By Maryknoll Lay Missioner Judy Walter
Hamida is a 10 year old girl living in the slum of Bangladesh on the outskirts of Mombasa, Kenya. Because of a seizure disorder, her mother never sent her to school, wanting to protect her from the shame and embarrassment of having a seizure in front of classmates.
In Kenya and many other countries in Africa, there exists a common belief that seizures are the result of a curse or witchcraft, and the person can bear the stigma of that belief their whole life. But Hamida wanted to go to school, and persisted in her demands until her mother, Furaha, finally went to the Head Teacher at the Catholic school and told her the story of Hamida’s “curse.” The Head Teacher advised Furaha to take Hamida to St Patrick’s Dispensary where she could get medicine for her daughter’s illness.
Furaha didn’t really believe the Head Teacher, but to appease Hamida’s demands to go to school, she brought her daughter to the Dispensary. This Dispensary is a ministry of St. Patrick’s Parish founded by the St. Patrick Fathers Mission Society in the heart of Bangladesh. Maryknoll Lay Missioners work with these Priests in providing Health Care to the residents of Bangladesh.
Hamida was diagnosed in our dispensary with a seizure disorder that could be well-controlled with medication. This was her ticket to education, and Hamida was thrilled. Furaha, however, remained skeptical, but was counseled on the importance and necessity of giving her daughter the medicine every day, which she did faithfully. Within a few weeks of starting the medication, the seizures stopped. That is until she paid a visit to Grandma’s home “upcountry “during the short school break.
Grandma just could not believe that a curse could be cured with pills, and threw out the medicine. The seizures returned and were uncontrollable until Hamida again received the medicine that allows her to live a normal life. It was this situation which caused Furaha’s to change her mind. She saw the difference the medication made in her daughter’s life, and now Furaha is the one in the slum who is the first to tell neighbors and friends that seizures are not a curse, but a disease that can be well-managed with medication.