Memories of MMM in Turkana
“Dear, how would you like to go to Africa?”
(Mother Mary to first Sisters assigned to Turkana)
And so the memories of MMM in Turkana began…
1962 - 2009
The Medical Missionaries of Mary first came to Turkana and what is now the Diocese of Lodwar in 1962. For forty-seven years they have shown forth the healing love of God. It is now time to move on as the local Church continues the ministry.
The sisters came at a time of great need, a time of famine, a time when resources in the desert were scarce and trained personnel unavailable. They came just before Kenya became an independent Republic, when missionaries were first being allowed into Turkana, and needs were great. They initiated medical services, schools, and development projects for women. They responded to whatever needed to be done.
The past forty seven years were years of great missionary collaboration; no one group could manage on their own. MMMs were invited by Bishop Houlihan SPS and worked closely with the Missionaries of St. Patrick throughout the years. When Lodwar became a Prefecture and later a Diocese, Bishop John Mahon SPS continued to motivate and support their ministry.
There will always be a special place in the heart of MMM for this great group of missionary priests.
And from the initial journey into the desert, the Sisters were welcomed, supported and helped on their way by the Sisters of Loreto, the Sisters of Mercy, the Holy Rosary Sisters and the Ursuline Sisters in particular. They too will be remembered with gratitude and love as will all the Sisters, Priests, Brothers and Lay Missionaries with whom they have ministered over the years.
This little booklet is not meant to be a history of MMM’s time in Turkana. It is an effort to collect some of the memories of those who lived and worked “in the desert”. It is a tribute to all that has been achieved and a desire to pass on the enthusiasm for mission, the willingness to work hard, and the love of God’s people of these earlier missionaries.
The work of the Medical Missionaries of Mary is continuing and will continue under the guidance of Bishop Patrick Harrington SMA and with the commitment of his Diocesan personnel. The prayers of MMM will continue to support this work and Turkana and its people will always hold a special place in their hearts. Asanteni sana. Alakara noi.
THE MISSIONARY JOURNEY
Mother Mary Martin, Foundress of MMM receives the first request for Sisters for Turkana from Msgr. Houlihan SPS of the Apostolic Prefecture of Eldoret. Mother replied that she had no sisters. Additional request in 1961.
Mother Mary cables Bishop Houlihan saying that she has two Sister Nurses “permanently” and a male doctor for six months. Bishop welcomes the two sisters but not the doctor as six months is too short.
Mother Mary asks Sisters Andrea Kelly and Campion (Elaine) Campbell if they “…would like to go to Africa”. Both are excited and within two weeks they have their injections, pack their bags, visit their families, and depart for Uganda where they will wait for their work permits for Kenya.
19 March, 1962
Bishop Houlihan drives Sisters from Masaka to Eldoret and on to Kitale.
24 March, 1962
Fr. Paddy Cullen SPS drives the Sisters in a Volkswagen beetle to Turkana. They passed from Kitale through Uganda and back into Kenya as there was no road on the Kenyan side. They arrived at Nadapal Famine Camp and were welcomed by Fr. Michael Dillon SPS and Fr. Mike Brennan SPS.
The Sisters started a dispensary in Nadapal; the building was made of palm leaves with the walls waist high. After a few weeks they started a weekly medical safari to Lorugumu, thirty kilometers south of Nadapal.
Nadapal was to be their home for the next four months.
6 July, 1962
The dispensary at Nadapal is dismantled.
11 July, 1962
Sisters move to Lorugumu and soon had a dispensary built of palm leaves.
Sr. Bernadette Gilsenan is assigned to Turkana and travels to Kenya. She meets Sisters Andrea and Campion in Kitale and they go together to Lorogumu.
latter part of 1962
Sr. Bernadette helps with the feeding programme in the nearby Famine Camp. She begins to teach the children how to count and write on the sand. A site for the school was selected on 2nd January 1963 and building was started the following day. Thus begins Lorugumu School.
Sr. Bernadette O’Brien arrives – the Sister-Doctor that Bishop Houlihan had been requesting.
Permanent convent and dispensary built in Lorugumu.
Land flattened for airstrip and first light plane lands in April. Sr. Michael Therese Ryan arrives to pilot the plane. Outreach safaris begin to several areas in the desert. Many of these sites will later have MMM communities and ministries. There are now five MMMs in Lorugumu.
MMM will stay in Lorugumu for sixteen years, leaving for other missions in 1978. The Ursuline Sisters will move into the Convent and will develop the Secondary School and continue the dispensary.
Bishop Houlihan purchases house in Kitale for Sisters. Two Sisters move to Kitale and work in Mount Elgon Hospital. The house is for the support of the Turkana mission and later Sisters take on work in the Diocese.
MMMs move to Kakuma. Hospital. AMREF, then known as the Flying Doctors begins regular surgical visits. By 1969 Kakuma had two Sister Nurses (Sr. Breege Breslin and Sr.Evangelist O’Connor) and a Sister Doctor (Sr. Patrice O’Leary) and was providing a highly professional service.
MMM stays in Kakuma for thirty years, and in 1991, the Turkana Homecraft Training Centre was begun. Both the hospital and the Homecraft continue today under the supervision of the Diocese. MMM withdrew from Kakuma in 1996.
Sr. Patrice O’Leary is appointed by government as Medical Officer for the whole of Turkana District. Sr. Breege Breslin joins her in Lodwar as Matron of the government District Hospital. Lodwar is established. It serves as a hospitality house throughout the years. And in 1992 Bishop Mahon requested Kathleen Crowley to begin working with the women. This was the birth of the Diocesan Women’s Development Programme. Today there is a flourishing basket-making and marketing project complete with an outlet in Nairobi.
MMMs move to Kataboi which is situated on the Lake. Medical services and development work with the women is undertaken. Because of the marked decrease in population in the area, the Congregation withdraws in 1986 after sixteen years of ministry there. The Sisters of Mary (Kakamega) continue the work.
A community is established in Lokitaung and a Sister worked as Nursing Officer in the Government Hospital. A craft centre was established. MMM withdrew in 1987.
Sisters move to Kaputir/Nakwamoro. A dispensary is built and a co-operative is developed. Many stories are told of crossing the river and of the eggs that Sr. Evangelist always had ready. MMM handed over the well-run health centre and Women’s Project in 2005 to the Sisters of St. Anne.
The 1960s and 1970s were years of expansion and building up for MMM and the Church in Turkana. It was also a time of increasing vocations in the Congregation and many young sisters were available for mission. By 1975 six houses with medical and women’s development ministries were established. It was an exciting time.
By 1986, the situation had begun to change. There were fewer sisters being professed, sisters were ageing and the harsh climate began to take its toll on health, and other needs for MMMs were surfacing. As missionaries there is the call to respond to a new need, work with the people to build up this response, and then to move on. The local Church will continue the work of building up the Kingdom of God.
