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Letter from Sr. Bernadette in Kenya: Effects of the Coronavirus

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Letter from Sr. Bernadette in Kenya: Effects of the Coronavirus

How One Community WiRED Serves Is Coping
with the Global Crisis

By: Allison Kozicharow; Edited by Jessie Crowdy

WiRED International has worked with Sister Bernadette Nealon at the Pandipieri and Obunga health centers in Kisumu, Kenya, for almost 20 years. WiRED Executive Director Gary Selnow, Ph.D., said, “Without her help and that of staff coordinator Lillian Dajoh, WiRED programs aiding critically underserved populations in Kisumu would never have materialized or expanded. Sr. Bernadette and her dedicated community health workers have made WiRED’s training programs a success beyond our imagination.” What follows is a letter Dr. Selnow received from Sr. Bernadette in which she describes the effect of the coronavirus crisis upon the people she serves.

Dear Gary and all Friends of Pandipieri,

Greetings from Kenya, and I hope that you are keeping well. Thank God at the moment we are ok. We had to put half of the staff on compulsory leave because no community visiting can take place and no training, but we have volunteers who continue to visit the sick — but only in their own neighbourhood and only one person in any household. The medical team are working to serve the people living with HIV. Without their drugs, they will not survive. The clinic is also serving the sick. The Street Children’s Programme, Informal Schools and the Vocational Training Schools are all closed as required by the Government of Kenya. 

The finance team and I come in to work each day, but when everyone is served with their medication we leave, usually 1.00pm – 2.30pm. There is a curfew here between 7.00pm to 5.00am. Anyone found out of their homes after the curfew faces dire consequences from the police or the army. You can imagine being cooped up in the informal settlements (slums) in very small houses and people not even able to access services. 

Pandipieri water pump

This morning when I came into the compound at Pandipieri at 7.30am, it was very crowded with children, women and men waiting to access water from the Pandipieri water pump. There must have been a serious burst somewhere, and as I looked at the people I just thanked God for the pump and immediately thought of Friar Hans and each one of Friends of Pandipieri from the Netherlands as I’m sure it was through their support the pump was built. 

We have one member of staff, Joseph Ochien’g, at the gate, and everyone that enters has their temperature taken and must wash their hands. We bought face masks for the staff, but they were expensive, so we thought to engage one of the community members to make them so that he has an income. 

Please send this to the friends in the U.S. who support us and let them know that we are safe. 

We will continue to pray for each one of you, for the people of Kenya and indeed the whole world. 

Keep us in your prayers,
God bless,
Sr. Bernadette Nealon

Sr. Bernadette Nealon

Sr. Bernadette Nealon is a Franciscan missionary of St. Joseph. She came to Kenya from Ireland in September 1998 to work in the Archdiocese of Kisumu with the mandate to serve the disadvantaged populations of Kisumu City. She said, “I was shocked at the living conditions of the people, but I was overjoyed at their joyfulness, spontaneity and the care they gave to those in need from the little they had.”

WiRED began work in Kisumu in 2002 with a focus on HIV/AIDS, which broadened into a health training program on a wide range of topics that today includes coronavirus. Sr. Bernadette and her staff use WiRED’s health education programs to train community health workers. They, in turn, educate community members in home-based care for bedridden clients as well as teaching child-care.

Watch a 2017 video of Sr. Bernadette and Lillian Dajoh discussing WiRED’s contribution to their health awareness efforts at