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Testimony of a Lifetime Volunteer

"These Have Been 30 Years of Sharing"

BOORAMA, Somalia, SEP. 1, 2006 (Zenit) - Here we publish excerpts from a testimony written by Analena Tonelli on her experience of serving those most in need in Somalia.

* * *

My name is Analena Tonelli. I was born in Forli, Italy, on April 2, 1943.

I left Italy in January 1969. Since then I have lived serving Somalis. These have been 30 years of sharing.

I have almost always lived with the Somalis, first with the Somalis of northwest Kenya, and then with the Somalis of Somalia. I live in a world that is rigidly Muslim.

I lived for 15 years in Boorama in the extreme northwest of the country on the border with Ethiopia and Djibouti.

Two times a year, at Christmas and Easter, the bishops of Djibouti came to say Mass for me and with me.

I live alone because the companions of my journey, who together with the poor made my life a heaven on earth during my 17 years in the desert, left me after I was forced to leave Kenya.

That was in 1984. The government of Kenya tried to commit genocide against a tribe of nomads who lived in the desert.

They wanted to exterminate 50,000 people; they managed to kill 1,000. I managed to prevent the massacre from being carried to its completion. For this reason, I was deported a year later.

Some 16 years have gone by and the government of Kenya has publicly admitted its responsibility, has asked for forgiveness, and has promised compensation for the families of the victims.

At the time of the massacre I was arrested and brought before a military court. The authorities, all of them non-Somalis, all Christians, told me that they had arranged two ambushes which I providentially avoided, but that I would not have escaped another.

Then one of them, a Christian, asked me what had led me to behave in that way.

I replied that I did it for Jesus Christ who asks us to give our lives for our friends.


I live deeply immersed amongst the poor, the sick, and those whom nobody loves. I am largely concerned with the control and treatment of tuberculosis.

Tuberculosis was widespread in Somalia for centuries. It is thought that almost the whole of the population was infected.

Those with tuberculosis are put in a ward for hopeless cases.

I immediately began to study and to observe, and every day I passed with them, I served them on my knees.

In 1976 I was asked to become the head of a project of the WHO to deal with tuberculosis in the nomad population, a pilot project for the whole of Africa.

I was asked to invent a system to ensure that sick people received the anti-tuberculosis treatment every day for a period of six months.

I decided to invite the nomads to come to a piece of the desert in front of the Rehabilitation Center for the Disabled. We called it TB Mamyatta.

For six months the administration of the medicines was absolutely regular -- something that was almost a miracle for Africa.

At the end of six months the camels arrived and the whole caravan returned to the desert.

This program has since become the world policy of the WHO for the control of tuberculosis in the world, and is one of the best instruments by which to guarantee the compliance of the sick person with the treatment.

TB Mamyatta was a great adventure of love, a gift of God.


Just think that in Borama, a center which has 50,000 inhabitants, we have diagnosed and treated 1,500 people suffering from tuberculosis each year, almost all of whom had positive sputum, above all during the early years.

We now have the problem of AIDS.

For three years now we have been seeing people with TB and AIDS, but the problem is spreading. We got down to 800 cases last year, but the presence of HIV is rapidly on the increase.

In a country like Somalia, in which tuberculosis is endemic, tuberculosis is the first opportunistic illness developed by people suffering from AIDS.

We are working very intensely to ensure that the population becomes aware of the problem and fights both internally and externally to make sure that patterns of behavior change, and that the spread of AIDS is checked.

I began five years ago with 30 beds and an increasing number of huts for the seriously ill who could not obtain a bed in a ward, until I had more than 200.

Today I have 200 beds, eight wards built by UNHCR for our people, a laboratory built by UNDP and almost 100 huts for those sick people who cannot find a place in their own village -- some come from far away, from Ethiopia, from Djibouti, from other parts of the country.

A school

In the TB Center we have opened schools for the patients and their friends.

Also, thanks to two obstetric nurses on my staff and two sheiks, we are engaging in a campaign in the region to eradicate the mutilation of female genitals and infibulation.

And it is also thanks to our staff that we have an eye camp twice a year. A team of eye specialists, friends of many years standing, come to the center.

Over a period of four days they operate on an average of 330 blind people, who suffer for the most part from cataracts.

During the last camp, which was held in August, they surpassed themselves. They restored sight to 450 blind people. The people are infinitely grateful for this service.

A school for deaf children had never been opened, nor one for blind children or mentally handicapped children. University professors did not believe that it was possible to educate a deaf child until they saw our school. Nobody thought it was possible.

In the meantime, people spoke increasingly about us, about the miracles that were occurring in our school. And thus it was that the High Commission for Refugees offered to build a real school for us.

In 1998 we built four classrooms, an office for the teachers, a small storeroom, and bathrooms. Then our friends of Forlě built two other classrooms, and some English Protestant friends, built three classrooms and two bathrooms, and then once again our friends from Forlě built another classroom. On the piece of land that the community gave us there is still room for another classroom.

A good mix

Over the last two years we have taken in 30 children belonging to a clan despised by the Somalis -- they work in iron, in leather, are barbers, and are hunters of small game.

They have never sent their children to school. They are ghettoized, their girls do not marry boys from other clans and their boys do not marry girls from other clans.

They are in rebellion against God and men because of their status of being the rejected, the despised and the marginalized. They are great workers.

Many of them were ill with TB and thus they had the opportunity to go to the school in the TB Center, and thus it was spontaneous for them to ask us to agree to educate their children.

It then happened that some intellectuals and then some rich people came to beseech us to accept their children in our school because it is a serious school, because in our school there is discipline, and because our teachers are committed, love teaching, love children, and are well trained. And we decided to accept them.

Today the school is a wonderful mixture of children from every background, with all kinds of personal histories, of every kind of capability.

Hundred fold

I have given a lot to the Somalis. I have received a lot from the Somalis.

The greatest value that they have given me, a value that I am still not able to live out, is that of an extended family, as a result of which, at least within the clan, everything is shared.

But the most extraordinary gift, the gift for which I thank God and them forever and for always, is the gift of my nomads in the desert.

They are Muslims and they have taught me to do everything, to be everything again, to work completely in the name of God.

And then life has taught me that my faith without love is useless.

Jesus Christ never spoke about results. He spoke only about loving us, about washing each other's feet, and about always forgiving.

The poor are waiting for us. The ways of serving are infinite and left to the imagination of each one of us.


The document appears in full on the Web site of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry:


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Health, Volunteer, Tonelli, Somalia, Solidarity, Sharing

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