In April 2007, the ultimate sacrifice was asked of MMM in Turkana. Following a bite of a hunting spider in Lodwar, Sr. Rosetta Furlong died on the 28th April despite having responded initially to medical treatment. She was flown to Nairobi in the Diocesan plane accompanied by Kathleen Crowley and Tony Woods. Six of her family came out for the funeral together with MMMs from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, and Rwanda. She is buried in St. Austin’s Cemetery in Nairobi. May she rest in peace.
And so, the Medical Missionaries of Mary move from Turkana, grateful to God and the people of Turkana for all that has been accomplished and all that has been received. Like Mary, MMM says “The Lord has done marvels for (us), Holy is God’s Name”.
The above picture of the members of the Kenya Area, taken in 1984 includes many of the Sisters who were missioned to Turkana.
SISTERS WHO HAVE SERVED IN TURKANA
Those who served and have died and gone before us
Sr. Andree Brow
Sr. Elaine Campbell
Sr. Anna Friel
Sr. Rosetta Furlong
Sr. Breda Hogan
Sr. Joannes Meehan
Sr. Consolata Rhatigan
Sr. Presentina Murphy
Sr. Margaret McCormack
Sr. Evangelist O’Connor
Sr. Patrice O’Leary
Sr. Mary O’Neill
Sr. Teresa Purcell
Those still engaged in MMM healing ministry
Sr. Cheryl Blanchard
Sr. Maureen Brennan
Sr. Breege Breslin
Sr. Bridie Canavan
Sr. Pauline Connolly
Sr. Kathleen Crowley
Sr. Sheila Devane
Sr. Patricia Ann Devine
Sr. Kathleen Donnelly
Sr. Mary Dunne
Sr. Bernadette Gilsenan
Sr. Rita Hand
Sr. Dympna Hannelly
Sr. Teresa Hogan
Sr. Mary Jones
Sr. Nina Underwood
Sr. Andrea Kelly
Sr. Rita Kelly
Sr. Agnes Manifold
Sr. Gemma Massey
Sr. Lucy Mbawuike
Sr. Edna O’Gorman
Sr. Eunice Okobia
Sr. Margaret Mary Okooboh
Sr. Maureen O’Mahoney
Sr. Marian Therese Reynolds
Sr. Philomena Rooney
Sr. Karen Shearer
Sr. Brenda Swan
those who served as MMM for a while
Teresa (Michael Therese) Ryan
In preparation for withdrawing from Lodwar Diocese, MMM Leadership asked all Sisters who had served in Kitale and Lodwar (the houses were intertwined) to share some of their memories. The following is a sampling of these stories; the full text is available in the Area Office.
Sisters Andrea Kelly and Bernadette Gilsenan generously shared the stories of their assignment, journey to Turkana, and early days. A big “thank you” to both.
“I was professed on October 3rd 1961 and assigned to our Guest Dept. where one of my duties was to take Mother Mary’s dinner to her in her office. One day, as I was leaving, Mother Mary said ‘dear, how would you like to go to Africa?’ I said, ‘Mother, I am dying to go to Africa’. ‘Come’, she said ‘I will read you a letter from the Bishop of Eldoret in Kenya, Msgr. J. Houlihan SPS, Kiltegan’.
He is appealing for two Sisters to go to the Turkana Desert in N.W. Kenya. The area has had no rain for two years followed by torrential rain and subsequent flooding with great loss of life. At this time Kenya was a British colony, only Government Officials were allowed to enter the area for administrative purposes and the Police to patrol the Sudanese and Ethiopian border. The famine situation forced the Government to allow four Missionary groups to enter the Region.
The Kiltegan Fathers were assigned to a famine camp at Nadapal, nine kilometers from Lodwar, the administrative centre. They arrived there in December 1961. The Bishop assured Mother Mary of a Convent and a Mobile Unit for the Sisters. Mother said she was sending me. Later I learned that Sr. Campion (Elaine) Campbell was also assigned to Turkana. She had previous missionary experience in Nigeria.
After two weeks of hectic preparations we left Drogheda in mid-February 1962 on the first lap of our journey with ₤100 to found our first Mission in Kenya. We arranged to meet in Amsterdam after a short visit with our families.
Sr. Bernadette tells a similar story:
My first introduction to Turkana was in the beginning of September 1962 when Mother Mary came in to the hospital kitchen and asked me if I would like to go to Africa. This was like a dream fulfilled. At that time I was working in the Bakery and Mother said I could teach the women how to bake. Within a week I was on my way having had all the necessary injections, saying good bye to my family and packing my bags. Mother Mary told my mother not to worry about me because the African women liked fat people. I was quite plump at the time.
THE JOURNEY TO TURKANA
Andrea tells of the journey of herself and Campion:
Plans had been made for us to stay with our Sisters in Masaka, Uganda while awaiting our work permits for Kenya. It was a good opportunity to see a well established mission hospital and out-statiions.
Four weeks later we left for Kenya in a Ford Anglia driven by Rt. Rev. J. Houlihan SPS, Bishop of Eldoret who had written to Mother Mary requesting Sisters. We were warmly welcomed in Eldoret by the Irish Sisters of Loreto. Fifty miles further north, we again received a great welcome in Kitale from the Ursuline Sisters from Sligo. This was our last stop before heading for Turkana, our goal.
It was Saturday 24th March at 5:00 a.m. Crammed to capacity in a Volkswagen Beetle driven by Rev. Paddy Cullen SPS, and accompanied by Sr. Assumpta OSU, we left the coffee and tea plantations of Kitale. It was exciting heading for the unknown, responding to a cry for help. It was a long journey and the increasing heat was nearly unbearable. Dressed in full habit and with limited space to move our legs it was not easy.
All the vehicles had to pass through Uganda and re-enter Kenya further on. There was only a dirt path within Kenya from Kitale to Turkana. At the border crossing no police were seen. A short time later we came to the river Amudat, a little ravine with about twelve inches of water flowing quite briskly. Fr. Paddy, an experienced traveler said “All out". We were to become familiar with this routine – all out, everything out, check the current and depth of the water, cross, repack. It was fascinating to see the car floating across led by Fr. Paddy and the local lads. Our turn came next. Sandals and stockings had to be removed and skirts tucked up. Relishing the cool water and with a prayer we reached the other side.
The great moment arrived when we set foot on Turkana soil. Welcomed by the Turkana Tribal Police with shouts of “Mata, mata, mata” we were uncertain. The initial trepidation melted to relaxation as we realized this was the Turkana greeting. Leaving the border we followed a sandy road with no sign of life for miles. On the way we saw a few people drinking from muddy pools. Helpless to help them at this moment we had to pass on with a more determined resolve to do all we could with God’s grace to ease their suffering; to give ourselves totally to our Mission; to activate our Charism.
