The webmaster interviews Sr. Yvonne by email

Dear Brian,

Loving greetings to yourself and Lynn. I've been trying desperately to reply to your email which I was only able to pick up when I went down country this week. Hope the delay hasn't inconvenienced you too much. Now to answer your questions:-


WEBMASTER'S QUESTION
"What does your day to day life comprise of in Lodwar? I need a few simple paragraphs telling us what you actually do in Lodwar and how you spend your days."

SR. YVONNE'S ANSWER
"My ministry here is to manage the Diocesan Guest House and Multi Purpose Centre. It is really a pivotal resource in the Diocese. Diocesan personnel who need to come to Lodwar to replenish supplies, attend meetings or see the Bishop often find their way here for a 'cuppa' or an overnight stopover.

The Guest House accommodates seven in comfort, but often there are mattresses on the floor. Donors, sponsors or family members of missioners are also given accommodation here so we meet some extremely interesting and generous people from many countries around the world.

The Multi Purpose Centre (since renamed Bethany House) is used for many Diocesan meetings. Morning tea and Lunch are usually included at these gatherings.

My day usually starts at five thirty. Getting up early is no bother to me given the extreme heat. We have "the changing of the guard" at six o'clock when the watchman checks in and then returns home. There is often quite a disturbance at night with much intake of the local brew just down the hill from here.
In an inebriated state people do dangerous things as you know. Having a watchman to alert us in time of need is necessary.

I usually have a 'cuppa' and some toast and a bit of quiet time until about seven when one of the cooks, Anna or Rachael and my right hand man, Joseph arrive. We work as a team and organise ourselves to meet the needs of that particular day. If there are guests staying in our facility the cook prepares breakfast while I set the table. Joseph cleans and prepares the Conference Room. The Staff are all Turkana people so I assist with "on the job" training.

If there is to be a meeting scheduled that day Joseph usually goes to the market to buy a goat or he buys one along the way. By the time he returns it is eight and my next man, Joachim, arrives and helps with the slaughtering etc. Beatrice also arrives to do the cleaning of the rooms, washing and then helps with the preparation of the meal.

There is absolutely no end to the cleaning with all the dust. The cooking has become very westernised since my arrival but no one seems to mind and the young Turkana women are fast learners when given the chance.

I write up the order for things needed for the meal and either Joseph or Joachim rides off on the bike to do the shopping. We have gradually worked out a reasonably good system. I help with the finer touches to the cleaning and prepare the dining room for the morning tea. I usually also set the table for lunch as the cooks are so terribly busy trying to cater for big groups. In between I attend to the various people who come for the meetings or other matters and try and keep the accounting books up to date. I also do some share of whatever is needing to be done. I try to do any task I expect the Staff to do.

The fisherman comes each Monday and we usually purchase about twenty kilograms of fish. I bought a good set of scales to check the weight accurately. The fisherman and I now have a very good understanding of the expectations we each have of the other. Some personnel from the out stations don't have such ready access to the buying of fish (wonderful Nile Perch from Lake Turkana) so they are able to buy their supplies from the Guest House.

Even when there is no meeting we seldom have less than six people for a meal. Diocesan personnel take advantage of a cooked meal so they can have time for a siesta in the 40 degree heat before returning to work at three o'clock.

In between all this I try to attend to the garden. Quite a challenge with no water as you would expect.... especially with ravenous goats all around. The dishwashing water and clothes washing water go on the garden. We have some flowers to give extra colour in this desert environment and have fruit trees and pumpkins trying to survive as well.

Hungry children often come around so they pick up papers and innumerable plastic bags from around the compound and I can give them a bit to eat. We are trying to overcome the begging mentality so they have a little dignity. However, it's not easy to be dignified on an empty stomach as you can well imagine.

In the afternoon, after the cleaning and wash up I try and have a little siesta if it is not too hot. Usually someone comes by or the goats have found a hole in the fence and I need to chase them off. Siesta is mostly very short lived.

Then it is time to prepare for the evening meal. I usually take responsibility for this chore. I leave the pre-prepared meal ready and then help prepare the Church for evening Mass. The Bishop usually says this Mass and many of the local children attend. With time they have become more attentive. They are mostly in rags and covered in dirt but have fabulous smiles which is more important. How resilient the human spirit is.


WEBMASTER'S QUESTION
"Could you please send me a write-up describing your former life as a Mercy Sister. I want to know the approximate years, where you were and what you were doing at various stages of your life. It doesn't have to be highly detailed and you could preferably write it in the third person."

SR. YVONNE'S ANSWER
"In March 1959 Yvonne was professed and went to teach at St Joseph's in South Grafton. For the next 27 years Yvonne taught in various schools up and down the Diocese. These included schools, in Grafton, Kempsey, Casino, Kyogle, Coffs Harbour and South Grafton NSW. Some years were also spent teaching at Stanmore in Sydney.

In 1986 Yvonne went to Assumption Institute in Melbourne for a Sabbatical Year of renewal. At the end of this year Yvonne was appointed to St Catherine's Home for the aged Sisters in Grafton as Administrator. Yvonne appreciates how much the senior people there taught her about life and how to live it well

After two years a request was made by the Principal of Bowraville, Mrs Chris Dodds, for a Sister to come and work there. Bowraville had just lost its Parish Priest and the Principal was aware of the crying needs of the people of Bowraville. Yvonne volunteered for this ministry and was released from St Catherine's to take on this role. She worked in the Nambucca Parish for a number of years and found great strength and support from the people there.

