Special Delivery in Baghdad

Baghdad’s Al Hayat Hospital provides quality healthcare for impoverished mothers and their children.

text by Dale Gavlak
photographs by Norbert Schiller

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The diminutive nun in white nursing gear tenderly caresses the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Holy Child. “Our Lady lovingly looked after all those who delivered babies today, especially the last, who was delivered by Caesarean section,” smiles Sister Sarah. “God has been merciful to us!”

The Virgin and Child, resplendent in celestial blue and gold leaf, adorn the entrance to Al Hayat Hospital in Baghdad. Run by the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine, Al Hayat is Iraq’s smallest hospital, with just 12 beds. But the sisters are in the process of expanding their work with the addition of a new wing, financed in part by CNEWA. The attractive, concrete two-story edifice is already up, right next to the main building, but much more work is needed to turn the dirt floors and exposed bricks into part of the hospital complex.

When complete, Al Hayat’s new wing will house five halls on the ground floor and rooms accomodating 13 beds on the second floor. A tiny chapel will also be available on the top floor. “At first, we thought we could have a dormitory for the nuns serving at Al Hayat, but we felt the hospital needed more beds,” explains Sister Boushra, who is responsible for the medical unit. “We pray to God to help the Iraqis who are suffering, and that he will use us to aid them.”

Al Hayat is mainly a maternity hospital, and its half-dozen sisters serve Iraq’s women and babies from both Christian and Muslim backgrounds in the Baghdad area and from around the country. Sister Boushra says the government respects the nuns and is grateful for the nondiscriminative service they provide.

Iman Hamad, a Muslim from Baghdad, had her first child, a baby girl, successfully delivered by C-section, at Al Hayat. The joyful sounds of female family members and friends filled the building as they celebrated the news of her safe delivery.

“We came to Al Hayat because it’s a better hospital,” said Iman’s sister, Simitar.

The atmosphere at Al Hayat differs markedly from similar government-run institutions. It is intimate, immaculately clean and well-ordered; its tranquil environment is due in large part to Sister Boushra and her team. Some are Muslims; others hail from northern Iraq and come from Chaldean and Syrian Catholic backgrounds. Sister Boushra has worked at the Baghdad hospital since its establishment on 21 December 1992, just after the Gulf War. The team obviously feels called to serve their people and their Lord in the task set before them, despite the difficulties posed by United Nations sanctions and the aerial bombardments experienced by Iraq.

“We passed through hard times. For a period, we had to leave the building because of intensive bombing around the city. When we returned, however, we restored the hospital’s services,” explains the slightly graying Sister Boushra. Other times the staff found themselves in the operating theater delivering babies while bombs exploded in the surrounding area.

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