Our Lady Hospice—Thigio
by Katherine Marchand
When Sister Eileen O'Callaghan arrived in Thigio from Nairobi twelve years ago, she never imagined that she would soon create a place that would be a center for the community. After seeing the large number of people suffering from cancer and other terminal illnesses in the area and witnessing first-hand the prevalent fear of death, she knew that something had to change. "There was, and still is, a large fear of people dying in their homes," she explained, in her heavy Irish brogue. "Families would just take their loved ones out in the forest to die, alone."
When the idea for the creation of a hospice sponsored by the Daughters of Charity (the mission of sisters that she has dedicated her life to) struck her, there were almost no pain relief or care facilities in the community. Our Lady's Hospice opened its doors in May 2010, with Sister Eileen and two other Daughters of Charity and with a team of nurses and staff. In 2015, the campus now extends to an outpatient clinic, library, and children's daycare, and it offers programs for the elderly, women, teenagers, and children and adults with special needs.
The hospice is one of the only places in the area, and in Kenya, that offers complete palliative care services for an affordable cost. Sister Eileen takes any patient, regardless of their religion and ability to pay. If someone is not able to afford the fees and is not on the national health insurance but still in dire need, Sister Eileen and her team find a way to give them care. Its only drawback is that due to limited capacity and its complete reliance on donations for funding, there are only nine beds in the hospice, with an extensive waiting list. Also, because of the limited number of beds, patients can only access services at the hospice if they have been referred from a health facility.
The hospice has added an outpatient caretaker, Samuel, who visits those who are sick, but not terminally ill, in the surrounding villages. He may bring pain medication or food to those in need. There is hope going forward that the community will continue to find a way to expand its offerings and provide more care to more people in need.
With access to pain relief and care, those at Our Lady Hospice can live their days beyond pain - whether it be making it into the day room to watch a Nigerian soap opera, being able to sit outside in the sun, or eat a chocolate.