But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. – James 2:18 ESV
My uncle, Father Jim Conard, has spent the majority of his adult life as a Maryknoll Missionary in Tanzania, Africa. I think he has been there well over 50 years now, as he has celebrated his 82nd birthday this year. For the last 30 plus years, he has been the pastor of the Kowak Parish in Musoma. While there, he has built the Kowak Secondary Girls School, upgraded and built the hospital and health center, and many additional chapels for outlying villages. You can read more about his life’s work here: Kowak Parish.
Right now he is home for the summer, spending his days watching the Brewers and trying to catch up with family and medical visits. However, Maryknoll has lay missionaries out in the field as well, and we recently received a letter from one of them stationed at Father Jim’s mission. Her name is Vikki, and she is 71 years old. Her letter speaks volumes about the conditions in Africa, and the HIV/AIDS epidemic. I thought I would share her letter and photos. I hope it touches you as much as it touched me.
Dear Family and Friends, Typed June 18, 2012
As of June 14th I have been here at Kowak Mission for 3 months and it is past time for my second global message! I am now comfortably settled in my two-bedroom duplex and am happy to report that I can take hot showers (it gets cold here located on the foothills of Rorya Mountain); boil and filter my drinking water; have gotten rid of the unwanted creatures around my house; I’ve planted some small shrubs and flowers in my courtyard; increased my variety of food stuffs for better health and eating enjoyment; increased my Swahili vocabulary by volumes; made many friends at the mission and school; am now know by the multitudes of friendly children as Bebe (Grandmother) Vikki; am the cheerleader for our girls softball teams; and lead a fairly active social life and am getting acquainted in the rural areas thanks to my missioner colleague Tom! Glad to say, still time for quiet reflection and no more malaria! That’s all I need to say about me! All in all I’m very happy to be here, enjoy my work assignments, and am content.
Now that I have been here awhile and gotten better acquainted I am finding Kowak Mission grounds and services are much larger and busier than I had any idea. I want to describe our site to give you an idea of the place I now call home. Our hospital and clinic are a blessing to so many people in the rural community for many miles around, as well as, offering employment in a region where there are no jobs to be found. Our hospital staff totals 40, with an additional 40 employees, which includes 24 teachers, working at the girl’s boarding school; also 32 men and women are employed as domestics, guards, building maintenance and grounds employees for the mission at large. Girls from families of differing economic levels attend our four-year boarding school from far and wide due to our reputation of offering a good education. Since obtaining a 4-year grant from a Netherlands’ NGO, we have added four mobile clinics a week going out into the rural areas to treat children under 5-years and pregnant women. Without our medicines many of these children would receive no health care at all and some would die. This is the grant that I am involved in as the financial person. Going out to these rural areas and meeting the mothers and interacting with the children is one of my greatest blessings being here.
Our hospital has 30 beds in each of the women’s and men’s wards; a large children’s ward and a smaller pediatric ward; a pre-natal and recovery area (just today I visited a woman in this ward who was having her 11th child and boy was she in pain! After delivery patients stay overnight before leaving; last month there were 54 live births); an isolation ward for patients with cholera and TB; an operating theatre (one of a kind in this area); a large
Father Jim outside the Health Center
pharmacy; a small area for babies who need IV treatment mostly for malaria (I hate seeing the IV’s plugged into their small heads!); plus the usual medical records and administration offices and nurse’s stations. We offer a small area for visiting families to cook food for their relatives as we are not able to offer food service. There is a place for them to do laundry and toilets for their use. The past several weeks we have had surveyors and visitors to assess our property and proposed project plans for constructing a 50-bed ward for children and we are so hopeful that this project will be funded…we pray so as it is badly needed. Our children’s ward is overflowing! Currently, we have a lower number of patients, about 54 in the hospital now, but the numbers can get up into the 90’s at times, so it is good to have a break now and then.
