A Community Takes Action

By Judy Walter:

About 7 km outside Mombasa City, the informal settlement called Bangladesh is home to about 55,000 residents. This is a community that has been neglected by the government, having no public services provided to them. No water, no sewage or garbage disposal, no roads and no health services, to mention just a few.

In 2007, the Irish Missionary Fathers of St. Patrick came to Bangladesh to minister to the needs of this community, founding St. Patrick’s Parish. In 2011, Maryknoll Lay Missioners joined these Missionary Fathers to help address the health needs of the residents in Bangladesh by opening St. Patrick’s Dispensary. The Dispensary is where I serve in mission as nurse-in-charge.

Even though most residents live at poverty level, it is a community with a lot of initiative. St. Patrick’s Parish has a very vibrant ministry called Haki Yetu, which deals in Human Rights matters including advocacy for the rights to land and housing by the disadvantaged in society, and in particular those living in informal settlements.

Bangladesh is situated along a very busy highway known as the Mombasa-Nairobi Highway. Trucks, buses, tractors, minibuses, vans, motorcycles and cars all race along this highway causing fatal accidents, which were increasing yearly. The community decided to take action. Under the leadership of Haki Yetu,  St. Patrick’s Parish Council, and the Elders of Bangladesh, the residents developed a plan of action.

In October of 2013, they wrote letters to the Police in charge of Traffic Control, and also to the Kenya National Highways Authority (KENHA), informing them that in the last two months there were six fatalities in the community due to speed and careless driving, and asking that speed bumps be put along the road near the entrance to Bangladesh. In the letters they informed both that if there were no response to this situation, the community would take action.

The Police Department responded, came and met with the community  and their leaders, giving full support to their initiative. KENHA requested accident data from the Traffic Base Commander, but no action was taken. Follow up letters were sent to KENHA. This correspondence took place over a five month period, from October 2013 to March 2014. On March 15, 2014, a nine-year-old boy was killed crossing the road to go to church. There had now been 15 more deaths since the community started writing to KENHA. When there was still no response from KENHA two weeks after they had notified the office of the death of the nine-year-old boy, the community decided it was time to act. They had the support of the Traffic Control Police.

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Peaceful demonstration by the community

So on a Monday morning early in April, the whole community turned out for a peaceful demonstration, carrying old cement bags filled with sand and a couple of old water pipes which they laid across the road to stop traffic flow in both directions. Traffic came to a standstill on the busiest road in Mombasa. This peaceful demonstration lasted for 2 ½ hours. The residents were joined by the Chief of Staff of the Senator’s Office to show support.

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Blocking the highway to make a point

Within that same week, KENHA responded by placing a series of speed bumps along the highway leading into Bangladesh, so that traffic now moves very slowly up and down this section of the highway. And I am happy to report there has not been one fatality or road accident in the six months since the residents of Bangladesh took action and won their case.

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MKLM nurse’s visit to rural community home

Written by Caitlin Reichelderfer

“I have two dresses. One is blue and the other is purple,” the 4-year-old girl announced to me excitedly as she took my hand and steered us through the chickens in her front yard to where her mother had placed seats in the shade.  As I followed her, I took in the sight in OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAfront of me: her family’s small one-room living area and adjacent dilapidated bathroom.  A bit surprisingly, they had their own running water, but it was in the form of a freestanding faucet located in the middle of the front yard.

I was visiting this house along with two of my co-workers–one a doctor, and the other a registered nurse like myself–from the Fundación San Lucas.  We were there to see her 6-year-old brother who we had been told by a local teacher had a “bad arm and leg.”  My main responsibilities with this foundation include being a part of a team that screens children in the surrounding communities of Cochabamba, Bolivia for potential disabilities, be those cognitive, behavioral, or physical.  Often times these communities are rural and poor, where lack of resources and child malnourishment are prevalent.  Because of these factors, if a disability is discovered, other staff members from the foundation assist the child and his or her parents with making and attending any necessary diagnostic appointments as well as helping to locate any necessary supportive therapies.  If the parents have no disposable income, the foundation covers all associated costs.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJosue, the brother, indeed did have left-sided weakness in both his arm and leg, making it difficult for him to use is left hand in daily tasks and causing him to slouch to the left when walking and sitting.  However, although he had more physical limitations than most children his age, there was nothing remotely “limited” in his vigor for life or his wicked sense of humor.  My co-workers and I spent the next 30 minutes gathering health history from his mother, performing our screening test on Josue, and discussing further needed steps in obtaining support for him, all the while laughing with all three family members about everything from the ridiculous squawk of one of their chickens to the fact that Josue’s sister kept reminding me (every five minutes or so) that after I was done “playing with” Josue–the term we use when screening kids–it was her turn.  A responsibility I of course happily performed.

As we said our good-byes at the front gate, I was struck by what according to United States standards should be unlikely–great joy and a wonderful vigor for life coupled with a lack of material wealth, and some might add physical wealth in light of Josue’s disability.  You’ve heard the story told a thousand times in a thousand different ways: the materially “poor” family who is incredibly “rich” in joy and spirit.  However, I think it’s different when you come face to face with such a strong living, breathing example.  Especially in light of what we were counseling the mother to do.  In order to get the needed support for her son she was going to have to give up every Saturday afternoon to take him to physical therapy as well as bring him to a smattering of necessary doctors appointments.  And although from a car-based US view point, this might not seem like a lot (just hop in the car and get ‘er done!), taking into account the availability and reliability of public transportation in the area (both not great), this was asking her to commit a large amount of her time (and patience) in order to complete these tasks.  And let’s not forget that she would be adding this to her already very full plate of being the main parent to do the food shopping, cooking, laundry washing, and general child rearing.  And not only was she willing to do all of this, she showed genuinely gratefulness for our guidance and maintained unconditional love for her child–never once displaying that his disability was in any way a nuisance.

Later that night as I ate dinner in my simple, yet by Bolivian standards, my very nice apartment, I said a special prayer for both Josue’s family and myself.  For the former, I prayed for continued strength, resilience, and joy.  And for the latter, I prayed that despite my comparatively large material wealth, I could also experience such joy and acceptance in the face of whatever “hardships” life had in store for me.

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Church Talk, August 16-17

Speaker: Debbie Northern MKLM

Location: 219 E Rockwood Blvd,
Terre Haute IN

Pastor: Fr. Edmund Goldbach

Masses: Saturday 5:30pm
Sunday 8:30 and 11:00 am

Website: Click here

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Recruitment Gathering in LA

Church Talk. July 19-20

 

Location: 65 third St,
East Greenwich, RI
Pastor: Rev. Bernard A. Healey

Masses: Saturday at 5:00 pm
Sunday at 7:30, 9:00, 10:30 am and 5:00 pm

Speaker: Erik Cambier (MKLM)

Website: Click here

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