says, “This led me to choose first the faculty of medicine and surgery and then the consecrated life in the Congregation of the Salesians of Don Bosco.”

“South Sudan in general and Tonj in particular arrived later, almost by chance, following a request to try to experience myself in a missionary experience,” he adds.

As he offers his skills to the vulnerable in South Sudan, Fr. Delasa says he desires to be “understanding, attentive, always have a word of encouragement, a simple gesture that can instill confidence.”

He continues, “I’d like to be more reflective and give more to those who have had less… and I know that the world, even if they don’t make noise, is full of these willing and committed people.”

Established in November 2008, the Tonjproject strives to support “the activity of the Salesian mission of Tonj in South Sudan and to bring aid to a population that for decades has only known the experience of war.”

The leadership of the entity also supports projects “that aim to ensure the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation facilities in the hospital and in the mission environments.”

Other initiatives promoted by the Italy-headquartered organization include those that aim to contain the problem of hunger, and to provide quality education and an opportunity for learning for all.

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