Indian nun becomes Namibian village’s ‘Mother Teresa’
By Alvine Kapitako
Nyangana: Residents of a village in the southwestern African country of Namibia now hail a Benedictine nun from India as their Mother Teresa.
Sister Lovely Sebastian, a native of Kerala, southern India, has worked with sick patients at Nyangana Catholic Hospital for the past 13 years.
Nyangana, in the Kavango East Region, is situated some 100 km east of Rundu, nearest major city which is some 715 km northeast of the national capital of Windhoek.
Sister Sebastian, a registered nurse and midwife by profession, became the matron of the hospital in 2013. Earlier, she worked as a nurse, often extending her services to villagers in Nyangana district.
Sebastian, who worked mostly in Nyangana after coming to Namibia in 2000. She says she had no clue what lay ahead when she landed. All she wanted was to serve humanity, just as Mother Teresa of Calcutta, her role model.
The founder of the Missionaries of Charity has influenced her since her formative years and the nuns in her primary school further firmed up her resolve to dedicate her life for others.
“From childhood, I wanted to become a religious sister. My role model was Mother Teresa and my desire was to work with the poor,” she told New Era recently from the comfort of her office at Nyangana Catholic Hospital.
At the age of 18, in 1995 Sebastian became a nun in India. Not long after that she pursued nursing studies and became a nurse in 1998. Today, even though her siblings are married, the 43-year-old Sister Sebastian does not regret the path she chose.
This is because she finds fulfillment and purpose in reaching out to the sick and less fortunate of society, she says.
She has traveled the length and breadth of Nyangana district, as well as its surrounding areas, to preach the Gospel, encouraging people to become the best versions of themselves and pray with the sick and the suffering.
“I know Nyangana district very well. Whenever I get off duty I would visit the people in the villages. I would pray with patients the rosary,” said Sebastian.
As a devout Catholic, Sebastian spoke of encounters where she had to encourage patients and villagers to consider being baptized in order to receive eternal life. “As Catholics we believe that a person has to be baptized to receive eternal life. So, if I see a very sick person and I know they won’t make it I encourage them to be baptized,” she says.
She also added that: “If I see an old person (patient) who is very sick I get in touch with the family to ask their permission to baptize them if they are not baptized and for them to receive the sacrament,” she says, referring to the last rites.
The last rites refer to the sacraments Catholics receive at the end of their lives, especially confession, Holy Communion and the anointing of the sick, as well as the prayers that accompany them.
Through her interaction with the villagers, Sebastian has developed special bonds with the people she serves in the villages. Also, spending time with them has impressed on her to value her time while working, and to assist as many patients as possible.
“When patients come and wait for long I am not happy, because I know that if they miss their transport to go back they would be stranded or struggle to get back home,” she said. She has thus made a point of it to assist those patients from far villages.
She said she feels “so much pain” if her patients experience delays at the hospital. Her love for people has had an impact in the community and she feels that her efforts are appreciated. “The homba (chief) here supports us very well. He likes us working here,” she says.
Sebastian does not work in isolation. Apart from the other Catholic nuns with whom she works to reach out to communities, she has headed Nyangana Catholic Hospital as its matron since 2013.
“I know very well that God is leading us. I remain with my call. It’s not really easy,” she said of her role as the matron. Even though she has an important task of ensuring the smooth running of the hospital, Sister Sebastian sometimes makes time for herself by visiting people in their villages.
“My heart is with the patients; when they are sick I encourage them to go to church. I encourage young people [to realise] the importance of education and as a congregation we try to assist the very poor people from the villages,” she says.
“The prayer atmosphere in the hospital has contributed to its overall success,” she believes. Just recently, the hospital reached a 94.4 percent milestone in terms of babies born HIV negative, despite being exposed to the virus due to their mothers’ positive status.
“If you really want to care for the sick, you must be prayerful. I encourage the nurses to pray to have compassion for the sick. Even if they are not Catholic, I encourage them to pray,” she said.
Yet, being a nun comes with its share of challenges, she admits indirectly. To cleanse herself, to remain focused, strong and pious, Sebastian attends Holy Mass (church service) daily.
“As human beings, we are here to give the compassionate love of God to the people. Challenges and difficulties come, but it never puts me down because of the compassionate love of God,” she said, responding to a question on how she deals with challenges.
Having lived in Nyangana since 2000, Sebastian does not consider herself a resident of India anymore.
“I feel this is my home, because I get to meet my people (family) only on holidays, which is usually once a year or once in two years,” adds Sebastian, revealing that she has eight sisters and one brother. Her mother is also still alive, she further notes.
“I was born an enthusiastic person and when I’m out of India, I don’t look for the Indian way of life,” she says, explaining that as a nun she has been prepared to live in such a way to fulfill her call. “I was really very happy to see this area. Yes, there are some differences, but there are also similarities,” she says.
Talking about cultural shocks she experienced, although they were not many, Sebastian said: “I didn’t feel like I’m in an African country. Where I come from people work hard to sustain themselves. We stay in a family set-up. But here, many of the children don’t have both parents. So, it was really shocking to see that is the case.”
For now, she is happy at Nyangana. “If I feel I’m tired I can say (tell the church authorities) and I might be posted to a different area,” she remarked.
Nyangana District Hospital was founded in 1936 by the Benedictine nuns of Tutzig as there was no hospital in the whole Kavango Region then.
The hospital has several different departments such as Adult Male ward, Adult Female ward, Pediatric ward, Maternity ward, TB ward, Casualty, Operation, Operating Theatre, Laboratory, Radiology, Pharmacy, Laundry, Maintenance, Kitchen, and Store departments.
Source: New Era