SANA’A, YEMEN – And now, for a change, some good news from the Arabian Peninsula.
First, some history. It’s 1852 and three women have moved into a tiny house at Cannon and MacNab streets in what became Hamilton’s first St. Joseph’s Convent. The women devote themselves to the poor.
All kinds of things grow from that. You’re familiar with, for example, the Hamilton Roman Catholic school board and St. Joseph’s medical facilities. Indeed, decent education and health care were essential to fight poverty among Canada’s first immigrants.
More than 150 years on, Hamilton’s Sisters of St. Joseph are still at it: way over here in Yemen now. The ship is unloaded. The trucks have run. The goods are distributed.
Tens of thousands of dollars of health-care equipment from the sisters is in hand.
There are wheelchairs and walkers, operating room lights, examination tables and the list goes on. It helps meet the massive needs in a country like this. Yemen, like 19thcentury Upper Canada, is a hard place where one is never sure what tomorrow may bring.
Any supplies in good condition are welcomed.
Among Earth’s poorest countries, Yemen has traditionally been near the bottom of aid recipients. It receives some $20 per capita in annual overseas aid. Often even that aid from international groups like the UN and World Bank doesn’t get where it’s needed.
This donation, however, has hit its target. One recipient is a new maternal care clinic here in Sana’a, where my wife, Jean, works. When fully operational, it will handle 4,000 deliveries annually.
The other is Yemen’s Sisters of Charity, a branch of the worldwide organization started by Mother Teresa. Wearing the familiar white, cotton sari with the blue border of their late founder, the nuns care for about 400 disabled people in several facilities across Yemen.
“We haven’t seen so many wheelchairs. And they’re all made of good material. Thank you very much. God bless you,” said Sister Marilla, who works at a charity home in Sana’a. They get by, she says, on “God’s providence.” And plenty of resolve.
In 1998, three sisters were killed outside their medical facility in the Yemeni port city of Hodeida by an Islamic extremist. Not one sister left Yemen as a result. Here since 1970, they’ve faithfully provided invaluable services since public care homes don’t exist in this part of the world.
“What we’re giving them are tools so they can help other people,” notes Jean, who worked with St. Joe’s from this end to make the donation happen.
Last spring, she invited Brian Guest, executive director of St. Joseph’s Health System, to meet with Yemeni locals to see how the sisters in Hamilton might help.
“What’s important about this is that it’s from private, not public money,” said Guest, whose organization is a capital purchasing group for 130 hospitals in Canada. Surplus supplies from those hospitals and from manufacturers feeds the foreign aid program, known as International Outreach, launched by the Hamilton sisters in 1986.
It now ships 50 tonnes of equipment annually. Haiti and Uganda have been key benefactors. In 1999 Port au Prince’s university hospital received $250,000 worth of lifesaving oxygen equipment, installed at the time by Canadian peacekeepers.
International Outreach also helps train medical professionals in developing countries, linking them with professionals in Hamilton hospitals. It’s hoped that will be the next step in the new relationship with Yemen. As a capital, Sana’a in particular is hungry for improved medical training. That could entail methods such as teleconferencing.
In the meantime, Yemeni officials are at least now familiar with the names St. Joseph’s and Hamilton. That’s important, because while the aid shipment was heading across the Atlantic, port authorities initially warned Jean they might turn the goods back to Canada due to a new law governing foreign donations.
Incredible? Yes. Surprising? No. Yemen is overrun with bureaucracy. Nonetheless, the ship, proverbial and literal, has arrived.
And while people may always be abandoned by society, it’s good to know that it’s now possible for folks from the other side of the world — from our home town no less — to help out. Got to love it. From this side, we’ll watch the horizon for more.