During the latter part of her time in Nambucca Yvonne worked full time with the Aboriginal people as part of the Aboriginal Ministry Team. This ministry included tutoring mature aged Aboriginal people, through the Australian Catholic University, to become teachers. This proved a very rewarding ministry and this initiative of the Australian Catholic University has gone from strength to strength. The number of Aboriginal Teachers in the Lismore Diocese is commendable.

During part of this time Yvonne was asked to work with the Aboriginal people in the Kimberley area of Western Australia. Sister Cecilia had been in a car accident and was unable to return. This was a marvellous experience for Yvonne and gave new insights into the traditional life of Aboriginal people.

In 1999 Yvonne had the opportunity of another Sabbatical Year and spent time at the Jesuit Spirituality Centre in Wales UK. Two months were then spent working as a volunteer in the International Mercy Centre in Dublin. The year concluded with a four month's Spirituality Course in San Antonio, Texas. A dream of a year for Yvonne.

On returning to Australia Yvonne picked up her work with Aboriginal people but moved her base to Sawtell as the number on the Team had increased and Yvonne saw the need to go further afield .

The opportunity to fulfil a long time dream to work in an African country offered itself during Yvonne's absence and the Congregational Team gave Yvonne permission to pursue this possibility. The Irish Mercies have been long established in Kenya so the Leader there, Sister Hilary Finnegan, supported Yvonne's request to join them in their work in Kenya. She took up her ministry in the Diocese of Lodwar in the Turkana Area during 2001.

Yvonne is so inspired by the generosity shown by her Mercy Sisters, many Australian friends and relatives from all over the world. She has been able to achieve things beyond her expectations because of the generous support received.

 

WEBMASTER'S QUESTION
"What are your greatest needs and how can friends and well-wishers give you the greatest support?"

SR. YVONNE'S ANSWER
"A mention in prayer would be appreciated most of all. And just a few lines in a letter or card to keep in touch means so very much in this remote area.

With financial support I will be able to continue to employ more of the local people and give them training in essential living skills while providing them with a wage. The workload continues to increase so extra staff would be a bonus. We also know what honest employment does for anyone's self esteem.

Here, even more importantly, work helps to keep a man or woman and the many members of their extended families, alive. There's no such thing as the "dole" in Kenya. It also reduces the number who are in the demeaning position of having to beg. 

Also, help paying off the debt for the much needed renovations to the guest house would be terribly welcome. This burden still weighs heavily.

A project I would hope to engage in is the organising of toilet facilities for the people here. There are environmentally produced toilets made in Australia which use solar power for decomposition and thus need no water. They'd be ideal for an environment like this. At present this is a pipe dream but hygienic toilets where people are also some privacy and dignity would be such a blessing to the entire community. If such toilets could at least be provided for each of the many clinics then gradually the schools may have them and finally families too. Just imagine the change in the environment as well."


WEBMASTER'S QUESTION
"Could I reveal a list of individuals, groups and organisations who have assisted your work in Lodwar, either financially, or in some other important ways? If so please send me a list of such sponsors."

SR. YVONNE'S ANSWER
Brian, here I will have some difficulty as there were people, unknown to me, who sent contributions. I wrote to them and acknowledged their support but I do not have the full list of names here with me here in Kenya. I will give you the names I have in my unreliable memory but please offer sincere apologies to those I may have inadvertently missed. If any oversights have occurred I hope the parties concerned will forgive me and then contact you Brian so the omission can be rectified. Please click here to view the list of supporters.

 

WEBMASTER'S QUESTION
"Do you have reasonable access to the internet from Lodwar?"

SR. YVONNE'S ANSWER
"Occasionally but it is fraught with problems. Just to give you a brief idea, here's what we have to contend with when we wish to connect to the internet.

1. Our phone service simply doesn't work for a large proportion of the time.

2. Our electricity supply is very unreliable and we experience many power blackouts.

3. If we do succeed in getting an internet connection it is very slow and very fragile. It is out of the question to view web pages. It could take 20 minutes for one page to appear on the screen and don't forget that the phone connection could be cut at any time. The other hazard is a power failure. In short, if we can receive a few simple email messages then we count ourselves lucky.

Sometimes several weeks go by before I can collect email messages or send some replies. One additional problem is that well meaning people occasionally send emails with photos or other files attached. Our internet connections are not up to handling such downloads and this then blocks any messages which are banked up behind the troublesome one.

There are multiple expatriate Missioners all eager to receive emails from friends and relatives, so you can imagine that quite a few prayers are probably offered over the infernal machine before a connection is attempted!

 

WEBMASTER'S QUESTION
"You prompt me to ask a follow-up question. Given your remote location out in the desert, do you need to make a costly long distance phone call to your Internet Service Provider in order to connect to the internet?"

SR. YVONNE'S ANSWER
We rely on a satellite phone but it is horrendously expensive (probably about US$5.00 per minute!). Some sort of cell phone link is expected to introduced very soon. It too will be very expensive and I don't think it will be possible to attach my very old computer to this type of service for internet connections anyhow.


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