Pendembu lies along the far eastern border of Sierra Leone, reaching almost to Guinea and Liberia. It is over six hours drive away from the country’s capital, Freetown and is home to some of the most vulnerable and isolated communities in Sierra Leone. The Handmaids of the Holy Child Jesus have been working and living with the people of Pendembu for generations and have become a fixture within the communities where they work, often providing much-needed medical care and livelihoods support.
It was this reputation that brought Mama Jattu and a chicken – a traditional offering – to the Sister’s doorstep in 2013. She had walked, having always feared motorbikes, one hour from her village, Ginjama, to meet with the Sisters. Sr. Anthonia has never forgotten their first meeting.
“I couldn’t speak Mende (the local language) at the time, so I had to call someone to translate but I immediately knew that she was a kind woman. She told me that she had lost all of her children during the war, and that she wanted to be our mother in the community… She gave me the chicken as a gesture of kindness.”
It was this meeting that brought the Sisters to Mama Jattu’s community, and started a long relationship of mutual support and collaboration. It was during one of Sister Anthonia’s visits to Ginjama that she saw that the community was still drawing water from a nearby stream. Children were getting sick from diarrhoea and other water-borne diseases, which were sadly fatal in some cases. With support from CAFOD, the Sisters completed construction of a hand-dug well in Ginjama in 2015.
By that time, Mama Jattu was the oldest woman in her village, but she had single-handedly built a relationship and a friendship which saw her community enjoy clean and potable water for the first time in living memory and completely changed health outcomes, especially for young children.
Sadly, Mama Jattu passed away this year but her legacy lives on in the work that the Sisters continue to do in her community and many others like it.
This year alone, the Sisters have already completed the construction of three boreholes and three hand-dug wells that have given hundreds of people access to clean drinking water. In Mama Jattu’s memory, we can see that even the simplest of encounters can have the greatest impact and we are reminded that despite long distances and bad roads, we are all still connected and have the potential to be agents for change and transformation in our communities.