, 15 February, 2020 / 12:09 AM
Shortly after Loreto Sisters established a Primary and Secondary school in the South Sudanese Diocese of Rumbek in 2010, bringing hope to thousands of children who used to walk for long distances in search of education, the Sisters identified a health gap among school-going children that needed their immediate attention.
According to Loreto Secondary School Principal, Sr. Orla Treacy, school-going children started missing their classes in large numbers owing to illnesses especially during the mosquito season when many get malaria. In an interview with ACI Africa Friday, February 14, Sr. Treacy said that sick children in the school’s boarding facility were ferried to hospitals away from school while day scholars stayed away from school for lack of treatment.
“As the population began to grow in both the Primary and Secondary school, we discovered that one of the greatest reasons for absenteeism was health; as a boarding school we could be taking up to 15 girls to the clinics in town during the malaria season and our own primary school students were also suffering,” Sr. Treacy recounted to ACI Africa.
She added, “Again the local community invited us to consider a clinic.”
Thankfully for the sisters, one of the nuns in the congregation, Loreto Sr. Penina, a nurse from Kenya, travelled to the Diocese of Rumbek in 2016 and began a small school clinic for the needs of the students.
The small clinic, however, could not meet the needs of pupils and students, as well as those of the members of the community around the school who, according to Sr. Orla, had varied health needs.
“When we began the school clinic, Sr. Penina started recognizing the needs from among our workers and many women were struggling with chronic health issues and many children in the community were malnourished. And so, the project and the dream of a Primary Health Care Centre began.”
It is this gap that inspired the beginning of the construction of a state-of-the-art Clinic at the school with support of German government, Sign of Hope and Misean Cara, an Irish faith-based missionary movement working with marginalized and vulnerable communities in developing countries; and the goodwill of the Rumbek community, Sr. Orla disclosed in the interview.
She explained that the mission of the hospital was pegged on the example of Mary Ward, the founder of Loreto Sisters who the Clinic is now named after.
“Mary Ward was the foundress of our congregation. Born over four hundred years (ago), she suffered much in her life as a woman; she had a great vision of educating young women, believing that “women in time to come will do great things”, said Sr. Orla, adding, “This vision is very much and alive for us in Rumbek and among the girls we work with today.”
She continued, “Mary Ward also had a great love for the poor. When we are sick, we are often our poorest selves. Economically we may not have the money to pay for the medicine; physically we may not have the strength and socially we may not have a lot of support; intellectually we may not have an educated background to understand the condition. So, for us the sick are among the poorest in our community and poor are those whom Mary Ward loved.”
During the grand opening of the hospital on February 11, in a colorful ceremony that coincided with the universal Church’s celebration of the 28th World Day of the Sick, the Loreto sister said activities at the health facility would be hinged on education.
“All of what we do in the Loreto compound is done in the spirit of Education,” she said, adding, “Education is our core mission and that follows into every area of work. One of our core projects in the clinic is health education.”
Highlighting some of their activities in the East African country, the Irish-born nun recounted visiting seven local schools in the region last year and offering health education classes to pupils and students.
“This year we hope to expand this project to include other schools and local community groups,” the award-winning nun said.
Outlining the services the clinic intends to offer, the 47-year-old nun said trained staff at the clinic would provide clinical services to some 1,600 students in the school and their immediate families in the local community.
The Loreto Sisters have also been offering outreach programmes such as mobile clinics to other institutions run by different religious congregations in the region.
The Loreto Sisters in Rumbek diocese also run a nutrition programme that caters for 50 malnourished babies from the local community. These services, Sr. Orla says, are extended to immediate family members of the babies.
Additionally, the nuns run a training programme that targets graduates willing to accept internship opportunities. According to Sr. Orla, six graduates, this year, were offered internships in the clinic.
“During the year, the interns were trained as nursing assistants and to assist with basic health care. Thankfully this week all six are leaving us to study medicine and nursing and we look forward to welcoming the next group and generation of health care workers!” Sr. Treacy remarked.
Among the nuns, there is a psycho-therapist and another sister with a background in trauma healing to offer psycho-social support to clients at the hospital.
And working with the government, the sisters also run an immunization programme.
Speaking at the grand opening that was attended by Loreto school communities, the local community members and elders as well as the country’s Ministry of Health and that of Education, Fr. John Mathiang Machol, the Diocesan Coordinator of Rumbek Diocese said the facility would be a health-giving place endowed with divine powers.
“This primary Health Care dedicated to Mary Ward will be the place for healing, the healing power of God,” Fr. Mathiang told the guests at the launch Tuesday, February 11.
Addressing Loreto Sisters who were first commissioned to build a school in the diocese in 2008, accomplishing the task two year later, the South Sudanese cleric said, “All the things that you have been doing 10 years ago are being realized one by one. This (clinic) is now the third facility to be realized according to the plan and the community.”
Acting Governor of Western Lakes state, Mathiang Deng thanked the administration of the institution and stakeholders for the facility.
“Congratulations for the well-done job. This is one of the biggest health units we have ever had in Rumbek,” said Mr. Deng.
“This health facility is going to change the lives of our children, our mothers and vulnerable people in this area. They will no longer walk that long distance to get malaria treatment,” the Acting Governor said.
ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa