2003 Newsletter from Sr. Bridie Canavan,
(Sr. Bridie is a friend and colleague of Sr. Yvonne)

Wishing you peace and joy this Christmas season. Our greetings come from "a dry weary land without water" (Psalm 62:2). Temperatures in this desert region - 1,000 feet above sea level - range around 40 degrees Celsius at this time of year. From the Turkana dust bowl my thoughts turn to you who have made so much possible for these marginalized communities and district.

2003 saw a change of government after 24 years. The new President and his government cannot work overnight miracles in the economy or general situation of poverty and rampant lawlessness. We are still obliged to travel in convoy to Kitale (nearest big town for cold storage shopping and 6 - 7 hours away). It means waiting for the necessary police escort to travel. Most of us still find it unnerving to carry a person with a loaded gun in our vehicle.

HIV-AIDS has increased. Here it continues to follow the pattern of the pandemic in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Just as we thought we were close to celebrating St Patrick's Day, death came suddenly and violently to one of our companions in mission. On 16th March, at 9 p.m. a knock came to the convent door of the Ursuline Sisters. Sr. Anna Nanjala answered it and was killed instantly in a hail of bullets. No motives were uncovered for such a cold-blooded attack.

All of us were plunged into deep sorrow at the horrendous and untimely death of a young Sister who was a very popular teacher in the local primary school. She was one of the first group of local women to make final vows, about 10 years ago, as an Ursuline Sister. A sense of loss descended on us like a doomsday cloud. It left us with a palpable fear. Such a killing could happen again to any of us in a place where we do not hesitate to be available day or night to whoever calls.

On the Nadapal PHC front, the numbers attending have doubled and this has put a huge strain on staff and resources. Training of staff at all levels has continued. In no small measure this has contributed to their commitment to the programme. Health education in the villages continues and is having a significant impact. The people are gradually becoming more aware of the health benefits of our work. With increased numbers attending, it means longer working days and additional burden of traveling to the most remote communities on earth (so it seems to us).

We have had our fair share of problems too:

Lack of vaccines through the District Hospital has brought disappointment to us and the patients we serve. But we use the opportunity to educate on how the particular vaccine helps a child or person. The mothers are very understanding and assure us that they know we will deliver the goods in due course.

Another major obstacle to our health safaris has been the flooding of dry riverbeds. Such flooding arises from torrential downpours in the mountains in Uganda. It is ironic that while all this happens we do not see a drop of rain in Turkana. Such flash floods are highly dangerous and can carry away a Landrover (sadly this has happened in a few instances) never to be seen again.

Theft of drugs and equipment is a major concern for us. But we have had to get by as best we can. It can take up to one month or longer to replace stolen goods, which inevitably eats into our limited resources. However, we view serious injury or accident as a greater evil.

Despite all this we carry out a comprehensive service in the key areas of health education, nutrition, and disease prevention. At the same time we give a basic curative service to people who in such remote areas could never avail themselves of any similar type of health care. School health is another vital area for us; we are putting considerable emphasis on 'behaviour change' from standard 4 - 8 upwards.

It is impossible to review 2003 without turning our thoughts and prayers to you who have made so much possible for us. The Turkana people are its beneficiaries and it is our privilege to be of service here. As the year soon to end reveals, it has taken many strange twists and turns. At times we felt helpless and uncertain. But throughout it all has been the knowledge that your generosity was/is behind us and so we journey into the New Year full of hope and courage.

Assuring you of a daily remembrance in prayer. Wishing you many blessings in 2004.

Gratefully Yours,
Sr. Bridie Canavan, MMM
(Medical Missionary of Mary)
Turkana Province, Kenya




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