Caring for God's Gift


Sr. Edel Mowah has been on mission in Argentina for almost twelve years. On a brief visit to Ireland earlier this year, the Nigerian native painted a picture of mission life at Casa de la Bondad hospice in the central Argentine city of Córdoba.

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Sr. Edel with the health group.


Sr. Edel Mowah was born in Kaduna, North-Central Nigeria and is a native of Asaba – as her family moved there during the civil war. Later, they settled in Ibadan. She attended OLA primary and secondary schools in both cities. Sr. Edel began her novitiate with the OLA Sisters in Ibadan.

“I was a child when I first felt ‘the calling’. There were a lot of nuns, like Sr. Gregory, around in my school and they had a great influence on me. I also came from a good Catholic family. I had a vocation within a vocation which was to become a nurse, taking care of ill persons. I then took courses in midwifery and nursing before specializing in the studies which led me to becoming a nurse educator. I went on to spend most of the next years in my native land serving in Ikire, Papiri and Kaduna.”

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A map of Nigeria.

 

Never one to shy away from new challenges, Sr. Edel’s next mission was to Chad.

“For six years I worked in N’Djamena. After learning French, I began working at the dispensary.”

Speaking multiple languages is common place for many Nigerians. Sr. Edel talked about the different tribes in Nigeria: Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba. Each with its own culture and language. Having to learn another language in Chad did not daunt her.

“We had our tribal language and English growing up. No matter what the language is, one just has to try learning it. When you have no other option you just have to speak!”

Argentina

After a spell back in Nigeria, the next mission began to dawn in the western horizon.

When I went to Chad in 1993, the first few Nigerian Sisters had already gone to Argentina where an OLA insertion had begun in 1982. It was one of the first examples of what we would call ‘south-north mission’, even if Argentina is in the southern hemisphere! “

The SMA Fathers had been there for about ten years before that.

Travelling such a distance from Nigeria, would she feel homesick? Sr. Edel’s reply was unambiguous.

“Since I made-up my mind to become a nun, this is my life, I take what comes. I don’t think I’ve ever felt homesick. Once I go, I go and that is it. However, it can be hard at times when a family member is unwell. I normally get home every two years.”

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Sr. Edel Mowah.

 

Casa de la Bondad

Sr. Edel went back to language classroom once more and following six months learning Spanish in Buenos Aires, Sr. Edel headed to Córdoba where Casa de la Bondad awaited.

Casa de la Bondad is a hospice dedicated to the care for persons with terminal illnesses, a branch of work created by the Manos Abiertas foundation. This dream emerged when some well-meaning people were invited by Fr. Angel Rossi SJ, to look at the possibility of helping the dying who had no financial or familial support. Manos Abiertas translates as ‘open arms’ in English.

The hospice provides comprehensive care and support to ill persons being referred from public hospitals who have no family supports or limited financial resources.

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A sign at the entrance to Casa de Bondad (left) along with a map of Argentina.

 

“Some in our care can live far away from their family. Others can lose contact over time or become estranged from their families. Efforts are made to reunite them or initiate reconciliation, where possible, before their passing. Here, we take the advantage of time to heal the wounds of the mind and soul. Many are reunited with parents and children. These are the times that give one the space to heal wounds and be at peace with him or herself, with his creator and with others.

“The care we offer is not just physical and changing a person from one side of the bed to the other. We don’t call them ‘patients’, the Spanish word 'patroncito' is used most often which means–   ‘master’. We always call each one by his /her  name. We are there to serve them, help them as much as possible, let them be themselves and help them until they pass on, cross to the other side.”

Casa de la Bondad receives no state funding and relies completely on fundraising and the good will of the general public. The hospice has 15 beds. It was built to feel like a home, not a hospital. There are many departments and it offers holistic care.  Everyone is a volunteer except for the nurses.

Sr. Edel coordinates the nursing department with her own distinctive and subtle leadership style.

“I like to be out among the nurses and for them to feel that we are on the same level without any barrier. If I am in an office, I am not in touch with life. We work as a team and that gives me life.”

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Sr. Edel speaking to a fellow colleague at Casa de Bondad.

 

Sr. Edel feels she has integrated well into life in Argentina due to her previous experiences in Chad, learning the language and through her efforts to become immersed in the local culture.

“Sometimes I forget I am from Africa. I never have had problem because of where I am from or the colour of my skin. Sometimes you might get someone who asks ‘what are you doing or why are you here’ but I have never felt rejected. It is important to integrate into a culture, speak language etc.”

God’s Gift

Everyone in life wants to make a difference. For many people talk of hospice only means one thing. Is the work dispiriting? How can you ever come away feeling that you made a difference? It is obviously not the first time Sr. Edel has been asked this question.

“I have been asked in the past how can I feel that I make a difference here compared to other ministries like teaching a child to read or nursing a person back to full health.

“I remember a young man – thirty three years old and full of life – he was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer. Until the day he died he hoped for a miracle. The care he got in the last week prepared him for the journey until he was ready to go.

“A child is God’s gift to the world. As a midwife, the mere fact was that I helped bring life into the world. Now in the hospice, I assist in giving God back His gift. Our job is to safely return this gift to God in the same condition that it entered this world – without any baggage. We need to be there for them and help them on their way.“


* Sr. Edel is one of eight Sisters spread between two communities in the OLA District of Argentina.

** Click here to visit the website of the OLA District of Argentina or here for their Facebook page.