Two weeks after retiring, having practiced family medicine for 36 years, I went to the town of Padibe in northern Uganda on mission. This area suffered from the Lord’s Resistance Army who kidnapped and tortured children, turning the boys into soldiers and the girls into “wives,” along with other atrocities that destroyed their culture. For 20 years, the Acholi people of Padibe were in refugee camps placed around town.
I first learned of this mission opportunity through the Three Holy Women Catholic Parish in Milwaukee. Parishioners have been going to Padibe and helping the Acholi people rebuild their culture since the civil war ended. My first trip to Padibe was in April 2018 to determine the needs of the clinic. Thanks to the national Catholic Medical Association, part of my expenses were paid for my month-long return trip last summer.
The parish clinic, named after SS. Peter and Paul, has medical wards and labor and delivery. Sister Gabriella, the medical director, runs the clinic with minimal resources. The lab can do tests for HIV, brucellosis, malaria, urinalysis, and hematocrit, but nothing else. Lately, they have started raising chickens to make money to buy medications for both in-patient wards and the out-patient clinic. Under Sister Gabriella’s leadership, the clinic has developed such a reputation that the locals go there instead of the government clinic because they know Sister Gabriella and her staff will treat them with respect and dignity.
My main job was to provide support and training. I gave lectures on postpartum hemorrhage, sepsis, hypertension and diabetes where we compared resources available in the US and adapted them for Padibe, including putting together a postpartum hemorrhage kit to be immediately available in the delivery room. Along with the medical officers, we established protocols to identify and stabilize severely septic patients.
Due to the generosity of the Knights of Columbus, the Milwaukee Guild of the CMA, and a children’s summer Bible school at my parish, we raised enough money to purchase two ultrasound machines and to provide training classes and materials.
While in Uganda, I showed the midwives how to perform OB ultrasounds. Because of this, they were able to confirm a breech baby in a term pregnancy, which proved to be life-saving because it provided enough time for the mother to be sent to the nearest hospital 45 minutes away. The delivery was too high risk for the clinic. In addition to the ultrasound machine, I also provided a fetal doppler. The first time we used it, the midwives were able to detect a subtle case of fetal distress, resulting in sending the mother to the same hospital; I was told they were able to save the baby’s life.
The high point, however, was when I trained three midwives and two medical officers to teach natural family planning. The midwives were so enthusiastic that while they were discussing the method with some pregnant women at one of their OB checks, the chief midwife of the district listened in. She was so impressed that she asked me to teach her so she could use the method herself.
I also set up communication with the head medical officer so that he can consult with me when he sees something unusual even while I am in the States. Otherwise, again, it is a 45-minute trip in an overcrowded bus to the nearest hospital since few people there have cars.
In February I returned for a third visit to train staff and nursing/midwifery students on teaching the Cycle Beads Method (known there as Moon Beads), which is a fertility awareness-based method. I also spoke about palliative care in Uganda, and the students received a lecture on postpartum hemorrhage. I brought the second ultrasound machine on this trip, which will be used by the Catholic hospital. A hospital sonographer will go to the rural clinics with the machine on a rotating basis. Because Sister Gabriella is ill, a new clinic director has been appointed, Sister Rosalba, and she will continue the work started under Sister Gabriella.
At the request of the people, my plan is to return a couple of times per year. These trips will include teaching as well as assessments of progress since my last visit. Right now, the most urgent need is to build an incinerator so that they can burn their medical waste in a sanitary fashion. Currently, it is done in the open.
The Acholi people are very warm and friendly. Like me, they love to dance, and they deeply appreciate that I am trying to learn their language. Their generosity is striking — they are happy to share what little they have, even their latest treat, Mountain Dew. The nursery school children latched onto my husband, calling him “Munu Me Wa” (our white person) because he ate porridge with them.
These beautiful people are grateful to those who want to invest in them and their future. They are determined to move forward from the trauma of the civil war and prosper, so as not to be dependent on handouts. For example, our parish and the local engineering school helped them build a sunflower press. Raising sunflowers gives the farmers a chance to earn cash to send their children to school. From the press also grew a welding business.
Being involved in mission work has helped me to see the universality of the Church. The Mass is the Mass wherever you go. Mission work is an opportunity to expand horizons, to help at a basic level where the needs are so great and a little goes a long way. It is a chance for me to serve Jesus in the face of the poor. If anyone is interested in joining me, I would welcome them to come along.
Dr. Cynthia Jones-Nosacek is the president of the Milwaukee Guild and has been a long-time member of the CMA. She will be receiving the Francis Cunningham Building Bridges Award from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee for her work in Padibe during the Fourth Annual Women in Mission: Celebrating the Missionary Call of Women conference on Sunday, March 29th.
Congratulations to CMA’s Father Philip Bochanski
Father Philip Bochanski, CMA’s former chaplain and longtime Boot Camp presenter, has been awarded the Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice (the Cross of Honor), which is awarded by the Holy See to Catholics offering long and distinguished service to the church and the papal office.
Father Bochanski, a priest of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia for more than 20 years, has spent the last decade counseling and supporting persons who experience same-sex attraction as the director of Courage International. This Catholic apostolate provides pastoral support, prayer support, and fellowship for people with same-sex attraction who want to live chaste lives according to Catholic teaching.
Courage has grown since its founding in New York City in 1980 to now include chapters in more than 15 countries, with about 110 chapters in the U.S. alone. It also has an outreach to parents and spouses, called EnCourage. And this year marks the 40th anniversary of its founding.
“The thought that the Holy Father is willing to extend the award, knowing that my nomination must have had a lot to do with my work at Courage, means a great deal to me,” Father Bochanski told CNA. “Just to see the witness of our members who are living in such a heroic way inspires all of us to take our own commitment to holiness more seriously and to be always growing in our ongoing conversion, our ongoing acceptance of God’s plan for each our lives.”