A community of Comboni Missionary Sisters work at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Bébédjia, dedicating their lives with passion and joy to serving those most in need. We visited the place.
Bébédjia, a town located in the Eastern Logone region of Chad, a crossing point on the road that leads from Cameroon to the Central African Republic, is located 650 kilometres from Ndjamena, the capital of the country. There we met the community of Comboni Missionary Sisters who work at St. Joseph’s Hospital which belongs to the diocese of Doba.
Due to its geographical position and the quality of the services offered, people come to the hospital not only from all over the country, but also from other African countries, such as Sudan, Central African Republic, Cameroon, and the Congo. Of the three doctors at the hospital, two are Comboni Sisters: Sister Elisabeth Raule, Italian, and Sister Susan Akullo Eyen, from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The hospital has a laboratory to carry out some analyses (especially for pathologies such as malaria and tuberculosis) and ultrasounds; there is also a team to monitor malnutrition which affects hundreds of children. In the area where the outpatient service is provided, located to the left of the hospital upon entering, AIDS patients from all over the region, and from other latitudes, are treated.
The Chadian government has built public hospitals and dispensaries in the province but, unfortunately, these facilities are only partially functional, as they often do not have the medicines or medical-surgical material to treat patients.
Sister Elisabeth, a surgeon, has been in Chad for over twelve years. We meet her after a long day spent in the operating room. The hospital has operations scheduled twice a week, but the pace of her work is affected by the number of patients who enter the hospital, especially those who arrive in a serious condition and require immediate care. And these are the majority.
Sister Elisabeth performs approximately 600 surgeries a year. Despite her difficulties, she states with a shy smile: “I am very happy here. I think I have learned a lot and I feel privileged. Being among patients is my world!”.
The missionary doctor is the medical director of St. Joseph Hospital. She explains that patients only come to the hospital when they are seriously ill because, initially, they resort to traditional remedies and seek healing from village healers. But every day, she treats patients who have been involved in road accidents, have been attacked by animals or have been victims of stabbings, gunshots, or arrows.
Many of these incidents are the result of clashes between farmers and nomadic shepherds, who invade fields and crops and, since they are armed, feel they can challenge the farmers.
One of Sister Elisabeth’s goals is prevention. For example, in the maternity ward, with the involvement of the nurses, she tries to explain to young mothers the basic hygiene and nutritional care that their children must have in order to grow up healthily.
As the evening falls, the sultry heat gives way to a pleasant coolness. In allocated places, the families prepare food for their loved ones who are patients while the nurses prepare for the night shift. The Comboni Sisters withdraw into their community but know that they can be called at any time to attend urgent cases, as often happens. (Bernardino Frutuoso)