The first sight of Nadapal Famine Camp was emotional. As we arrived Fr. Joe Murray SPS was standing on the back of a truck tossing out dried fish to a crowd with outstretched hands. Fr. Mike Brennan SPS was seen in the distance carrying an empty wooden apple box. Fr. Michael Dillon SPS came forward to welcome us.
Sr. Bernadette’s journey took place a few months later. She tells it this way:
I traveled with Mother Columbanus who was the Regional superior in East Africa at that time. She was on her way to Tanzania and Sr. Therese Stanley, who was going to Uganda. I remember asking Mother Columbanus what would I be doing in Africa and she said” Just do what your superior tells you”. So much for preparation for the missions!
At Entebbe I parted company with the other two sisters and was alone for the last lap of the journey to Kenya. I was met in Nairobi by one of the St. Patrick Fathers who brought me to the Sisters of Mercy to spend the night. This was my first introduction to a mosquito net and I did not sleep as the mosquitoes were buzzing around me the whole night. Being fresh from Ireland they really feasted on me. By morning I had what they called “A Nairobi eye” I could not open it and it was badly infected. The sisters took great care of me and within a couple of days I was ready to continue my journey to the unknown.
I traveled to Kitale with Fr. Paddy Cullen and Fr. McGettigan. The road from Nairobi to Naivasha was tarmac and we traveled at high speed. Once we reached Nakuru the rain started. I had never experienced rain like it. The road was just a mud road so we slid from side to side all over the place. By the time we reached Hoey’s Moi’s Bridge (now Moi’s bridge) it got so bad that we could not go any further. The St. Patrick’s Fathers had a mission there so we pulled in around 7.00 pm. We were welcomed by Fr Morgan O’Brien, who was later killed in a car accident in Turkana. He was a brother of Sr. Bernadette O’Brien MMM and Fr. Pat of Kenya. A number of Priests had gathered for the evening meal. I was very shy and I remember the cook put an ear of corn on front of me on a plate. I had never seen anything like that before and I did not know how to attack it so I politely took up my knife and fork and tried to cut it. All eyes seemed to be on me so one priest presented me with two six inch nails and said that might help me. By then everyone was amused to see what I would do next and I was getting more and more embarrassed. First I tried to dig the kernels out with the nail but eventually one priest came to my rescue and put a nail in either end of the corn.
Next morning the sun was shining brightly so we continued our journey to Kitale where I was to meet the other two Sisters, Sr. Campion Campbell and Sr. Andrea Kelly who had preceded me to Turkana. The Ursuline sisters in Kitale offered us hospitality and were very kind and helpful to us and made us welcome to stay with them until we got our own house in Kitale. At last the day came to proceed to Lorugumu.
Andrea and Campion spent their first few months in Nadapal. Andrea describes life at that time.
Nadapal was our first house in Turkana. It was made of corrugated iron sheets held together with three by two inch wooden beams. The roof hovered over it leaving a space of about twelve inches. A proper sun trap or, if you can imagine, an outdoor oven. During the early days it was impossible to have a proper siesta as the bed was too hot. It was suggested we cover the roof with palm leaves. This was effective for some time, but alas, the mice found a nice nesting place. They also found a home in the interior sprung mattresses the Bishop had kindly provided.
We soon discovered what the apple box was for. It was over a bucket in the toilet. It was six weeks before we had a pit latrine. Until that time we took turns emptying the bucket at the crack of dawn. At the same time the priests arrived to celebrate the Eucharist. It was pre-Vatican II so there was no concelebration.
We had no running water so we depended on a daily delivery from Lodwar nine kms away. A metal container, the size of a weekend suitcase, was dumped on the sand near the convent.
Canonical weekly confession was a bit of an ordeal at first, working with the priests all week. Then face to face confession on the open verandah. Gradually it became easier. There was a wooden gothic altar in the Oratory where the Blessed Sacrament was reserved for the first time in Turkana. The Oratory was peaceful at the end of the day, but our feet were off the floor as scorpions and hunting spiders started their night life.
The kitchen comprised of a table, two chairs, a locker, and a temperamental kerosene fridge. All food was tinned – butter, milk powder, jam, vegetables, soups. Boiled lamb and onions were the main dish each day. The lamb was reboiled each day for health and safety reasons. Butter was removed from the tin and put into a jam jar. It liquefied each day soon to become rancid. To this day I still cannot take soft butter.
Sr. Andrea describes the first dispensary at Nadapal.
We had a shelter erected of palm leaves comprising of two sections approximately 10 x 8 feet, connected by a narrow passage. The “walls” were only waist high.
Our first day on duty we dressed as we would be in Drogheda, plus a grey nylon housecoat to try and keep clean. The temperature could reach 100° in the shade.
However we started the Dispensary with a few medicines, vitamins and dried mild. Sr. Elaine examined the patients in one section and wrote a ‘prescription’. I administered the medicine in the other section. It was more a social event. We soon realized that the really sick people were too ill to leave the camp.
Sr. Andrea shares memories of the move to Lorugumu:
The faithful lorry arrived to take our meager possessions to Lorugumu. The convent was a bit better than at Nadapal. It was a heartening sight to see Fr. Leo and some men working at building a cement block Convent. For the time being we had a latrine and outside shower which consisted of a proper bath with a forty four gallon drum of water. This was filled each morning by men carrying buckets from the river bed. The drum was set up on stilts and the whole area surrounded by a ‘wall’ of palm leaves. One day later on, while having a shower, I heard a plane. Looking up I saw it circling the compound. I scrambled to dress very quickly. It was the first flight to Turkana.
Sr. Bernadette tells of her arrival and first days there:
Eventually the day came to proceed to Lorugumu. There Bishop Houlihan had built a little Convent consisting of four little rooms in a straight line divided by hardboard walls, three of which were to be our bedrooms and one an oratory. There was an open veranda with open wire mesh out front and a door. The two priests were living in a small cage at the foot of the little hill in front of our house. On our third night there we went to bed as usual. Suddenly Sr. Campion called and said there was something strange moving under her bed. I went out with a flashlight and saw a huge snake moving around under her bed. I called Fr. Brennan to come to our aid. He arrived armed with a brand new hurling stick he had brought from Ireland. He threw the stick at the snake. The stick broke. He decided we should send for the local police to come to our aid... We had great difficulty getting sister out of the bed on to a chair. We tried pulling the chair with a broom but it kept getting stuck in the sand floor. Eventually the snake was killed by a man with a spear. The local men rejoiced and had a great feast that night. Next day they came with the skin of the snake all cleaned up and stretched. This adorned our walls for many years.
Andrea describes the early work in Lorugumu:
We soon had a dispensary made of palm leaves. It was cool but water was scarce. Eye conditions were prevalent resulting in many adults becoming blind. This gave us an impetus to tackle the problem.
