Our Sisters in Amman

text and photos by Margaret Kelberer

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In the rolling hills of northwest Jordan lies the busy city of Amman. The city and its environs are home for nearly half a million Palestinian refugees, 93,000 of whom live in crowded camps. Most of the refugees are ill-housed, ill-nourished, and badly in need of medical care.

Four enthusiastic, hard-working Franciscan Sisters are helping to meet that need each day at their clinic in Marka, a suburb of Amman. Sisters Ellen, Dorothy, Bridget, and Christine, all of whom are nurses, began with a one-room clinic where they gave health care to mothers and babies. Today, their recently-expanded building contains seven rooms, and their treatment programs include prenatal instruction and care and regular postnatal checkups. One of the Sisters’ most important goals is to reduce the high rate of infant deaths caused by malnutrition and lack of education for new mothers.

The clinic is capably directed and administered by Sister Ellen. It serves over 1,200 registered patients. There is considerable turnover, since the mothers come less frequently after childbirth. Most of them are from camps in the area, but as news of the clinic spreads by word of mouth, patients come from farther away to be treated.

Mothers with children in their arms trudge along dusty roads; the lucky ones catch a ride from a passing car or truck. All the patients are accompanied by several friends or family members.

Many of the women coming in for their first visit are filled with anxiety and fear. They are suspicious of treatment that is offered without charge. They have little or no experience of modern medical technology, and they are frightened of injections, medicines, and instruments such as blood pressure pumps. Many patients refuse to give blood samples at first, thinking that the procedure will kill them.

The fears and mistrust of the women present a frustrating obstacle to the Sisters, who are eager to help where help is so desperately needed. Before they can relieve suffering or prevent illness, however, they must work to instill trust and confidence in their patients. Dr. Mazen, who works at the clinic several hours each day, faces the same problem. Patients who have never been treated by a doctor before are often afraid to be examined. With gentleness and infinite patience, Dr. Mazen reassures each one and calms her fears at the unfamiliar procedures.

If a woman is too frightened and upset to be examined, Dr. Mazen relies on the help of Diana, a volunteer worker who is on duty at the clinic every day. With Dr. Mazen there to guide and direct her, Diana conducts the examination. Through Diana’s hands, Dr. Mazen is able to treat the occasional patient who might otherwise have gone away, needing care but afraid to receive it.

Each day of the week at the clinic is designated for a particular kind of care. One day is set aside for prenatal registration. Mothers who are pregnant come to register and to be checked by Sister Bridget, who is a midwife. Another day is reserved for baby care. Women bring their children in for check-ups, injections, medication, and advice.

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