Chad – A testimony of a story: a call in the present
MAGIS Foundation was born from the missionary impulse of the Italian Jesuit missionaries. Fr Gherardi SJ tells us about the beginnings of his work in Africa and the birth of the hospitals in Goundi, N’Djamena and Biobé. The result is a call to action in the present: the health emergency in Chad is far from over, and we are all called to work together to face this challenge.
Fr Angelo Gherardi – the “father” of the hospitals in Goundi, N’Djamena and Biobé – tells Sabrina Atturo, MAGIS project manager, how the health care work currently entrusted to the West Africa Province of the Society of Jesus was born, offering service and assistance to thousands of Chadians.
Fr Gherardi arrived in Chad as a novice. What impressed him most from the beginning was the lack of health facilities and, in particular, the resulting deaths of many women giving birth. He recalls: “The Jesuit Father I lived with was a doctor, but he had no medicine. Women in labour were brought to him, even travelling 100 kilometres in three days, but he had nothing… sometimes they died on the way.” Thus he developed the conviction that before “helping souls” it was necessary to heal bodies, severely stressed by poverty and adversity.
During those years he met Dr Pietro Corti (brother of Fr Corrado Corti, Jesuit missionary in Chad), who would later support him in his health work: «While talking on the road, Pietro Corti saw a dying child. He turned to those present: “Can’t you see that this child is dying?” He took out compatible blood from the refrigerator he was carrying and saved the child. That child is now the mother of seven children.»
In the meantime, a first group of Italian volunteers and collaborators gathered around Fr Gherardi and, with the help of providence, made it possible to build a hospital in Goundi. The hospital began its work in 1974, thanks also to the generous service (for months and sometimes years) of many doctors and collaborators.
Subsequently, the school in N’Djamena was set up to train African doctors and nurses to work in remote and inhospitable places.
The fact that doctors and nurses began to go into the villages to offer health care helped to break down the people’s distrust of foreigners. People had long been victims of the white Arab slave traders from Sudan and had inherited from their elders the recommendation to distrust not only white men, but also African foreigners (many Africans had been forced to collaborate with white slave traders in the capture of slaves).
Today, the health challenge in Chad is to foster a change in mentality – through training and awareness-raising initiatives – to encourage people to take care of themselves by using the health facilities available to them. In fact, only 15% of the population that could benefit from the services offered by the health centres and hospitals of Goundi, N’Djamena and Biobé, use these services.
Another need today is to offer nutrition education to women. Many do not know their needs and therefore do not take proper care of their diet. It would be enough to supplement the diet with a little flour, peanuts and roasted beans, sugar and vitamins, to avoid many complications during childbirth, or miscarriages. To this end, it is necessary to train women who are able to educate other women (especially young pregnant women) about proper nutrition.
With just one Euro it is possible to provide a pregnant woman with the amount of sugar she needs to prepare a daily drink for a month. By supporting health education activities, including the promotion of these simple forms of practical help, MAGIS Foundation can make a significant contribution.
The passionate work of the staff and the collaborators who are carrying on Fr Gherardi’s legacy needs the support of many. Each one of us can be an active agent in encouraging cultural change and sensitivity, so that the populations living around Goundi, N’Djamena and Biobé can benefit more from the hospital services offered to them. It is a question of bringing about change, for the benefit of the health of many.