Outbuildings consists of the CTC (HIV/AIDS) clinic where I work three days a week, serving on average 45-65 HIV positive persons, and an enclosed area nearby where educational talks are given by staff; a stone building next door with a lab, post-natal education and space for staff to cook and serve patients ugi porridge after they have been seen by Sr. Reetha at the clinic. There is a separate building provided for the hospital resident M.D. and C.O. to meet with patients; a financial building where I also work; an administrative office and reception hall; a number of toilets around the property; my duplex and a small house for the doctor, and a house for a Polish couple who are volunteer missionaries like Tom and myself (Alex and Barbara are the very first Polish missionary
Outpatient and Lab building
couple to ever serve in any country-they are in their 60’s); and Fr. Jim is just now completing the construction of three more duplexes for nurses and families, which brings our total free housing for hospital staff available for 28 families. It takes a lot of electricity, water, good management and infrastructure to maintain this very productive and viable mission site. Also, there are 13 vehicles that need to be maintained; an ambulance, a lorry, SUV’s, cars, a tractor, and many pick-up trucks; we don’t have a problem with transportation!
Elsewhere on the mission grounds there is a large house where Fr. Jim, a Maryknoll priest who manages everything, Fr. Valance, the associate priest, and Tom live, with offices, meeting and visitor rooms, and a number of bedrooms; various carpentry and machinery shops; detached kitchen; a huge beautiful church where mass is offered every day; a convent and grounds for the 5 Indian sisters who run the hospital and clinic; and an enclosed compound area of duplexes set aside for 4 sisters and their staff who assist at our girl’s boarding school. The boarding school grounds are huge as they accommodate up to 500 girls with many classrooms, labs, play grounds, bath houses, 3 dining rooms, kitchens, staff rooms, administrative offices, livestock pens, as well as providing free housing in 14 duplexes for up to 28 teachers with families on the grounds, so you can imagine what that takes in terms of buildings, water storage, electricity and upkeep! There are cows on the school grounds for milk and meat, and the mission has a grinding mill which is open to the community for a small charge. Every Thursday I join the teachers for chai and mandazi (tea and donuts) and volunteer my time at the school working with Tom doing whatever is needed that day, if anything. I am concerned and interested in education from my past background of supervising eight schools in Kibera slum in Nairobi, so am enjoying my time at the school.
By now you should have a good mental picture of my physical “home”. Day and night we have pikipiki’s (motorcycles-local transport) bringing and taking people to and fro, lots of activity, many visitors of patients and families of staff, and an abundance of kids! Our grounds are well lit during the night and we have a number of guards on-site. I might mention that we have dozens of varieties of tall trees and flowering shrubs all over our grounds; lovely well-tended planted areas, and in a couple of months our many jacaranda trees will be in full brilliant purple bloom! They are a beautiful sight to behold and I have several overlooking my courtyard, so in time will have purple “snow” covering the ground.
With all of that said I will add something about my work with several short reflections I hope you will enjoy reading and take to heart.
CTC (Care Treatment Center-HIV/AIDS Clinic) REFLECTIONS – June 13, 2012 – Children’s Day
HIV/AIDS touches the innocent, and not so innocent, of all ages and brings sorrow to people who do not always understand what they have brought into their families and their own lives and the ultimate consequences. I feel compassion, but it’s the sick little children that especially touch my heart. I continually lament over the question: What chance do these little ones have for a normal life, if any life at all! Day after day I see them leaning into their mothers’ arms, coughing, looking sickly, many malnourished with sores; me clicking away at my computer as I enter HIV/AIDS data from their files, data that never should be! Here are a few of my reflections from this day; you will find these children in the group photo attached to this email, other than the older boy I mention.