I remember my first public health talk with a few mothers and babies out in the open air, trying to encourage the mothers to keep the babies’ eyes clean. For visual aids I borrowed an empty smoky corned beef tin and some precious water, half filling the tin. I explained why I waited, so that the grime would settle at the bottom. All this talk was conducted with an interpreter. When the water seemed clear I demonstrated how to gently scoop some water with my fingers and wash out the baby’s eyes. The mothers could not understand saying ‘We never had to do this before. The eyes have always been like this.’ I kept repeating ‘Kilata akunyen’ demonstrating the scooping movement. The whole scene was hilarious. Later, each time I met a group of mothers on the road, they would mimic the scooping and keep saying ‘Kilata akunyen’.
Bernadette expands on the work in Lorugumu:
There was a famine relief camp set up not too far away with up to 1000 people or more. My job was to help with the feeding program for the children. There seemed to be hundreds of them. We could not speak their language but very quickly picked up a few necessary phrases; the children were adorable and once they had some food or a little milk, their little bodies began to shine. With the help of the catechist, Erneste, who was of the Teso tribe, and a few little boys we were soon able to communicate. Of course the one language everyone understands is the language of LOVE.
Each morning after the feeding program was finished I would gather the children under a tree and teach them how to count and write on the sand with sticks and stones. We discovered that these children were really very intelligent if they had enough food and nourishment. Within a couple of months a little school building with two classrooms was built and a small grant given to start a proper school with fifty children. These would be fed and provided with uniforms and books by the Government. When news of this got out, everyone wanted to go to school, from old men to teenagers and small children, mainly because they would receive food. We decided to pick out fifty children between the ages of 9-10. so Lorugumu school was under way. I was appointed to be the principal; not being a teacher I got a young man to come to help.
Gradually more classrooms were added, a dining room, office and storage rooms etc. and each year fifty more students were also enrolled. In the very first class there were a few very bright boys and just two girls. When they reached 7th grade Bishop Mahon was opening the secondary school in Lodwar. He came to me one day and said he would give a scholarship to five bright students. We duly picked out the best. One boy did not want to leave Lorugumu, his mother had died and he said that I was his mother now and anyway he was educated because he could read and write and speak English. After a little persuasion he decided to go once he could return to Lorugumu during holiday times. Once he settled in Lodwar he began to excel in all subjects especially science. He eventually won scholarships to Nairobi and eventually USA where he received his doctorate. I had lost touch with him over the years. Then one day I received a phone call from him here in Chicago telling me he was graduating from the University of Texas in
El Paso with a doctorate degree and would like me (his mother) to attend. What a surprise! He even paid my fare to get there and put me up in a first class hotel. He proudly introduced me as his first teacher who taught him how to write on the sand and count with stones. What a joy to be present. The following year another one of that class received his doctorate in New York and also invited me. I was very proud of both of them. I’m sure there have been many more success stories from the little humble school in Lorugumu.
We had a small eight bedded health Center in Lorugumu where the sick people from the camps came. It was always overcrowded. There were two or more patients sometimes in the beds; they were under the beds and between the beds so the sisters and staff were kept very busy. People came at night with snake or scorpion bites. Men came from cattle raids and many came with hydatid cysts.
There was great rejoicing when our first sister doctor, Sr. Bernadette O’Brien arrived to join our little community. The Bishop had given his Volkswagen to a Brother from Iten to bring the sister to Lorugumu. The small low car got stuck in the sand many times so they had to dig it out. By the time they finally reached us there was no petrol for the return journey and we had none in Lorugumu. Sr. Campion and I and Brother went to Lodwar to borrow some petrol. On our return journey we came upon a river in flood. It was rising and moving quite swiftly. This was the first flowing water we were to see in Turkana. The Brother decided we could make it across safely. Unfortunately when we were within a few yards from the bank the car made a left turn and we started floating down the river. At first we did not think it was serious and Sr. Campion started ‘Cruising down the river on a Sunday afternoon” (It was a Sunday). Then we realized it was serious. We floated several yards. Then as luck had it we hit a big tree in the middle of the river which stopped us. There was no way we could get out as by this time it was a raging torrent. Then the car started filling up with water so I opened my window and managed to climb on to the roof and the others followed me. We clung on to the tree for a long time but as the water started to rise higher we had to climb. It was pretty dramatic and we hung unto thorny branches until the water started to subside. Eventually Brother was able to get down. The water was still up to his neck so he carried us over to the bank safely. The car was washed further down stream and was found in a deep hole the following day. It was eventually put on the top of a lorry and brought to Kitale.
The Bishop was always very anxious to do something to help the women, especially young girls who had very little education. He asked me to see what could be done. With time I was able to hand the school over to African teachers and get involved with development work among the women. We started some workshops in Lorugumu, making jewelry from locally gathered berries from trees, palm leaves and local wood and beads. We made necklaces and buttons and made children’s clothes and taught them a little cooking and baking. As the main road to Ferguson’s Gulf went past Lorugumu, many tourists would stop looking for a meal and even accommodation for a night, so we set up a tea room in front of our little building and added two rooms for people to stay in. We had nice bright sun umbrellas outside with tables and chairs and a sign on the main road inviting people to stop by for tea and scones! We also started making baskets from the palm trees. This now has been perfected and developed with the skill of Sr. Kathleen Crowley into a thriving industry. It has spread into many other areas among women’s groups.
Once the road from Kitale to Lodwar no longer went through Lorugumu, this project ceased to exist.
As the work expanded and other sisters joined the community in Turkana, other memories were created.
The following are excerpts from the various sisters who responded to a request for contributions.
Sr. Rita Kelly shares her experiences…
My first assignment was to Turkana, Kenya in 1973. I was sent to replace Sr.Breege Breslin in Lodwar District Hospital which was a government hospital. Sr. Patrice O’Leary was the Medical Officer of Health of Lodwar District.
This experience for me was like a baptism of fire. I was a recently trained Nurse/Midwife and suddenly I was the Nursing Officer in Charge of a District Hospital. However, on reflecting back on those years I realize that Sr. Patrice was an excellent teacher and mentor. I learnt a lot, not only about Tropical Medicine, but also about management and insights into the cultural, social and political environment we were working within. From Lodwar District Hospital one had the overall view of the health services of Turkana.
I remember on one of my first days in Lodwar seeing an MMM coming off the plane with Sr. Sean. The sister was “green in the face” and very sick. I made up my mind I was never going to fly in the small plane. However, one day a fisherman was brought into the hospital from Lake Turkana. He had been fishing in the lake when a crocodile was caught in his net. He tried to pull the crocodile from the net but the tail of the crocodile whipped off both his legs. When he came into us it was a miracle that he was still alive. After emergency treatment, it was decided he would need more specialized surgery. I accompanied him on the plane to Nairobi. Afterwards I thought I was so worried about the patient that I forgot to be air-sick! However, I enjoyed many a plane ride after that, especially for trips to Kitale. Kitale was an oasis for us. There was always a great welcome from the sisters. Also, they were always available to send post and messages up to us.
