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Nurse to South Africa's poor coming to Newton

Posted by Tom Coakley  April 13, 2009 07:05 AM

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Nurse Jenny McConnachie has worked among the poorest of South Africa’s people for nearly 30 years.

British-born Monnachie, who will describe her experiences at the First Unitarian Church in West Newton on April 20 at 7:30 pm, moved with her husband Chris, an orthopedic surgeon, to Mthatha, South Africa in 1981.

The area contains Itipini, a slum of 3,000 people living by (and off) a landfill. In Itipini, Jenny McConnachie joined and eventually took over the efforts of the African Medical Mission, which ran a small clinic. She began trying to help local people in any way she could.

McConnachie concentrated on daily medical and social aid to Itipini’s poor, establishing the Itipini Community Project in 1992. Beside offering outpatient medical services, the project has set up a preschool, after school care, a well baby clinic, a micro-loan program, a food distribution system, family planning, an HIV testing, prevention, and treatment program, and more.

Chris McConnachie died in 2007. The project continues.

The clinic, now housed in five donated shipping containers, has, like the rest of Itipini, no electricity or running water. (The settlement has two outdoor water spigots.) The staff sees about 40 patients a day.

With one salaried nurse and donations from the United States and Britain, Jennie McConnachie tries to guide the slum’s children to attend the local primary/secondary school, gives out shoes and clothing, coaches people to take care of their health and take their medicines, and helps provide equipment to the hospital, five miles away, where her husband worked. She hires and supervises 10 local women and men, who now run the school, the clinic, and the community. At least 30% of people living in Itipini have HIV. Many have tuberculosis. Domestic violence is common; food and jobs are not. Unemployment runs at 80%.

Chris McConnachie was the winner of the 2002 American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons Humanitarian Award. In 2006, he and Jenny, the parents of seven children, were named Officers of the Order of the British Empire in recognition of their long service in Africa.

Jesse Zink, a Episcopal missionary from Northhampton, has been working alongside McConnachie for the past 20 months. Zink publishes a blog on his experiences and reflections on them.


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