WALKING WITH THE EXCLUDED
By Zach Martorana, Communications Officer, Jesuit Mission
Remember the classic line from Doc Emmett Brown in the 1985 film ‘Back to the Future’, when he says to Marty McFly, “Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads!”
Not quite 40 years on, that’s actually a pretty accurate metaphor for a trip I recently made to Timor-Leste with the Jesuit Mission-funded mobile medical clinic. I was given the extraordinary privilege of participating in a project-monitoring trip which unveiled the astounding work of our project partners. It also gave me the opportunity to interact with the people most deeply touched by our programs and to view first-hand a project that touches their hearts and souls.
Preparing the mobile clinic for a day on the road is a meticulous step-by-step process. Early that morning at the Centro de Saúde Daniel Ornelas (CSDO) health clinic in Kasait, I was immediately enveloped by the soundscape of local life. There was the occasional crowing of roosters, accompanied by the laughter of children and the rumble of school buses arriving at the nearby Jesuit Mission-supported educational institutions: Colégio de Santo Inácio de Loiola (CSIL) and the adjacent campus of the Instituto São João de Brito (ISJB).
Working quickly and efficiently, the CSDO staff kicked into overdrive to prepare the mobile clinic for a day on the road. We meticulously packed the vehicle with an assortment of essential supplies: milk for young children, medicines catering to all ages and a variety of medical equipment. When the last of the items was packed, I accompanied the two nurses, a doctor and the driver as we left on our journey.
On our day-long mission, we navigated rugged or non-existent roads through mountainous terrain. Almost as if my travelling companions were famous, passing locals would stop to wave and greet us as we passed.
Arriving at the first village was an experience in itself. We drove into a clearing, where we parked. There was no need to use a portable loud hailer. The driver promptly turned up the volume of the car’s speakers, filling the air with local music. Within minutes, alerted by the sound, people began to emerge from their humble thatched homes with tin roofs. They were mostly mothers cradling their young ones, also joined by elderly residents.
The joy that radiated from the villagers’ faces on seeing the doctors and nurses was palpable. Their expressions conveyed not just gratitude but a deep respect and gratitude for the presence of the medical clinic in their village. The CSDO staff were greeted like old friends and the atmosphere immediately brimmed with positivity.
The villagers formed a line, eagerly awaiting their turn for a check-up. The routine worked smoothly: one nurse measured each patient’s blood pressure, the doctor did a thorough check-up, and finally the other nurse provided the necessary medication. I was warmly welcomed by the locals, some of whom really relished the opportunity to have their photographs taken.
While the patients were receiving treatment, I noticed the liveliness of village life, with cows, dogs and goats freely roaming the dirt paths. Some of the animals even accompanied the patients as they returned home clutching their medicine.
One heart-warming moment took us even further into the mountains, where we reached a house perched at the top of the hill, in a very remote area. There, two elderly residents patiently awaited our arrival and it was immediately evident that they were too frail to join the rest of the community during the previous visit. Witnessing the doctor’s unwavering care and compassion for these two elders left an indelible mark on my heart.
One of the people whom we met during this trip was Manuela, a resilient mother of two who lives in the heart of a small rural community. Thanks to the generosity of Jesuit Mission supporters, the mobile medical clinic is able to travel directly to her doorstep, saving her family the hardship of travelling great distances for even the most basic form of medical assistance.
As Manuela explained, the most significant relief is that the consultations and medicine provided by the mobile doctors and nurses are entirely free of charge. Her sense of gratitude was evident in her words: “I am very grateful for this mobile medical clinic program as we cannot afford to go far. At other clinics just a bottle of medicine can be $4, $5 or $6 which is a lot for us, even without taking into account the cost of travelling there for a consultation.
“My eldest child is six years old and the other is three years old. I have dreams for my two children. For my daughter, I want her to become a doctor. For my son, I want him to study well so that he can go abroad,” she said.
These words resonate deeply with Georgina, 27, one of the nurses working with the mobile clinic, serving the people in Kasait and other surrounding villages as well. Georgina’s journey to becoming a nurse was the culmination of a dream nurtured during her years as a scholarship student at the Jesuit-run secondary school, Escola Secundaria Católica Nossa Senhora de Fátima (NOSSEF) in the municipality of Railaco. As she explains, the Jesuit education in her formative years instilled a strong sense of service to others.
“Our teachers at NOSSEF were very dedicated and they wanted us to become adults who could really contribute to society,” she said. Having graduated from NOSSEF, Georgina studied medicine and nursing at the National University of Timor-Leste, after which she returned to her roots and began working alongside Fr Martin Antonio “Bong” Abad Santos SJ. Fr Bong, a Filipino Jesuit doctor, has been running the mobile medical clinic with the Jesuits in Timor-Leste since 2004, with significant support over the years from Sydney-based parish St Canice’s, as well as Jesuit Mission.
She explained: “I enjoyed serving people in the rural areas in Railaco because they need our assistance. Sometimes we would cater to 100 people in a day.”
Not surprisingly, it was here that she found her true calling – to make healthcare accessible to rural Timor-Leste. Since April 2022, Georgina has been working as the sole nurse at the CSDO clinic in Kasait, treating patients with a range of illnesses, including respiratory infections, diarrhoea, hypertension, dermatitis and injuries suffered in road accidents.
In her own words: “Apart from caring for people in Kasait, there are others from Liquisa who come here to see us as they have greater trust in our clinic. It’s interesting that a lot of my patients happen to be students from ISJB and CSIL – and it makes me happy to care for them because they in turn are the future of the nation. Perhaps fulfilling my own dream of becoming a nurse will inspire them to truly make a difference by serving others.”
Jesuit Mission Australia (JMA) was established in 1951 and today operates as the international development organisation of the Australian Jesuit Province. JMA’s community-led programmes empower vulnerable communities around the world to liberate themselves from poverty and injustice. Through the Emergency Action Fund, Jesuit Mission also responds to humanitarian crises around the world. Please donate online at Jesuit Mission Australia or call us today on 02 8918 4109.