Sister Gillian Rose O.B.E. trains nurses and midwives at Bollobhpur Hospital. She is partly funded by the Oxford Mission. These are excerpts from her latest journal-letter:
Sunday 10 August 2003, and I write from a beautiful clean rain-washed Bangladesh... We now have 78 girls in training, plus Nodi the orphan girl who was sent to us from the far south two months ago. Nodi has opted for the Laboratory Technician training, sat the entrance examination and passed easily in the first place, the only female candidate this time. So Nodi has started her training with great enthusiasm, along with two young men...The training course is 18 months in duration, and includes basic x-ray technique and use of the E.C.G. machine. These are useful extras for the students when they leave us for employment.
On 7 July, 14 new girls squeezed into an eight-bedded room to commence their Nurse/Midwife training. Yes, we push extra beds in too!! This brings the total to 78. Lucky (an unfortunate name), a Roman Catholic lassie from a village beyond Karpasdanga, was the last... Lucky, poor lass, is huge, out of all proportion to the normal small-statured Bengali woman. Her parents turned her out of home. She went to the Catholic sisters for help, but was turned away. So Lucky decided that poison was the only answer to her misery. Thank God, a relative's timely help directed her to my verandah. Hemen, our new Parish Priest, was sympathetic too to her plight. So Lucky has squeezed in too, and settled down happily and gratefully to her training. The other new girls come from all over Bangladesh, as well as from the neighbouring villages, and include orphaned Flora, from a home in Khulna, and three Garo tribal girls from distant Mymensingh, north of Dhaka. Please keep Nodi, Lucky and all our girls in your prayers as they train. Not only that they become good nurses and midwives, but that they become good stable Christian people too...
July 28th brought the eagerly-awaited results of the external Midwifery examinations, and great joy! All 12 girls have passed well. So there is another joyful capping ceremony on the horizon
In the c1assroom the Second Year group are busy studying for their final Anatomy and Physiology examinations next month, eager to begin their Midwifery classes with me and become 'Case nurses'. There is great competition amongst the brightest to gain first place. At the other end are the girls who struggle to attain a pass mark! But they all become very capable practical midwives in the end, and easily find well-paid jobs in private clinics and in the community. I always feel especially p1eased when a girl chooses a village clinic situation rather than the glitter of the capital city Dhaka...not that it glitters except in their eyes!...
Friday 8 August, and the busiest morning of the mont!1 in the Outpatient Department. Mr. Yunus Ali, our faithful 'Eye Doctor', is here from Chuandanga for the weekly Eye Clinic, where he sees around 60 patients a week...
The Dental department is open too today for the monthly 'Dental Camp', for which our Christian dentist friend, Dr. Happy Roy, provides free service, assisted by his wife Dr Helen, also a well-qualified dentist, and our Staff Nurse Nomina, who has received training from them. Routine dental care is not sought in the villages of Bangladesh, and indeed is a luxury well beyond the pocket of the villagers. Between the camps Nomina provides dental care when she is at Bollobhpur...she is also the Relief Midwife for the four outstation clinics, covering holidays and medical leave, so she is a busy person! I too extract teeth in an emergency between sessions!
At the other end of the corridor our own Medical Officer, Dr. Khisa, now into his second year of service, is seeing general patients, after completing the ward round And the hospital is full, with 55 patients admitted, so one Doctor is kept very busy. We are grateful for his energetic service, and for Mrs. Khisa, who is usually to be found in the computer roam, copying notes for the classroom, and attending to everyone's needs.
But let me take you around our Outstation Clinics...
Wednesday 13 Angnst and an early start with Sunil, our faithful driver, in the hospital's light eight-seater car. The team includes the three girls who are rostered for clinic duty that day, one of the senior students from the laboratory with his microscope and equipment, and Dibakor our hospital administrator, who is also a Government-trained Poly Chikitshok (Village Doctor). Our destination is our newest clinic at Kejura, just 11 months old, but already well-known to the community and increasingly well-used by the village folk of the surrounding villages...
We are greeted by a smiling Benuka, our Bollobhpur-trained and very capable Staff Nurse/Midwife in charge, with husband Kilon behind. Their two-year-old daughter Riyah is hiding in the bedroom! The three girls (student nurses) on rotation at the clinic come running to greet us, faces a1l smiles, and I am borne off to the Maternity Ward to see the mothers they have delivered. The six-bedded ward is full, and judging from the smiling faces of the women, they are all very happy with their new babies and with the care they are receiving.
After a cup of tea together we start the day's clinic, Dibakor seeing the general patients while I see women and children, and assist Benuka with her ladies attending the Ante-natal Clinic. The whole emphasis of the clinic, as with all our work, is on women and children, and little ones are weighed and their nutritional needs discussed with their mothers. Literacy levels are very low in a village situation, indeed only about one woman in five can read and write, and village superstitions and traditional thinking about nutrition for women and children is very destructive to good health. Indeed a nursing mother has her diet drastica1ly cut down to basic essentials so that her child be not harmed. And if her child is ill in any way she is immediately accused of eating this or that which has caused the child 's cough, or fever, or stomach upset. And even an educated mother is often heard to say, "But what can I do? My mother-in-law does not let me eat fish or meat or eggs or anything?" So the woman, who also has to do the cooking and all the hard work around the house and farm, ends up by eating plain boiled rice and mashed potato, while the rest of the family tuck in! This is the sort of traditional thinking that we are battling against, teaching the women again and again the importance of good food for themselves and their babies and children, getting the women interested in their baby's weight and nutrition, and trying to get the teaching through to the mothers-in-law.