If I remember correctly in this period from 1973 – 1975, there were four of us temporary professed in Turkana and Kitale: Mairead Butterly, Mary Dunne, Joannes Meehan, and myself. Lorugumu was the centre where we would meet for renewal of vows, celebrating Christmas, and MMM meetings. Bernadette Gilsenan and her team from the Maendoleo would give us great hospitality. Usually the day ended with a cheili and a sing-song. In 1975 I returned to Ireland on home-leave to find there were other plans for me! It was 1981 before I returned to Turkana for ministry.
In 1981 I was sent to Kakuma to develop the Primary Health Care Services. The Turkana people were facing once again an acute famine situation. The famine was so severe that outside agencies were requested to come to our aid to help feed the people. Many feeding camps were built around Kakuma. The daily death rate was very high due to malnutrition and diseases such as cholera and measles.
After the initial crisis a group of diocesan personnel met. Many of us were struck by the increasing dependence of the people on outside help. We felt saddened by the extreme poverty of the people and the movement of the people from a proud nomadic people to dependency on the feeding camps. We had many meetings and discussions with the local leaders. It was during this time that the Training for Transformation programmes came to our awareness. This programme is based on Paolo Friere’s theory of the psych-social method of teaching. It is a way of enabling communities to take responsibility for their own lives; a way of giving dignity back to the people. After initial training of a number of people, a team was formed representing the various departments within the diocese.
In 1982 the Lodwar Delta Service Team was formed. Delta was the name given to the movement of the Training for Transformation process throughout Kenya. The Lodwar Team became a member of the national organization. The Team commenced training in parishes throughout the Diocese. The programme gave us the necessary tools to develop critical awareness, to involve communities actively in group leadership. Some parishes became actively involved in the process; others less so. I felt challenged by the programme. Through the process I began to realize that I was only beginning to know the people and the culture, even though I had already worked eight years in the area.
Within a couple of years there was an attempted military coup in Kenya. The Delta programme was viewed as subversive by some members of the government. Delta offices throughout the country were searched by the police and personnel arrested. Also, some missionaries believed that the Delta programme was based on the philosophy of Marxism. In 1985 the Bishop closed the programme and the team was dispersed.
We were devastated, but God works in strange ways. In 2001 there was an international gathering of Training for Transformation practitioners from all over the world held in Kimmage, Dublin. I attended the gathering. The history of the Training for Transformation programmes in each country was mapped out. I was amazed and thrilled to find out that the people of Turkana who had training with the Lodwar Delta Service Team eventually regrouped as the Justice Team. Reflecting on this experience, I learnt that our missionary task is often to sow the seed.
Sr. Sheila Devane shares her experience of the birth of Triplets…
Living in Lorugumu in the 70’s was an amazing experience in so many ways. There are many stories to tell as MMM prepares to leave Turkana, to hand over and to leave behind a rich heritage of service well rendered.
The story I choose to tell from my years there is one fittingly of “Mother & Child”…except that it is about “Mother & Triplet Children”!
In Lorugumu we ran a small bedded dispensary and had a vibrant MCH clinic; one mother who was attending was called Helen a teacher in Turkwell where the late Sr. Joannes Meehan MMM was running a kindergarten with Sr. Clotilda an Ursuline sister.
Joannes told me she believed Helen, one of their teachers, was expecting (at the very least) triplets based on her dimensions (!); we believed she was pregnant with twins; these were days long before ultra-sound.
We advised Helen to stay in the area for the birth although her home was now at the border of the region of Turkana; Helen went home.
Late one night Fr. Seamus O’Neill SPS, who was in the mission with (the late) Msgr. Johnny Mahon (later to become first Bishop of the Diocese of Turkana), came to our house to say that a runner (a male messenger) had come to the mission from Helen’s home area saying there were problems and could we come immediately. So Seamus and I set out in the mission open backed land-rover on a warm and starry night for a drive of about 30 kms. I took a maternity delivery pack, a drawer – as a crib for the babies - and all the provisions I believed I needed. We set out wondering what and who exactly we would find and earnestly praying we would be able to cope. We were two midwives and I reminded Seamus of his role!
When we arrived we were led to the Manyatta where Helen was squatting on the floor since early morning with a tiny baby boy beside her in the arms of one of the older women. She had gone out of labour; I proceeded to assist and then shortly we had the birth of a second little boy. He was greeted with low sounds that were like moaning outside in the compound; I wondered what the sounds meant: rejoicing or wonder? Within about another half hour we had the birth of a third baby boy. This birth was greeted with louder sounds that were definitely eerie and, for me, worrying.
Seamus talked to the elders and we knew we had better leave quickly for Lorugumu where we would keep Helen and the three wee boys for a week or so.
We put the three boys in the drawer in the back of the land-rover with me as guardian while Helen and a woman relative traveled in the front. We reached Lorugumu in the early hours of next morning and were greeted by Bosco the night watchman and night superintendent!
Our first task next day was to send an urgent message by radiotel to Helen’s husband who was down country in the Kenyan army. What to put in the message became a real issue: “Congratulations on the birth of your Triplets” was definitely not acceptable as the Turkana people did not know of triplets. They were a first ever. So we compromised and wrote: “Come home, family medical emergency”. Can you imagine his amazement when he arrived to realize that he was now the father of 4 children – his little 5 year old daughter and her three newly born brothers!
Helen and the babies did well and from what I learned after I left Turkana all three grew to be adults. These were the first recorded triplets born to a Turkana couple and the birth and their early weeks of life in Lorugumu remain forever in my mind as a wonderful memory of great years of ministry and service to special people.
Sr. Teresa Hogan remembers…
When I arrived in Kenya in January 1985 my first assignment was to Lokitaung in Lodwar Diocese. Sr. Rosetta, who had been there alone for some months, was in Nairobi to meet me. After a couple of days in the big city going to Immigration and other places we set out on our journey to Turkana.
Mr. Gilchrist, a Scottish surgeon, who then worked in Kakuma hospital happened to be traveling up the same day and was pleased to have us with him for the journey. On the way we collected a young Turkana boy at the Nazareth Hospital which was then run by the Consolata sisters. Eight years old Ekai had been bitten on the head by a hyena while he herded his father’s goats near Lokitaung. By good fortune someone heard the boy screaming and rescued him and took him to Rosetta for treatment. She saw that the hyena had got quite a decent bite from the top of the head. Having made him as comfortable as possible she bundled him, and his mother, into the landrover and drove to the District hospital in Lodwar – a good 6 hours journey. From there Ekai was transferred to Nairobi by the Flying doctors. After spending more than six months at the Nazareth hospital and having had many skin grafts he was now ready to go back home, a very healthy and attractive boy despite having no hair on the top and on one side of his head. I remember he was wearing a lovely red track suit and carried a small paper bag containing two mandazi, that was his luggage! We bought him a pair of flip flops.
