Q: As a Social Worker in Harare, Zimbabwe, what has been and is now your ministry?
For two years, I have been working with the Mashambanzou Care Trust (the Trust), established in Harare 20 years ago. With teams of social workers and nurses, the Trust works to alleviate poverty in the community and to contribute to a generation free from HIV.
People suffering from AIDS are brought to the Medical Centre (Centre) in the city for care and treatment, and in some cases, to die with dignity. The Centre has 28 beds, male and female sections, and a small section for children. In my first year, I was responsible for counselling very sick and dying people in the Centre, and reaching out to their families and the community of these patients.
This ministry took me to Mbare, one of the oldest, high-density suburbs, south of Harare where I had oversight for two homes for vulnerable older children, one for boys and one for girls. As a social worker, I needed to follow-up on school attendance and performance, and to verify identity documents for these students. During school holidays, I drove long-distances to accompany some teenagers to family members in other parts of the country, and insure their return at the end of the holidays. The Centre relies on donor funding for several vehicles and drivers to serve this need. Another responsibility in Mbare was to visit, check attendance and documents for 60 orphans and vulnerable children with AIDS in a crèche (day nursery) directed by the Trust. Continue reading Sr. Elizabeth, SNDdeN, Serving in HIV/AIDS Ministry→
Health care is a primary concern for the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur on the Island of Marajó, Pará, Brazil. They initiated a Health Pastoral on this island to provide support, spiritual encouragement, information about the rights of infirm persons, and to offer an alternative mode for treating illnesses. They encourage good health and healing by natural means, with fewer chemicals in the body, when possible and feasible.
The project began with women leaders giving their time in service to alleviate the suffering of people living in poverty who are not able to get to doctors and do not have the money to buy medicine. The Sisters, working with women leaders in the town of Breves, participate in a pastoral approach to health care. They search, through home remedies, to alleviate and cure illness. Sr. Maria Vagner Souza Silva, SNDdeN began the Health Pastoral in the town. Now, Sr. Maria Socorro Oliveira da Silva, SNDdeN visits the sick in the community and meets monthly with the women to discuss what would be the best way to make the home medicines. Her previous two years of experience in health and pastoral care has been beneficial for the people. The Sisters in the local community give support as well to these endeavors.
Experience of Growth
The Health Pastoral offers an alternative for treating illness. In September 2015, the Sisters invited a woman from the mainland who has a long experience in furthering education with home remedies for healing. For three days, the people participated in workshops on remedies for colds, oil for massage and special medicine for anemia. This experience enabled the women leaders, and infirm persons in the neighborhood to have a greater understanding of alternative medicines. The workshops were a great success. The people believe strongly in healing from medicines made with plants and natural herbs. In fact, they usually search out these alternative methods. Now, about 30 families benefit from the consultations and the use of alternative medicine.
The neighborhood has about 4,000 people and is growing every day. The group of seven women, including Sr. Maria, find this outreach demanding. They make home remedies of natural materials: leaves, flowers, barks, oils and water. These remedies sometimes work more slowly than chemicals, and require many visits, but they are generally more effective over the long run, and certainly are less expensive. Receiving invitations from the sick, the volunteer helpers are generous and patient, as they visit monthly about 40 persons in their homes. Since the sick are so weak and frail, even conversations become limited. In all visits, prayer is essential to the healing process. The community of Our Lady of Fatima is the most active in the Parish. The opportunity to serve in this Health Pastoral has called for growth in a spirit of compassion and solidarity in the community. The leaders and volunteers rely on two important ingredients for this service: the love of the sick and faith in the loving action of the good God.
A few years ago, the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur began a new mission in San Clemente, Pisco, south of Lima, Peru. In this region, the people continue to experience lasting effects from the earthquake of 2007. In February 2010, Sisters Miriam Montero Bereche and Mary Isabel Kilpatrick, SNDdeN visited this area in an effort to determine the best way to reach out in a new mission to the people. The needs were obvious. At first only those who could prove they were “damnificadas” received any grants for housing.
Sister Miriam (center) began to offer workshops to help displaced people dealing with stress. With such little assistance and a lack of housing, multiple difficulties resulted in physical and emotional health problems, including poor nutrition, family violence as well as delinquency among the youth.
Sr. Mary Isabel saw the need to provide some employment for women seeking a source of income. She searched for the possibility of developing small projects with the women. She called on a friend, Maria, a food engineer who had helped her previously in Lima. Maria had given a course on the preparation of fruit drinks and yogurt with the mothers of the children in the Fe y Alegria School in Lima. Again, Maria was willing to give lessons in
making yogurt, now in San Clemente. First, someone offered their house for the classes, the women contributed ingredients and shared the product at the end. While in this area, Sr. Mary Isabel and her volunteers discovered a small hall that had been built recently for people with special needs. The watchman, a blind man, offered the use of this hall, far from the centre of town but with better conditions and more space for the course. This location put the Sisters and volunteers in touch with some of the families with special needs in the area.
Project Becomes Sustainable
From this contact, they developed two small lunch programmes, one in this centre for disabled persons and another in the Santa Rosa barrio, in collaboration with the Dominican Sisters ministering also in San Clemente. Various groups of women enjoyed taking the courses but they had difficulty in organizing themselves to be able to continue.
Later, we were able to rebuild one of the rooms damaged by the earthquake next to our house in the Parish. This space is large enough to have the necessary equipment and reasonable conditions for groups to learn different skills. With the help of our engineer friend, Maria, a small group of women developed successfully the Yogurt Project. At present, by working two days a week, the six women are able to produce 60-80 litres of yogurt. This amount covers the cost of the ingredients and gives a small profit for each participant as they sell the yogurt. It is possible to increase the capacity but the women are not yet ready to take that step.
Although the project is small, it is significant as a source of income for the families involved; the product itself has health benefits for the recipients; the participants have developed friendships, learned to deal with customers and to cope with fluctuations in prices and availability of ingredients. They have their trials and tribulations but also a place to share them. They bring more life to the parish community. They hope eventually to provide catering services for groups that come for baptisms and funerals.
Development for Women
Besides the Natural Yogurt Project, Sister Mary Isabel is creating an Integrated Development Program for Women by providing workshops and hands-on training. Sewing Projects, such as painted tablecloths, which are sold, give training and income and cover as well the cost of the materials and supplies for the women workers. The Baking Project allows saleable goods yielding some income for the women workers after financing initial expenses. A growing program, Healing Touch, trains pastoral health group members to use “energy medicine” as a tool for overall wellness. An educational component is growing slowly yet positively as two women prepare for Level 5 certification. About 50 women have benefited directly from these projects while many more members of the parish community also received assistance.
Although family responsibilities continue to make demands on the time and energy of these women, those who choose to work together and learn new skills, do become more self-sufficient. They grow in confidence in their own abilities and a sense of God’s goodness in their lives.