Indeed, another thing I battle firmly against is the traditional leaving of the child's mother out of the picture. "Next please", and in comes an older woman with a newish baby in her lap. "Where is baby's mother?" I immediately ask. "Oh, she is out there on the verandah!" I call her in and ask her to take her baby and sit down and te1l me how baby is, which is not easy for her, as mother-in-law tries to get in first each time! I explain to mum-in-law that only baby's mother knows how baby really is, and only she can tell me about the baby. Then, ignoring mum-in-law trying to say what is wrong with the child, we enter a discussion on baby's teething, praising the mother who is fully breast-feeding, and spend some time talking about her own diet with mum-in-law listening in, before I weigh the baby and enquire about its health. Mums-in-law are always eager to confirm that they feed the mother well, but often, as the young mother goes out of the door she quickly turns back and says behind her hand, "She doesn't let me eat anything!!"
Friday afternoon, and Dibakor, Arun (our Community Health Supervisor) and I are at Karpasdanga Clinic for the three-monthly Sub-Committee Meeting. Each clinic has its separate committee with the local Parish Priest in the chair, and Karpasdanga being a difficult parish to work with, has members from the Hindu and the Muslim community too. We are greeted by Lakhi and husband Hebal, busy as always but full of energy and cheerful. Lakhi took over the charge of the clinic for us six years ago, since when we have had to build two new buildings to accommodate the work there, so well-known and respected have they become in the community. There is no village within miles that does not know Hebal and Community Midwife Sebika, and no village that does not use the clinic. Last Tuesday, our weekly clinic day, brought 160 women to the Ante-natal Clinic, and Lakhi and the team of students on rotation vie with the hospital for the numbers of mothers delivered at the clinic each month! While the Committee meets, Sunil our driver goes further to Kejura, with a car full of laughing girls and buckets and bedding, for it is 'all change' this weekend, and the senior girls have to be gathered in for their capping ceremony on Sunday.
Saturday 16 August, and after helping with the busy Ante-natal Clinic at the hospital, where we see up to 150 mothers-to-be, another group of girls pile into the car eager to be off for their month's rotation duty at Ratanpur Clinic. This is only three miles from the hospital, but Pascolina, in charge, and husband Aparesh are so well-known and liked that this little clinic actually sees more patients during the week and sells more medicines than the distant clinics. Today their little four-bedded ward is full of newly-delivered mothers too, and extra beds have been set up on the verandah, so all faces are full of smiles. Sunil delivers the three new students, and the returning girls say tearful goodbyes before loading into the car and back to Bollobhpur, where the classroom and examinations loom ahead!
Saturday evening, and we are all called to the girls' hostel where the juniors have prepared an evening's entertainment to congratulate their seniors on passing their final midwifery examinations and receiving the coveted Staff-Nurse cap and bell, which they wear for the last six months of their training. Always an enjoyable time, for the girls have many gifts, and I for one could spend all night watching them sing and dance and split our sides with their carefully-prepared comic sketches!
Sunday morning, August 17, and the church bell is ringing us to church at 6.30 a.m., where during the service the 12 senior girls file shyly to the front to kneel at the altar rail and receive their new caps and God's blessing for their future lives of service, and we all receive our communion together. Always a lovely and moving time for us all. Thank Gad for them all, and for the privilege of being able to give them this training.
After the service the photographs of course! Liton, the girls' faithful music master from Ratanpur village, is always present with his camera for them, no matter what the weather is like or how early the service is! And all want a picture of themselves in their new uniforms, of course. After breakfast Sunil is getting the car out of the garage again, today the big old Land Cruiser, for four new girls are to go for their two months' surgical experience at our link clinic in Meherpur town, and another two for their month's rotation at distant Nityanandapur Clinic. I go along too, for my monthly visit to Juthika and her team at Nityanandapur, and it is a beautiful drive...
Nityanandapur Clinic has been a burden for some years, and been threatened with closure several times. But since we moved Juthika into the clinic quarter, rather than working from home, and gave her two other village women to work with - Porimal who trained at Bollobhpur twenty years ago, and Ruth to care for the elderly of the area - the work has gained momentum, and Dibakor goes weekly to conduct a general clinic for the patients they refer in and to help with any problems. The three are keen that their clinic will remain open, and are working hard to that purpose the two girls on rotation there were pleased to tell me that they had delivered eight mothers and cared for them and their babies. Please keep this clinic and the work in your prayers.
Sunday 31 August...The classroom has seen a busy week, and the second-year girls have sat their examinations and, to my pleasure, all have passed, some of them extremely well. Tomorrow... they will be beginning their Midwifery classes with me, an event eagerly awaited, eager to become 'Case nurses' and look after the women themselves, and to go out to the clinics on rotation like their seniors!
And so the life of Bollobhpur Hospital and its clinics continues in God's blessing from month to month. Thank you for your continuing interest and your prayers.