We had a very comfortable journey on a new tarmac road all the way. Rosetta tried to make conversation with Ekai but discovered he had forgotten most of his Kiturkana. They managed with limited Kiswahili. Every time we had to stop along the way, at traffic lights or at small centers he would stand up and say “Lodwar”? He was excited about getting home. When we reached Eldoret Mr. Gilchrist decided we should spend the night there. At that time Srs. Elaine Campbell and Agnes Manifold were on the staff in GABA. They gave us a great welcome and hospitality for the night. We enjoyed a lovely supper and as soon as Ekai finished his he stood and said he wanted to sleep. So Rosetta took him to her room where he would sleep on a mattress on the floor. After washing his hands he knelt on the mattress and prayed, repeating over and over – ‘Ave Maria, grazia plena, Santa Maria, Mater Dei’. During all the months in the Nazareth hospital he had been taught to pray by an old Consolata sister.
The following afternoon we reached Lodwar. After supper we took Ekai to the district hospital. It was arranged he would stay there a few days until we could contact some relative. The Turkana being a nomadic people would not be easy to track down. As we continued on the last lap of our journey to Lokitaung we knew he would be given food and would soon befriend some of the patients while he waited to be found by a family member. Two weeks later we were back in Lodwar with patients and to collect vaccines. As we were getting out of the landrover we saw Ekai running towards us, still in his red track suit and carrying the flip flops in one hand, and in the other a pencil case that Agnes had given him in Eldoret! So no one had yet heard or come to welcome him back home. Two weeks later we were back again in Lodwar and were told that Ekai’s uncle had come and they were both very happy to be reunited.
Though I spent only 3 years in Lokitaung with Sr. Rosetta I can honestly say that her unselfish and generous commitment and care for the people of that very harsh and deprived area was a great example to me. Ekai was only one of very many who got a second chance because she cared.
Ekai would now be 33 years. As I remember him my hope is that ‘Maria’ to whom he learned to pray has always been close to him and kept him safe.
And Brenda Swan says…
I went to Kenya for the first time in 1976. After language school I was very lucky to get a lift in the plane from Joe Moran who was going to Lorugumu and I spent my Christmas there. It was like being catapulted into another world in the space of a few hours. As we flew over the desert I was struck by the vastness of the barren country and it seemed as though there were very few people around. Everywhere looked brown and dry and I wondered how anyone could ever find their way around there as everywhere looked the same. We got a great welcome from Sheila Devane who was looking after the Health Centre at the time and having flown straight from Kitale we had fresh food, fruit and vegetables, which were very welcome as I later came to realize.
What I remember most of all is attending Mass for the first time on Sunday in the small Church. The congregation was made up mostly of women and children and they sang with great enthusiasm even though the tunes were not very melodious to me. They had great rhythm, their musical instruments were shakers made from the tops of cola bottles on sticks and they gave it all they had. The babies were handed around from one to another and it was only when they needed to be fed that you found out who the mother was! The offertory was a very important point it seemed to me as each person came up one by one and put their offering ceremoniously into the basket. They all looked alike and I wondered if I’d ever be able to distinguish one from another. The women wore their goat skin skirts and top and all the beads around their necks which represented the wealth of their husbands as well as fashion. They had strong beautiful features and not an ounce of extra fat on their bodies; I was mesmerized.
The radio contact from Lodwar was a very crucial part of our day. At designated times of the day we had communication from the District Hospital from the Doctor or Sr. Breege Breslin, the Matron. We were called in a certain order and we discussed any medical problems we had with them. It was a great relief for those of us who were new to the job and needed the advice or reassurance that the treatment we were giving was appropriate. We were expected to stick to medical issues but a lot of other things were discussed as well, like who had left a particular mission and what time they hoped to reach their destination. It meant that the travelers were expected at a particular time and with bad roads and flash floods this was very important information. Of course it meant that everyone knew everyone’s movements and business and could be a source of discussion in the community later when someone would ask ‘Any news on the radio today?’
At the end of a hard hot day there was nothing nicer or more rewarding than sitting out in the cool of the evening watching the starry sky, and I got to know more star forms than I thought possible. Then at 9 p.m. we’d listen to the BBC on the radio and keep in touch in that way with the outside world. By then the mosquitoes would be out and looking for a feed and it was time for us to retire to bed.
I didn’t spend that much time in Turkana overall but it is an experience I will always treasure and remember with great affection and all the great people I shared life with there.
From Phil Rooney we learn…
I went to Kenya in 1976 and as my first mission was not ready for me, I spent a few months in Kitale and later three months in Turkana. I was sent to Kaputir to relieve Sr. Kathleen Crowley who was at home on holidays and Sr. Evangelist was on her own. My first work was to chase the goats off the airstrip when the Flying Doctors were coming. I sure did enjoy that.
Next, a Bishop who worked with Evangelist in Uganda came to visit her in Kaputir; also the new Papal Nuncio Giovanna came to see the mission. Sr. Evangelist asked me to help the cook with the dinner, but I noticed he did not want me, so I kept away. As I walked over to the airstrip Evangelist kept ahead of me, greeting them all, and I said to myself ‘I wish this day was over’. Then the Nuncio, who had been a Monsignor in Madrid, Spain, turned and saw me coming, and he raised his two hands in the air and said ‘Hermana Ignacia, how are you?’ Even at dinner, which was great, the Bishop said to Evangelist, ‘with those pair’ – the Nuncio and I talking about Spain – ‘we are not getting a chance to talk’.
When I went back to Turkana to take over the school in Kakuma of 38 girls and 4 teachers, I got 60 girls and all were a success. We had an Assembly every Monday to Friday morning at 8:00 a.m. When I walked out to it, my shoulders well back and smiling, the 60 girls in a ring, and the four teachers present, the Teacher on Discipline sent a Turkana girl out to raise the Kenyan Flag and we all sang the National Anthem. Looking up at the flag and singing, I smiled and thought, my God, to think that I never stood under my own Irish flag…if these girls knew that!!!
Sr. Cheryl Blanchard tells another story…
To pick from the many stories I could tell about my years in Turkana is not easy. Living among the Turkana was one of the major blessings of my life. I went to Turkana as a young, naive, woman of 26. I was astounded from the first days I set foot in Lorugumu, to see the trust and faith the people had in me, to say I learned on the job as a nurse/midwife would be a vast understatement! Also, through my Turkana friends and living among the people, especially in Kataboi, I learned the deeper meaning of communion and commitment.
