From ONE Magazine

A Healing Touch: The Mission in Jordan

Professional health-care workers serve the crowd of women with babies in the “Mother and Child Care Clinic” amid noises of construction on a new extension. This commonplace image suggests the way the programs of the Pontifical Mission for Palestine have worked in Jordan for the last 40 years. This papal agency provides essential services to those in immediate need while it expands its operations to meet other challenges.

For 50 cents per visit, these young mothers receive medical attention similar to that offered in the more expensive clinics in Amman. This Pontifical Mission clinic, staffed by the Franciscan Missionaries of the Divine Motherhood, is located in a relatively poor industrial area of Marka in the eastern outskirts of Amman. It has become a special haven for the hundreds of women who seek medical care each week.

“We only treat their babies on Mondays and Tuesdays. Those are our infant welfare days,” says Sister Miriam, the clinic’s director. “The babies are weighed and screened, and then given vaccines appropriate for Jordan. When necessary, we also give advice to the mothers.”

Pre-natal clinics are held on other days. When necessary, medical problems of both mother and child are referred to the resident doctor in the same building.

“We also get women coming in from the adjacent Schneller, Mahatta, and Hashmie refugee camps,” says Sister Miriam.

Though most of the mothers are less than 30 years old, the majority of them already have more than five children. The Marka clinic, which now serves some 70 to 90 patients each day, works mainly among the Muslim poor. Their social and economic welfare remains a chief concern of the clinic staff.

“We specifically work with the poor women and children because they are the most neglected in the community,” says Sister Miriam.

The Pontifical Mission began this program as a mobile clinic to aid Palestinian refugees living in the various camps established in Jordan after the 1967 Arab-Israeli conflict. As time went by, the need for long-term follow-up care grew in importance.

“A lot of development happened in Jordan,” states Debora Schak, associate director of the Pontifical Mission in Amman. She has been with the agency since the early 1970s. “Their needs changed. We changed. There became a need to upgrade our clinics, and so we moved from a mobile clinic to an established clinic,” she says.

The Marka clinic was built with financial aid from Misereor, a German Catholic assistance organization, on land donated by the Greek Catholic archbishop, Saba Youakim. It officially opened under the patronage of the Pontifical Mission in the early 1970s.

Over the years the success of the Marka clinic has led to the establishment of another clinic in Zerqa, a town 20 kilometers north of Amman. Although comparatively smaller than the Marka clinic, the Zerqa program treated more than 20,000 patients in 1988 alone.

The Pontifical Mission does more than provide medical attention to the poor. Among its other important programs is its Needy Child Program, which is now a major family-support project. It continues to improve the lives of many impoverished families who depend on its assistance while their children are growing up.

Though the number of sponsored children has increased – currently some 4,000 children participate – priests and sisters working on the program continue to work on a one-to-one basis with each case.

In Jordan, the majority of families in the program are headed by divorced or widowed mothers or by a father who is unemployed and unable to provide adequate support. Other cases involve deathly ill spouses whose income, if any is available, goes directly to pay medical bills. Because most mothers marry at a young age and begin to have children immediately, they usually lack income-generating skills that might otherwise supplement a husband’s lost income.

A look at some of the faces of the children now in the program reveals how the money, which averages $15.00 a month per child, has made a difference. As Father Joseph L. Ryan, S.J., the Pontifical Mission director in Amman, says, “This is a very important program because it helps the child at this very critical point in his or her life. Money donated helps towards school fees, food, clothes, medicine – all of which aid them to be in a better position now and in the future.”

The Pontifical Mission and other private donors help the families with clothes and cash for those children placed on the Needy Child Program.

The Pontifical Mission in Amman continues to respond imaginatively to the needs of the tens of thousands of displaced people who live in Jordanian camps. In every case it recognizes the inherent human dignity and strives to encourage self-respect and self-reliance.

Diane C. Chilangwa is a free-lance writer.