Age is no Barrier

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STILL BEARING FRUIT

How could I have known that a day following an 80-year-old Spanish Sister and an 89-year-old Canadian sister would etch powerful memories in my mind that would stay with me for life? These two women, alongside their team of other formidable Catholic sisters, are loving the Karamojong one soul at a time, whether through their women’s rural group, or by visiting murderers and thieves in the local prison or offering training at their Home-Based Care Centre.

THE GREAT LOVE OF GOD

After one day of being driven by either Sister Paulina (80) or by Sister Margie (89) to see what one of their regular days looks like, I left awe-inspired and thankful that MAF has some part to play in supporting the work of Sacred Hearts in Moroto, Uganda.

Sacred Hearts was first introduced to me by Sister Mary, when I learned she had been urgently flown by MAF back to Kampala for medical treatment. In May last year she had suddenly become paralysed and was unable to walk due to a compressed prolapsed disc. After Sister Mary’s recovery, she kindly invited us to visit Sacred Heart’s work in Karamoja. The sisters welcomed us so warmly.

Sister Paulina took my hand and said, “You coming here, from so far away means a great deal to us. It shows us your great love.”

We started by visiting their growing Women’s Rural Group, a protype I’ve seen many times before in the settlements, throughout South Sudan and elsewhere with other partners that MAF fly. The group started in 2000 and has been having a knock-on effect in the community ever since.

“We searched villages looking for widows and vulnerable women and started teaching crafts, reading and writing, tailoring and hygiene”, says Sister Paulina. Now the group has grown to 150 women and provides accountability, support, education and solidarity against problems like domestic violence and alcoholism in the community. Sister Paulina added with bright eyes, “And now they have gone on to be the ones that teach and evangelise. We have a saying ‘One woman alone cannot change anything but a group together can change everything’.”

We were also introduced to Sacred Heart’s “Home Based Care” led by Sister Mary, where women with AIDS are trained to do tailoring and other cottage industries. The testimonies that poured out from AIDS survivors were very moving. One after the other shared how their lives have been turned around through Sacred Hearts’ steady intervention. Sister Mary shared what she loves the most about her work, “I love seeing these women happy. Just to hear their stories, and then we know where we can begin to help them. I love the creativity of my work being able to give them hope and also counselling.”

VISITING PRISONERS

Margie kindly agreed to take me to the local prison with her to visit some of the inmates. The colour-code was quite simple. Those in orange were serving ten-years plus for crimes like murder or other serious crimes, and those in yellow, under ten-years. As we entered the locked gate and were suddenly surrounded by prisoners dressed in yellow and orange shirts, I was quite in awe of the way these three sisters, all over the age of 70, strode across the open prison courtyard, without any concern over not being accompanied by a guard. The prisoners seem to cherish and know these sisters who are committed to visit them week after week.

Sister Margie hopped up and spoke to the men and then introduced me and asked if I would speak to them. I knew whatever I was going to say, it would be brief. Who am I to speak to a group like this when I know nothing of their stories or hardships, many probably innocent after being falsely accused. “In the Bible Jesus tells us to visit those who are in prison…I think He said that because you’re important to Him.” After the translation the men gave a cheer, which may have been customary, but whatever it was, it felt awesome to have had a glimpse into the joy the sisters encounter in the work they do with these men.

I later found out that Sister Margie is constantly telling this same message to the prisoners regularly. “Every week, every chance I get, especially in reflecting together on the Gospel, I tell them how much God loves them, no matter what they have done.”

Sister Margie is holding Alcoholic Anonymous classes for the prisoners. She shared about one prisoner who was distressed because his daughter had done well at school but didn’t have the means to continue.

The sisters rushed over to the school and persuaded them to give the daughter a bursary. “The joy of the prisoner was touching. He is still in the Alcoholics Anonymous group and determined never to touch alcohol again. He killed someone in a fight while drunk, which is why he is in prison. Many in prison are there for crimes committed while drunk, and that is why I feel a good AA training may help them to stay sober and avoid violent crimes.”

Sister Margie and Sister Paulina have been in Karamoja since the ‘60s and ‘70s. Our group wished we could stay longer with these amazing women who have such a treasure-trove of stories to tell.

We’re hoping to enable sisters like Margie, Paulina and Mary to fly more regularly. The sisters have had a long history with MAF, knowing that the planes will fly in medicines needed and fly them out if they urgently need it.

We really enjoyed your interest in what we are trying to do here, which is not much, but done with trust that God can do what He wants with it. Paulina and I have always had a great admiration for the MAF pilots (who the Karamojong call Lokuwam - meaning the one who rides with the wind), all of whom are courageous in carrying out their mission, often a lonely and risky one. May God bless all of you, all over the world. - Sister Margie

Story and photos by Jill Vine