My story is a simple one. It was a time of growing hunger in Turkana, the rains had failed for 3 years in a row and the animals were starting to die. Cholera reared its ugly head and scores of people were afflicted with the disease. Our tiny 12 bedded health center was overrun with the sick. The supplies of IVs and antibiotics were stretched to the limit. The whole spectrum of their society suffered, strong men, as well as tiny babies on drips, hanging from everywhere: from the rafters and even the acacia trees outside! I remember vividly one day rushing around getting more bags to hang for drips, trying to keep everyone’s drip running well. I had come from our medical store and many patients, who were recovering and able to drink, were on the veranda of the health centre chatting and observing all the bustle of activity. One man, who had been at death’s door two days prior, was stretched out with his ekichilong (wooden stool/pillow that only men have) under his head, another man, an acquaintance of his who also was recuperating, was walking languidly by. The next thing the guy lying down darts out his foot and trips his friend. There was much shouting, laughing, pretend offense etc. This scene stays with me because it speaks to me of the God given qualities Turkana have: a wonderful sense of humor that stays with them despite terrible hardships like cholera and famine, and the deep resilience and strength they have at their core. It speaks to me still!
Sr. Maureen Brennan shares…
I was sent to Turkana to relieve Patrice O’Leary who was Medical Officer of Health for the whole of Turkana. God help me I was a green horn with little experience and thrown into the desert I had never known existed. It was my first time in Africa and an awesome experience. As we drove in a government jeep over the escarpments to Turkana which had only room for one vehicle, Patrice passed over to me my duties as MOH.
I stayed in Lodwar for six months with Breege Breslin who was Matron in the Government Hospital. She was a mighty woman who gave me a lot of support. The other MMMs were Srs. Sean, Evangelist, Laurie Best, Bernadette Gilsenan, Campion, and Andree Brow.
My duties consisted of administrative and clinical work in the local hospital in Lodwar and responsibilities for health care throughout Turkana during the cholera epidemic and famine. We had no electricity and managed with lamps, a generator, and kerosene fridges. Communication with other centres throughout the area and contact with the Flying Doctor’s Service in Nairobi was via wireless run on a 12 volt battery.
Nutshell memories for me were:
1. Camels coming each morning to the hospital carrying firewood for cooking the meals for our patients and staff.
2. Being called to do post-mortems on people alleged to have been murdered in the burning heat of the desert.
3. Being often called to inspect the local prison for hygiene, tasting the prisoners’ food and being asked to examine prisoners before being submitted to 100 lashes for stealing a goat. I was also requested to watch the lashing and often intervened to stop it on medical and compassionate grounds as many of the thieves were thin and unhealthy. My intervention was always graciously acknowledged.
4. Traveling with Sean Underwood or with the Flying Doctors to other Health Centres.
5. Responding to acute medical emergencies resulting from violent cattle raids across the borders from Karamoja and Sudan where the men ran away and the women and children were left seriously wounded and mutilated.
6. A small lorry load of school boys and a middle aged Turkana woman being brought by the school principal for treatment. The boys all had gonorrhea acquired from the women. She had sold herself for food from their school rations for herself and her children.
7. A lovely Siamese cat who slept in my room every night and kept away the scorpions and snakes.
8 The joy of working with a very dedicated and courageous group of MMMs, priests, and lay volunteers.
9. The privilege of serving such a free and strong willed, culturally proud people. They taught me so much and I received more than I gave.
IT WAS INDEED A GREAT ADVENTURE, SHORT BUT SWEET. (June – December 1972)
A short story from Karen Shearer…
Around 8:30 a.m., Sr. Lucy and I left Nakwamoru with the driver heading for Kitale, through bush to Turkwell Gorge. Before reaching the tar road, an elephant was spotted on our left. It moved forward and down a ‘dip’ in the road. As we slowly approached this ‘dip’ we could see the heads of very many elephants having breakfast. The driver backed the car gently; we waited quietly. We heard one elephant trumpeting loudly, probably to protect a young one.
It was forty-five minutes before they moved off and we could continue on to Kitale. It was an unexpected meeting. However, it was the elephants’ land before we came to Nakwamoru.
And Sr. Lucy adds…
Nakwamoro camp in Kaputir, Lodwar was to be my home for five years. As I left Kitale with Sr. Karen Shearer and Pauline Connolly that October morning, we drove through the narrow, winding hilly road leading to up-country. I enjoyed and admired the beautiful mountains and wondered how people could live up there. Then we branched off to Turkwell Gorge. The vegetation changed. All trees had thorns and little leaves and the bushes were dry. We drove into the bush path which became steep, more narrow and winding. I was told the road was the elephants’ path. Fear gripped me and I became anxious as there was no sign of life around. We arrived about 2:00 p.m. in the hottest heat I have ever been in. People cheered and waved as we drove in and came running to welcome us.
It did not take too long before my wonder came to a stop and it was time to work…having come from a rain forest region in Eastern Nigeria, I missed the greenery. My first task was to provide some green around me. Fr. Johnny O’Callaghan SPS gave me a plot of land in the trial plot where he had an irrigation farm. It was a sustaining gift that served many purposes: food production, teaching and demonstration, empowerment of women and youth and finally it kept me sane.
From Elizabeth Dooley we learn of a journey to Lodwar 400 kms…
In 1999, before the end of my term of office as Area Leader in Kenya, Dervilla O’Donnell accompanied me on my last visit to meet the sisters in Lodwar. Teresa Hogan left us at the matatu stage in Kitale on Sunday at 6:45 am, so we expected to arrive by lunchtime. Six passengers were already seated and the driver excitedly seated the two Mzungu's in the front seat. At 10 am I asked the other passengers whether they were also traveling with us, to discover that they were not.
The response to my question was 'sister is anxious; to which I replied 'yes, if you mean that I would like to be on the road'. Another passenger said 'don't be anxious sister, we will get there' !! By noon, still in Kitale, we had eaten our lunch sandwiches. Dervilla then went across the road to the payphone to phone Mary Dunne and Teresa to let them know we were still in Kitale!! . Next minute, without a word, the driver sat in and we got a push to start up the engine. I shouted out the window 'come back Dervilla; hurry, we are leaving' -thank God, she ran back just in time to regain her seat !! Then we had to go to the garage for petrol - another wait!!
When we passed Ortum we had our first breakdown - we all got out and started walking up and down the road for an hour, eating mangoes!! By then the sisters in Lodwar were concerned that we were not arriving so they asked Francis, their driver to try and meet us at Kianuk. Francis waited patiently for hours but we did arrive late in the evening.
While journeying on Francis shared a lovely story - Sr. Edna O' Gorman used to give him a few shillings to collect the sister's newspaper, but she also gave him a goat - the first of his herd!! We eventually arrived in Lodwar at 10 pm, tired hungry, but to the relief of Margaret McCormack RIP, and Kathleen Crowley and of course ourselves. We heard many stories from MMM's of their experiences traveling up and down country - Margaret was in a vehicle that had many delays, ∧ ended up completing the journey in the dark with light from one torch!! My admiration for the MMM's who were missioned in Turkana is unbounded - the full story may never be told.
