Sunday, 19 May 2024

Sikonge 100

As part of the 100th Anniversary celebration of the Sikonge Hospital we share memories of Sikonge (1968-1985), this time from Sr Ellen Dalgaard Jensen.

I have been asked to write about my time in Sikonge when I was employed by BDM from 1968 to 1975. BDM (Br¿dremenighedens Danske Mission), the Danish branch of the Moravian Church, has been working in Western Tanzania since 1922 when a group of eight Danish missionaries, mostly nurses, was sent to Sikonge. In 1923 they welcomed the first doctor, Arthur Keevill and his wife Addie, who was a midwife.

The purpose of the work was always to spread the gospel by preaching, teaching, and doing diakonia. When I arrived in Sikonge in 1968 the hospital and maternity unit had already been there since 1930 and 1931, respectively. In 1968 there were about twenty-five Danish missionaries; when visiting Sikonge in 2010 there were just two missionaries left. Today in 2023 the number has once again increased.

I am a nurse and midwife, qualifying as a nurse in Denmark and doing my midwifery training in Scotland. Having the British midwifery certification and registration meant that there was no problem when entering and beginning to work in Tanzania.

It was a big challenge to work in the maternity unit in Sikonge without running water or electric light during the first years. We only had two beds but often four or five deliveries at the same time. I remember many nights where we used kerosine lamps while the deliveries took place on mats on the floor: I crawled around on my knees between mothers and babies. We had 600-700 deliveries each year rising to 1,000 in 1972. One year we had seventy deliveries in a fortnight. I have worked with doctors from Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Africa. Sometimes I had to do doctor's work as he/she could be on safari. For normal deliveries we never called the doctor. I had six nursing assistants and two of those could manage normal deliveries: otherwise, I attended. Sometimes we also had an African midwife.

Soon after the Keevill's arrived in Sikonge in 1923, Dr Keevill did his first operation. Instead of an operating table he used an old door placed on boxes. The man survived and recovered and gave the new doctor a good reputation. As Addie was a midwife it was most interesting for me to make contact and hear about her time in Sikonge. We began corresponding and twice I visited them in Clevedon, England. Dr Keevill told me about their own big trauma in Sikonge when they lost their only son at birth. It is a great privilege for me to have known them both. Dr Keevill died in 1982 and his wife a few years later.

In 1972 several thousand refugees from Burundi came to the old refugee camp, Pangale. There were already political refugees from different countries in Africa and at Pangale they found a good hiding place. With many more refugees suddenly arriving to settle for a while the water supply failed. Many children died from lack of water. I was one of two nurses from Sikonge who went out to help in the camp. I remember days where a long row of refugees was standing for hours in the burning sun waiting to get a little attention and some medicine. On and off a tin of water went from one to another so each could drink just one mouthful. We stayed in an old building and the floor was covered by children too weak to stand. After one cup of water, they could sit and after two cups they could play with oranges. Two Mother Theresa Sisters came to the camp to give food to the refugees. Pregnant women were helped while lying on newspaper on the floor.

We had Sunday services where a pastor from Sikonge came to preach, and a wonderful choir sang. Sometimes I took my piano accordion to the camp and when playing their tunes, they smiled. This was the only entertainment in the camp.

In 1975 when I returned to Sikonge after leave in Denmark I moved from the maternity unit to work in the leprosarium at Kidugalo. For the rest of my time in Sikonge I remained there. I came to know many children who lived there, as if in a boarding school, getting food and treatment for leprosy. Some were rather depressed because they knew that their parents did not want them back. To encourage them we started various projects. We bought several animals, and the children could help care for them. They also planted trees. Then we began a teaching project where some of the more advanced children also helped in an adult class with those who could not read and write. This work gave school children self-respect, and the adults enjoyed these classes.

In 1976 one of our leprosy patients started Kidugalo Kindergarten among the very poor children. The children or their parents had leprosy. Five kilometres from our leprosarium a little village lost 30 children in 30 days because of general childhood illnesses. After the children had been about three weeks in the Kidugalo kindergarten only a few children were sick and there were no deaths. After some years it turned out that the children from Kidugalo Kindergarten did very well. The authorities in Dar es Salaam became most interested. The secretary from the cultural centre under the Ministry of Education came to visit the kindergarten and he wanted us to write books. The first children's book in Tanzania was made in Sikonge by a child and his father, who had leprosy. The leader of the kindergarten and myself were asked to talk on Tanzania radio to spread the idea of starting kindergartens.

An article was sent to Herrnhut, then in DDR (Deutsche Demokratische Republik), and after a short time we began to receive parcels for the kindergarten from DDR. They sent paper, pencils, dolls, vitamins, milk powder, recorders, and many other things. We had about 200 addresses for people in DDR. I repeatedly went to DDR to thank them. Twice I stayed in Berlin with a pastor and his wife. As soon as the Berlin wall fell, they went to Tanzania as missionaries to start a kindergarten. They had great support from Germany and installed a water pump and had money to give about a hundred children food every day. Their work grew and grew. A few weeks ago, I was informed that the pastor had died and, in the death notice they wrote that instead of flowers he wanted money for his 'Herzenproject', the kindergarten in Tanzania. Kidugalo Kindergarten in Sikonge has been an inspiration to many within and outside Tanzania.

In 1980 a school for nursing assistants was opened in Sikonge. For about twenty years it helped hundreds of young people to have a chance in life. This school was closed and a new school for nurses was opened. When I visited Sikonge in 2010 - twenty-five years after I had left - I was very touched hearing about children we cared for in the kindergarten and the schools who went on to have a good life.
Now there are only a few patients with leprosy left, so their treatment takes place at the General Hospital.

The first president of Tanzania was Julius Nyerere (1964-1985). He said 'we the people of Tanzania like to light a candle and place it on top of Kilimanjaro so that it can shine out over our borders to bring hope where there is despair, and dignity where there is humiliation. We cannot as others send rockets to the moon, but we can send rockets of love and hope to people in need'.

Sr Ellen Dalgaard Jensen

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