Nyangana-For 13 years, Sister Lovely Sebastian, a Catholic nun originally from Kerala, India has worked with sick patients at Nyangana Catholic Hospital.
Sister Sebastian, a registered nurse and midwife by profession, has been the matron of the hospital since 2013. Before that, she worked as a full-time nurse, often extending her services to villagers in Nyangana district, situated some 100 kilometres east of Rundu.
Sebastian, who worked in Nyangana for most part of her career came to Namibia in 2000 as a nun and nurse, not knowing what awaited her. All she knew was that she wanted to serve humanity, just as Mother Theresa of Calcutta, her role model.
The formative years of her life were influenced by the works of the late Mother Theresa of Calcutta, as well as the Catholic nuns at the primary school she attended.
“From childhood, I wanted to become a religious sister. My role model was Mother Theresa 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.
A rosary refers to the string of beads that worshippers use to count the prayers. A rosary prayer is a set of prayers common in the Roman Catholic Church, said during meditation on events in the lives of Jesus and of Mary, the mother of Jesus.
As a devout Catholic, Sebastian spoke of encounters where she had to encourage patients and villagers to consider being baptised in order to receive eternal life. “As Catholics we believe that a person has to be baptised 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 baptised,” 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 baptise them if they are not baptised 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.
‘I believe in prayer’
“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.
‘This is home’
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.