In many of the memories and stories, fond mention is made of Kitale; Turkana and Kitale have been inseparable throughout their history. And so there are some memories from Sisters missioned in Kitale.
Andrea tells of the first trip back from the desert to Kitale:
After the ‘long drop’ and the palm dispensary had been erected it was decided we should go to Kitale for some essential supplies. The only transport available was Shah Mohamed’s lorry. Dressed in our ‘cottons’ and carrying our Raptim bags (hold alls), we climbed into the driver’s cabin.
We arrived late at night in pitch darkness. The driver wanted us to alight saying that the Mission was just down the road. We could not see it and would not move. We had no idea where we were in this unfamiliar place. The driver was getting more and more angry and we more and more stubborn. Eventually the driver moved on a little and pointed to a hedge that said ‘The Mission’. We alighted dripping wet as the driver’s cabin had a leaking roof and it had rained quite heavily as we reached Kitale. Slowly we squelched our way up the driveway in our flip-flops, tired and bedraggled. In the distance we could see the Bishop standing in the doorway, his mouth wide open yet speechless.
Sr. Elaine called out “we are full of Pepsi”. He shouted back pointing to the latrine…”there is the place for people full of Pepsi”. Apparently his first thought was that we were running away from Turkana.
In Kitale, the Sligo Ursuline Sisters Perpetua, Patrick, and Annunciata conducted a school for girls. They most generously took us under their wings. The Convent was bright was all mod cons, and luxury of luxuries – electricity! After a few days of stocking up we returned to Nadapal.
Maureen Clark remembers…
My assignment to Kitale was from 1975 to 1980, at first as Social Work Coordinator for the Diocese. I enjoyed the challenge of the Misereor project, but in 1979 it was time to transfer this responsibility to my capable colleague, Elizabeth Kibuywa. I continued to be part of the MMM Kitale community, but had been asked to do two health surveys, one in Baringo District and the other in Kositei, East Pokot. I stayed temporarily in that area, but returned home often to Kitale where we caught up with the news.
Imagine my amazement when on one home visit I learned that I had just missed the Kitale house robbery the previous night. Sr. Elaine (Campion), on leave from Turkana found two Ugandan robbers in Kitale house at 2:00 a.m. and she and Sr. Fergal dealt with them with great skill. Fergal had drawn extra money from the bank that day for Turkana, because President Arap Moi was due up there soon. His staff, on a preliminary visit, had insisted that one of the mission houses would be needed for his visit and that much re-painting would be needed. Well, Fergal and Camps saved some of the money and the re-painting did get done in spite of all these and other hazardous events!
Sr. Fergal recalls a few events…
One day, while traveling from Kitale to Turkana in the lorry, wedged between the driver and his helper, I felt very safe and secure, despite the dreadful road, or lack of one. Soon into the journey, the helper took out the daily paper to have a read. Those days Margaret Thatcher was in her heyday in Britain and I noticed her photo and some reading about her on the front page. However, I was more engaged enjoying the beautiful scenery and admiring the expertise of the driver as he tried his best to avoid the potholes. After some time the helper turned to me and asked if I would please explain to him about this ‘Iron Lady’ in England. How I handled this question, I wonder.
During my years in Kitale, Leonora Queally looked after a very busy outreach clinic. She was very badly in need of an extra young girl on the Team. So, she let it be known that she would welcome applicants for the job – in writing, within two weeks. Very soon after that the letters started to come in – all much the same with one exception. This young lady listed every detail of her life to date, including the fact that she had sat for her Senior 4 that year and had succeeded in failing! I’m not sure who got the job.
One night quite late I heard a knock on the back door in Kitale. On opening it I was confronted by the ‘vision’. I could only think of one of the ‘Black and White Minstrels’ on the spur of the moment as the caller was coal black from head to toe except for the white of the eyes. Who could this be, I wondered. There was silence from both sides and it was only when the ‘Minstrel’ spoke to me that I recognized the voice – Agnes Manifold. She had come down from Turkana on the back of a charcoal lorry. She was weary and hungry but that would have to wait. A shower and change of clothing called out for attention first.
And Noeleen Mooney recalls the last pages in the story of Kitale…
I was the last MMM to be assigned to Kitale community! In early 2005, after many years in Tanzania, I took up a new assignment in Kitale. My task was to set up and run a small laboratory for the clients and staff of Kitale AIDS Programme. This was a challenge, as I had never run a laboratory alone before. When I arrived, I joined Elizabeth Dooley, Mary Dunne, and Teresa Hogan, to make a community of four. The compound was beautiful. I quickly grew to love the space, the garden, the birds, and even the numerous vervet monkeys who invaded to play, eat the flowers and fruit, and break the smaller branches of the trees. I got a great sense of MMM history in Kitale as I listened to stories about the house being so full on occasion, with many sisters coming from Turkana, that mattresses had to be laid out on what was then a verandah. I also learned from the many and varied visitors who called, that MMM Kitale was a much loved community and house of hospitality.
Only seven months after setting up the laboratory, I knew it would close. The arrival in Kitale of AMPATH, a big American funded organization doing a lot of what we were doing, but with special emphasis on research – led to a decision to close the medical clinic, and to transfer the 800 clients to AMPATH. This process took almost a year – a long year for me – when tests done and results produced became irrelevant, as they were not accepted by the new group.
In early 2006, Elizabeth Dooley returned home to Ireland, having passed over her job as Diocesan Medical Co-ordinator to a Kenyan lay woman. THEN WE WERE THREE. At the end of 2006, Mary Dunne, who had initiated KAP in 1992 and been its co-ordinator, went for a well earned sabbatical and subsequent medical treatment. THEN WE WERE TWO. In 2007, I was offered a unit of CPE in Nairobi, as a transition from a clinical type ministry to a more pastoral one. For most of 2008, in response to a request from our Bishop, I worked in one of the many camps for internally displaced people. There were 27 camps in the Diocese, with over 50,000 displaced people as a result of the post election violence. I teamed up with a group of St. Vincent de Paul Volunteers, and we helped to provide food and non-food items to the displaced, helping to make their uprooted lives more bearable. We also facilitated access for them to medical services, and eventually were able to get funds to give each family a chance to start an income generating project. It was a profound learning experience.
In early 2008, a decision was made at the Kenya Area Assembly that MMM would withdraw from Kitale after forty-five years, due to the change in the situation, shortage of personnel, and the need for consolidation. A lot of time and energy went into the sorting, packing, discarding, planning and deciding, until finally, on 4th February 2009 we left Kitale. As my roots were not so deep there, the uprooting was not so drastic. Teresa had spent nineteen years there, and describes it as a place and a community that she was always happy to return to. My time in Kitale taught me to try to live more positively with uncertainty. It was an important part of my experience there, and I am thankful for it.
AND SO IT IS TIME TO MOVE ON
WITH GRATITUDE FOR ALL THAT HAS BEEN AND HOPE FOR ALL THAT WILL BE.