- Walking to the CTC clinic I noticed a malnourished skin and bones little girl slowly and purposely walking alone along the path to the clinic, so I join her reaching out my hand for her to take, which most children will do, wanting to give her some strength, but she continued on like a zombie, not even looking at me as if unaware, even to her surroundings; me wondering who she belonged to and why is she alone. I follow behind her to make sure she can climb the three steps at the clinic entrance, which she barely made with great effort, but she was very determined! I noticed her skeletal body, the thin arms, bloated belly, and sadly how her chest bones looked like a wash board, all ribbed and grooved where they were exposed by her torn blouse. I wanted so badly to comfort her, but found her a place on a bench to wait; later an adult woman claimed her who was already in the clinic. I wondered if she had been left behind because she was so slow. When the group photo was taken of some of the HIV/AIDS children she had enough energy to cry and I wanted to join her. (She is the one crying in the blue tee-shirt; she received supplemental food as well as HIV medicines-all the children received 2 kilos of rice as well)
- While walking outside the clinic to take a break, a mother and her little son were near me, so I greeted them as I often like to do with the little ones; I love to touch them on the head and hold their little hands, there is something very loving and reassuring to both of us. As I held the little fellows hand I could feel his sweet disposition; then his mother bent down to him and whispered something; he smiled at me and in very clear English, and to my delighted surprise, he said “Thank you very much” with the biggest smile. Of course, I exclaimed over his achievement to the joy of the three of us. Not all is so sad, there are many moments of unexpected joy and laughter. (He is wearing a crème/gray shirt pushing up his sleeve-I believe he is slightly mentally retarded which made this encounter all the more precious)
- The babies have not yet learned to walk, so were placed sitting on the ground for the group picture, not all so happily; they not knowing their little innocent bodies will be plied with HIV/AIDS drugs simply because they were born! (Our region has the highest percentage rate of mothers passing on HIV to her baby at birth. Also, we get babies who were raped so they need treatment as well, some up to one year for preventative measures if no treatment is started within 3 days, otherwise treatment is for a week)
- A little older girl about twelve sits with her family waiting her turn hoping I will notice and take their picture. Not to disappoint, I speak to her and notice her big pretty brown eyes and glancing down see that her right hand and arm lying in her lap are shriveled and useless. She is fortunate, she has a family with her, and most especially a loving father concerned for her; yet a double whammy as it turns out she is the HIV/AIDS patient of the three children. (Her attentive father is standing behind her, she wearing the brown/crème stripped dress-he is much older than his wife which is not uncommon-there is a local man who has a compound of 21 wives of varying ages-I can’t imagine how many children he must have! I know he is “rich” with lots and lots of cows!)
- What hope does the rag-tag boy of eighteen have, who showed up without an appointment at the clinic this day, for a normal life lived? He’s stage III, with only one more stage to go…before he will be no more. (Once most Africans in the rural reach Stage IV their chances of survival are slim due to lack of proper food and poor health care. (The TZ Ministry of Health and Social Welfare have started a campaign of circumcising males from babies on up and hope to do 44,000-yep!-in 6 months and are using our hospital staff and venue in this region-my thought, could this ever happen in America-hah! I am told new studies show this could make a difference in lowering HIV/AIDS percentages – sure hope that’s true!)
- I noticed a vigilant father accompanying his obviously dear daughter; she all bright in a pair of red flannel pajamas; he was all smiles and pleasantries as he gathered up her medicines and asked me to take their photo, which I did; she was shy and told me her name was Nancy. Later, after they had enjoyed a cup of ugi porridge, a treat for all patients, they were ready to leave. I spied them just as he was ready to peddle off on his bicycle, Nancy riding side saddle, a typical means of transport in these rural areas. A delightful picture indeed! (We are trying to inspire father’s to take more of a role in their children’s lives so were pleased several father’s came with their children; Sr. Reetha’s educational talks are bearing fruit!)
COMMENTS: On this day we served fifty patients; nineteen were children with HIV/AIDS, ages ranging from 2 to 10; Statistics: 8 were Stage II; 10 were Stage III; and 1 Stage IV. Also, I am not sure how many babies we served as I didn’t keep track. Our goal is to have our younger patients come all at the same time once a month for educational talks and for parents to lend support to each other, as well as needed treatment. This was our first Children’s Day, so many were not scheduled yet. In the past our positive children used to come with their positive parent(s) and would be treated at the same time, but we could not spend as much time focusing on the children and their needs, other than treatment. We think this new plan will work out to the benefit of both the children and their parents.
There really isn’t anything the sisters can do for these people living with HIV/AIDS to help lessen their burdens and challenges that they face for themselves and their families other than give them the best health care they are able and provide the needed medicines and supplemental food; but, the one thing I CAN DO, is treat them with respect and concern, offering them a moment in time of communicating as human beings by sharing smiles, touching or a loving glance, each of us knowing what is not spoken. I find this to be a satisfying way to spend my time which fulfills my need to serve through sharing fellowship and love; to be acknowledged and accepted by these brave and strong people – it is quite humbling and wonderful.
Please pray for all health care workers as it is not an easy job and in some cases they put their own health at risk. To Love is to Create, so let us all work together toward a common goal, Creating a better and peaceful World for ourselves and our dear ones – Love one Another! Many blessings and thanks for taking the time to read and reflect upon my long missive.
Love and Peace,