ONE Magazine

The official publication of
Catholic Near East Welfare Association

Celebrating 50 years | God • World • Human Family • Church

Friends of the Poor in Jordan

In Amman, the Franciscan Sisters of the Divine Motherhood reach out to mothers and children in need.

“St. Francis observed with ineffable eagerness the: Nativity of the Child Jesus above all other festivals, declaring that it was the feast of feasts whereon God became a tiny infant.” (Thomas of Celano)

In a hilltop house in the ancient city of Amman, capital of Jordan, live six nurses dedicated to making a Christmas of every day. They are the Franciscan Sisters of the Divine Motherhood. Each year they care for more than 30,000 pregnant women and infants in an attempt to reduce disease and mortality among children born to the poorest of God’s poor.

The Franciscans, from Ladywell Convent in Surrey. England, are much admired in medical circles both for their hard work and their highly competent professionalism. They are loved by the people who call them “hadgii,” a title reserved for especially respected individuals.

Also fondly known as “the Pope’s Sisters,” the Franciscans are easy to recognize as they drive about Jordan in cars marked with the Papal colors and emblem, weaving their way skillfully through a mad jumble of traffic which includes tractors, bicycles, pedestrians and donkeys.

Pre-natal clinics, infant clinics and general clinics are operated by the six sisters with the aid of five nurses and a laboratory technician. The major clinic is situated just outside a sprawling refugee camp on one of Amman’s seven hills. An incredible amount of work is done in this simple clinic which consists of a rented four room house and a van, custom built as a mobile pathology laboratory. This van, and another mobile unit, were supplied to the Sisters by the Pontifical Mission for Palestine through Catholic Near East Welfare Association. With these units the Sisters can reach poor people throughout Jordan who are unable to travel to the clinic.

The principal concern of the Sisters is to reduce the infant mortality rate which is about 40%, and is in most cases due to ignorance or poor nutrition. A pre-natal program is always in full force. Most girls marry very young, becoming pregnant at 14 or 15, and the population growth rate of the camp – now at 13 % is increasing. The inevitable result is more overcrowding in already crammed quarters, and poorer sanitary conditions. To offset dangerous effects the Sisters try to bring young women to the pre-natal clinic as soon as they become pregnant. There, a history of earlier pregnancies is taken, and a physical examination is made by the clinic’s physician, Dr. Yusef Sammour, himself a Palestinian refugee.

Women receive iron and vitamin tablets and vaccination against tetanus, as well as consistent health care throughout the nine months. Any obvious cases of expected difficulty in delivery are brought to the Italian Hospital in Amman. However, most babies are delivered at home by either midwives or the Sisters themselves.

The Sisters’ care does not stop upon the birth of a child. The clinic runs an intensive care section for babies and young children, as well as a Rehydration Center. Many babies between nine and 18 months look like wizened old men due to dehydration from fever, extreme heat or lack of proper nutrition. Without immediate attention they would die.

According to the Sisters, the main child care problem is undernourishment due to gastroenteritis or starvation, and these are all a direct result of poor conditions in camp life, where food of good quality is scarce and open sewers are breeding grounds for parasites.

In addition to treatment, the clinic’s infant and child welfare program strongly emphasizes prevention. Two nurses assist the Sister in charge in caring for nearly 16,000 children up to the age of five who need to receive vaccinations against polio, diptheria, whooping cough, tetanus, small pox and tuberculosis.

Aside from mother and child programs the Sisters treat adults in need of general care. The majority of these patients are the elderly who suffer from chronic illnesses such as pneumonia, anemia and vitamin deficiencies. Here, food is often used as medicine and many of the old, weakened and sick from hunger alone, receive supplementary foods of high-protein and vitamin content. Financial support from the Pontifical Mission for Palestine makes such treatment possible.

Outside of Amman, the Sisters operate a similar clinic in Ruseifa, an industrial town 15 kilometers from the capital, which is visited three times a week in the mobile van. Another clinic station is Mwaggar, a Bedouin settlement in the desert occupied by both Jordanians and Palestinians. This clinic is neither as busy or as successful at the others, since the Bedouin have not yet learned to profit from preventive care. But the Sisters – there with their expertise and patience – feel it is only a matter of time. Slowly, people are coming for help and health education.

Well-named, the Sisters of the Divine Motherhood are doing all they can to improve the health of refugees and the poor. In the process, they are witnesses of Christian charity in the camps and deserts of Jordan.

Pat Hamzeh, a native of England, is married to a Palestinian and lives in Amman, Jordan.

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