La Salette Lay Associate Leads Parish Nursing Course in Madagascar

Maureen and husband, AL,
in front of pointsettia trees

My name is Maureen Daniels. I have been a La Salette Lay Associate for about a year, but have been active for several years with the La Salette Missionaries in St. Louis. My husband, Al, and myself visited Madagascar from May 6 to June 2, 2007, after our initial visit three years ago.

With the help of Thandiwe Diamini, Parish Nurse Coordinator from Swaziland, and several team members, we taught a Basic Parish Nurse Preparation Course for the first time to nurses and other volunteers in Namahora, Madagascar. Five nurses and ten church volunteers attended the sessions, held at the Cathedral of Mary Queen in Namahora, a Catholic Parish of 1,600 families, just two miles outside of Morondava, on the west central coast of the island of Madagascar.

Our Invitation to Visit Madagascar

Originally we had discussed the possibility of offering this Nursing course with Bishop Donald Pelletier, a visiting La Salette Missionary from Madagascar and Massachusetts native. We found out that he is involved with Catholic health care ministry for Madagascar. He advised us to visit his diocese and see if we felt it would be a worthwhile effort to offer the course.

During our one-month visit in the fall of 2004, we saw the overwhelming poverty and poor health conditions, and discussed our proposed course with a local group of doctors, nurses, and other interested parties. We were greeted with great enthusiasm.

Fortunately, before our return to Madagascar, our course book, “The Essential Parish Nurse” by Deborah Patterson, was translated into French, which most educated Malagasy understand. Roger Ralohotsy, a friend and coordinator of the Morondava CFCA Project (Christian Foundation for Children and Aging) and a member of the Cathedral Parish, arranged the details of the course and invited the help of nurses and local church leaders.

The Daniel’s with their second sponsor child
(in blue) and his family02_Maureen with parish
nurse class proudly holding their certificates

We gathered the necessary funds to pay for the salary of the first Parish Nurses through our contacts with parishioners of Immaculate Conception Parish in Maplewood, Missouri, where La Salette Missionaries had served for over thirty years. This parish will serve as a support for the ongoing work of the Parish Nurses in Namahora, Madagascar. As the Parish Nursing program grows, other resources will be tapped to help support these nurses in their ministry of mercy and healing.

Giving Our First Course

Maureen with parish nurse class
proudly holding their certificates

Our volunteer team taught the Basic Parish Nurse Preparation Course for ten full days, May 15-25, 2007, using a Cathedral classroom. The participants used the French student manuals containing the twenty curriculum modules. The fifteen class participants included five nurses, three older women, (two of which were retired from nursing), a young mother who works at a nearby dispensary, and a young man who works at the local hospital, especially with HIV testing and counseling.

Others included a Parish Confirmation teacher, one person who worked for Caritas, a taxi driver, a Boy Scout leader, a hairdresser, a young woman who worked with the World Bank, and a young computer salesman. Almost all had a connection to health, even the taxi driver who had asthma. Most of these people were parishioners of the Cathedral. Teaching the course also involved two assistants who translated our instruction into French.

The Experience Was Wonderful

The course went very well and the people were very attentive. I was amazed at their interest and continued faithfulness to the daily classes. The Ethics module was taught by the nurse who is becoming the coordinator for the group. In our discussions, we made clear distinctions between what the volunteers could do and what the nurses could do and that they all formed a true health team. We also suggested that the older women could visit the sick and homebound and do some basic care, such as bathing, feeding, and the like. Extensive referral resources (schools, local hospital, doctors, dispensary, HIV counseling center, etc.) were already present among the volunteers of the class.

A La Salette Sister (2nd from right) invited
Maureen to visit a local needy family

Giving this course was for us an introduction into the lives and experiences of the Malagasy people. They shared some very intimate and moving experiences. We all felt God's presence in their shared prayer and melodious singing.

The most amazing thing to me was how the material of the course touched some of the people there. For example, the afternoon translator shared that he felt that he gained a new hope in the church by learning about the Catholic theology of health and healing. One of the nurses shared that she learned how her experience of family problems could now become a strength for her ministry. All participants were encouraged to find their gifts and realize that they have something substantial to offer others.

Getting Older and Smarter

It was a great privilege for Al and myself to work with the Malagasy people. Their willingness and generosity were most evident. We found that, while the Malagasy people have very different burial and funeral customs, doing the “Grief and Loss Module” was a wonderful experience. Grieving is such a universal experience. They were so happy to hear that it is all right to allow someone to cry after a loss. It was very touching for us and we were so grateful to be able to share this opportunity for healing with them.

Some Practical Elements

A village house along the road to Morondava

During the classes, they had already established what information the volunteers would report to the nurses and how all would meet regularly. They were quite comfortable with the idea of gathering monthly reports and getting this information to us on a quarterly basis.

Dr. Thandiwe Diamini, Parish Nurse Coordinator from the Kingdom of Swaziland on the southeast coast of Africa, described how they can begin this work in their own setting — sharing their faith and offering care and help to people. There are many places where they can begin teaching and supporting the simple practices of proper preparation of water and use of mosquito netting. She shared how her Swazi Parish nurses were now sought out by all the people because of their loving and helpful attitudes. Yet there remains a severe shortage of nurses in Madagascar.

Since these new Parish Nurses have no materials other than The Essential Parish Nurse, translated into French, it is their main reference book. My hope is to find some articles or spiritual resources in French so I will contact some French-speaking Canadians for help.

Scripture Says It All

At the conclusion of our classes, I was very pleased when the class chose a Scripture to describe what they felt was their calling. It is the beautiful passage:

“Strengthen the hands that are feeble, make firm the knees that are weak, Say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not! Here is your God, he comes with vindication; with divine recompense he comes to save you. Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; Then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the dumb will sing” (Isaiah 35: 3-6).

Maureen and Al with a local family

Within a few weeks of our return home, we received an email that the new Parish Nurses had met with Bishop Pelletier, M.S. to share what they learned and what they planned to do this month. Their next step was to talk to their pastor and then to their congregation to explain what they proposed to do.

Al and I will return to Madagascar in July 2008. We have committed ourselves to support this outreach in whatever way we can to help the people of Madagascar, especially through the Parish Nurse Ministry. It’s the least we can do. We ask you to join us in praying for them as they begin their new ministry, being the hands and heart of Jesus to some of the most needy of God’s people.