CNEWA Canada

Voices From the Pandemic: Serving at a Hospital in Jordan

Sister Adele Brambilla, C.M.S., serves as superior at the Italian Hospital in Kerak, Jordan.

The coronavirus has touched even Jordan. Even though the numbers of patients affected is not high, the government has given strict protocols to the nation — and in particular to the hospitals — for preventing the spread of the virus.   

On 17 March after just few COVID-19 cases appeared around the country, the government took extraordinary measures, including implementing strict emergency laws and announcing a curfew.   

For many weeks at 6:00 p.m. sirens echoed around the country announcing the curfew, which remains in place until 10 a.m. the next morning. During the day, people are only allowed to walk around their own neighborhoods to shop at local stores — provided they keep the recommended distance between themselves and others.

All inbound and outbound flights, except some commercial air cargo flights, were suspended.  Land and sea borders were closed to passenger traffic.

Our hospital, the only Christian social presence in the south, serves poor areas and Syrian refugees. It had to adjust to the movement restrictions and had to draw its own protocols for protection of patients and personnel according to the Ministry of Health rules in order to protect the patients and ourselves.

During this time, we were providing training and formation for our personnel and patients.  

We had to give special attention to the most fragile and poor, providing them with protection materials, especially masks, gloves and soap.

On 27 April, Jordanian officials announced the easing of multiple restrictions. At the end of May, after Ramadan, other restrictions were eased, even though regulation and protection are still going on.

Despite the restrictions, and the fact that Jordan was already struggling with poverty and high unemployment before the virus, people are not complaining, not grumbling.

Zaid, a tailor with four children, told us what the curfews meant for his family:  he had lost his meager daily income and had ran out of money for food and rent.

“I was desperate, I didn’t know how to get the essential things for my family,” he said. “I was barely covering my family needs when I was working, and when the lockdown came I felt hopeless. My family was surviving on my daily work and income, but I had to close the small shop. I tried, but I was not eligible for any social security support. It was really very difficult. Neighbors used to leave package of food in front of my doors. I do not know whom to thank, and it was the blessing of God who never leaves us alone. It was my salvation. At the end, I must say one thing: nobody in my family till now has been affected by the virus.  I think the government did a great job, even if for us was very difficult.  They deserve the credit for that. Hearing what is going on in the world, we have just to be grateful.  Our lives are safe.”

Others who have been impacted by this pandemic are the refugees. The UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, said that more than 90 percent of refugees have less than 50 Jordanian dinar ($70) left, and limited access to aid.

“We have seen over a third of refugee daily workers lose their jobs completely and [they] are struggling to put food on the table,” Dominik Bartsch, UNHCR’s representative in Jordan, said in an 11 May statement.  The agency said it had received 300,000 calls to its hotline since COVID-19 hit the country in early March, with most people seeking cash assistance for food.

People like Abu Yousef — a Syrian refugee who is living with his wife, three young handicapped children and a nephew —  are really struggling.

We know this family personally and the struggle they are facing. Their home in Raqqa was destroyed during the war. They came to Jordan a few years ago, thinking of building a new life.  The children (all of them handicapped) need a lot of medical and social attention. Only the nephew, who has a very fragile health condition, was working 

“We feel impotent, fragile, and speechless in front this pandemic.”

Sister Adele Brambilla, C.M.S.

Then came the virus and everything became more difficult: no work, no food, no money. We are helping with some medical support treatment for the children, but their situation is worsening. They rely on people for charity. The UNCHR is helping, but what they receive is not enough. Nevertheless, they are still hoping in a better future.

Our local churches turned their attention first to supporting their Christian communities. Their parish priests did not hesitate to think new ways to keep the faith alive.  

During this time of lockdown and hardship, the initiatives of liturgical prayer were increasing and helping the families to pray together. Through social media, they continue to keep this small group of Christians together in prayers.  

Father Fares (Latin Church) and Father Boulos (Melkite Church) have been very good in informing and keeping families united. Early on, they contacted parishioners by phone and remained close to them in spirit. People were very grateful, but it was a difficult time for everybody. 

The dream of coming back to church became a reality on 7 June. With all the precautions and protections, Christians could participate to the Eucharistic celebration with great joy.

We are living in the south of Jordan, in a very poor area. Many people are unable to work and have been forced to stay at home. With help of some donations, essential food for 50 poor families was provided; this was a great help during this particular time.

We could sense in our hospital a sense of communion and community. The personnel helped  each other cover different duties, since there was no transportation and some could not get to work. We did not need to ask; they were organizing by themselves, trying to find solutions so that the work and the hospital service could continue.

Everybody was longing to go to the church or to the mosque, but it was not possible. We were constantly reminding each other (both Christians and Muslims) the necessity to increase our prayer and remain attached to the certainty that God is with us.

As a missionary congregation, we are witnessing this tragedy all over the world. We are hearing our people cry, wherever we are: “My soul is in anguish. How long, O Lord, how long?” (Ps.6:3)

We are far away, away from of our sisters who are spread all over the world, away from our families and friends. Some of our dear ones died. Many died alone; being unable to accompany them, to mark their departure, is a great pain and grief that we keep in silence in our hearts while we continue our mission with our people. This is what we can offer in communion with the suffering of the whole world.

We feel impotent, fragile, and speechless in front this pandemic. During this time, many are saying:  “God wants to tell us something…”

I found myself feeling closer than ever to all those who cry aloud “God where are you?” — and I embraced this certainty from the psalm:

“The Lord is my shepherd…”

I would like to conclude this reflection quoting Pope Francis’s words:

“It is not the time of your judgment, but of our judgment: a time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not. It is a time to get our lives back on track with regard to you, Lord, and to others.”

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