Mental Health Crisis in India

More than 50 million people in India suffer from a mental illness.  In 2011, India recorded the highest rate of major depression in the world at 36 per cent.  According to doctors, roughly 10 per cent of India’s population suffers from depression – MGMH

 

Women with mental illness are treated as less than human.  They are dumped, abandoned and abused.  If there are any signs of mental illness, a woman is put in a mental hospital with no chance of getting out.  Men can go back home while women are there for life.  In the following video, we meet a woman whose husband had her institutionalized although she had no history of mental illness.  Here’s a story of a mentally ill woman whose husband built a case against her so that he could get custody of their children after divorcing her.

It is not surprising that women suffer from depression at higher rates than men.  They have to deal with gender inequality, violence, lack of paid employment, lack of education, excessive spousal alcohol use and poverty.  Mothers are blamed for the birth of a female child and many face pressure to have male children.  Women are diagnosed with schizophrenia later in life, oftentimes, following the birth of their children.  The children are often removed from the ill mother’s care and this results in further distress for her. Indian women have higher rates of suicide than women in most developed countries and a higher rate of suicide compared to men in India.  Depression is one of the most common reasons for suicide among Indian women.

Mental health in India carries with it a stigma, especially if the person suffering from mental illness is a woman.  According to MGMH (Movement for Global Mental Health), in rural India, it is common to see people taking their children to temples and faith-healers instead of hospitals and doctors, especially in cases of mental health.  Mental health was something that was talked about in hushed tones.  Thankfully, it is no longer being swept under the rug.  People are coming forward.  Deepika Padukone stunned her fans last year when she admitted that she suffered from anxiety and depression.

At the time the news broke, she was one of the most sought after actresses in Bollywood. It took tremendous courage for her to disclose her illness, especially since people diagnosed with mental illness face discrimination.  Deepika has since launched the Live Love Laugh Foundation to raise awareness about mental health issues and as a result many celebrities were inspired to come out in the open and address the need to talk about mental health.  Varun Dhawan admitted that he was depressed during the making of Badlapur and Honey Singh revealed that he has been undergoing therapy for bipolar disorder.

Sadly, those living with mental illness are victims of a cruel fate.  They are often locked away and stripped of their basic human rights in state-run institutions that are under-staffed. In an article, titled Mentally Ill Suffer a Horrible Fate in India posted on the site for Deutsche Welle (DW), most state run mental hospitals are in deplorable conditions. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) reported that out of the 43 government mental hospitals in India, less than half a dozen are in a “livable” condition”.

There are doctors in charge of these hospitals who have no business being there.  “These doctors don’t understand the intricacies of a psychiatric illnesses and the comprehensive care the patients require,” said a psychiatrist working in a state-run mental hospital in Uttar Pradesh.

And in the midst of the crisis of hospitals not providing the conditions and care the patients need, are quack healers who are profiting from this.  According to a study by Dr. Shiv Gautam, former superintendent of Jaipur Mental Hospital, 68 per cent of the mentally ill are taken to faith healers before a psychiatrist.  “The reason, besides superstition, is that most general medicine doctors fail to diagnose psychiatric illness,” Gautam said. “A mentally ill patient displays symptoms which superstitious people believe are paranormal,” he added. “Such patients are tortured, chained and used for extracting money from their families.”  Hema, who was suffering from Schizophrenia was believed to have an evil spirit.  Her family took her to Datar Sharif Dargah where she spent a year locked up.  It wasn’t until her condition deteriorated that she was brought to Dr. Gautam.  In 15 days, she began to improve and a month later she was normal.

In other cases, the mentally ill are subjected to one of these horrific ordeals:  whipping, caning, inhaling burnt chili smoke, having their eyes smeared with chili paste or having their eyes branded with red, hot coins.  There are laws banning this practice, however, many dargahs and temples keep the patients chained.  Some of them spend the rest of their lives like this.  In 2001, 26 patients perished in a fire at a dargah in a coastal village because they couldn’t escape the blaze since they were chained.  What a horrific and senseless tragedy.

Families of mentally ill people opt for dumping them.  This means that they are dumped into an asylum where the conditions are not fit for a human.  When an illegal asylum was raided, they found thirty-five men and six boys living in inhuman conditions.  The stench from their unwashed bodies and the excrement drove neighbors to alert the health department.  Naked and chained inmates were discovered, dumped there by their families after they paid the asylum owner.  Some of these poor souls were found crawling in their excrement, some even consuming it.  On their bodies were marks of torture.  Some had surgical scars on their backs, leading to allegations that the asylum had links to kidney theft.  78 patients had entered the asylum but only 41 were found during the raid.

Other patients are dumped in jungles or forests ranges.  Their families pay lorry drivers to drop them.  Women and children are among these victims and in some cases, the females are raped by the drivers before being dumped.  Social activist Murugan S. who has rescued countless mentally ill people from the streets, cautions us not to judge the families by calling them cruel.  Instead we are to examine what forced them to take such extreme measures.  He believes that system needs to change.

Part of the solution is raising awareness.  The suffering of the mentally ill has been brought to our attention. It is out in the open.  The next thing that needs to be done is to show the superstitious and fearful society that mental illness is nothing to run away from or to be ashamed of.  The person suffering from mental illness needs love, support and most importantly, proper care so that he or she can live a normal life.

The government needs to put something place to ensure that patients are placed in reputable, sanitary facilities that will provide the care that they need and to ban the operation of illegal asylums and the practice of dumping.  Quack healers should be banned from profiting from other people’s suffering.  Husbands should not be allowed to institutionalize their wives if there is no record that they have mental illness.

No one wants to be mentally ill but it is a reality for many people and what they need is to know that they have a platform where they can talk about what is happening with them. Here in Canada, we have Bell Let’s Talk, a wide-reaching, multi-year program designed to break the silence around mental illness and support mental health all across the country. It has done so much to fight the stigma of mental illness and encourage people to get involved in educating themselves and others.

It is my sincere hope and prayer that something will be put in place in India so that attitudes toward mental illness would change and those suffering from it will have a platform where they would not be judged, dumped, abandoned or discriminated but supported and be treated with dignity and open minds.  In the meantime, let’s keep talking and raising awareness.

Talking is the best way to start breaking down the barriers associated with mental illness – Bell, Let’s Talk

 

Sources:  Vice News; Movement of Global Mental Health; Wikipedia; Deutsche Welle

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Starvation in Madaya

Many people in the world today are not starving because there is an inherent inability to produce food, they are starving because they are caught in the middle of political fights and blockades that have been used as weapons – Ralph Merkle

I was appalled when I heard about the mother who was giving her 7 month old baby water and salt because there is no food in Madaya, Syria.  Tears came to my eyes when I saw the sunken face of a baby, his large eyes staring at the camera.  This precious, innocent child and many others are starving in Madaya.  Some have died.  This atrocity begs the question:  How could a leader of a country do this to his people?

It’s hard to watch this video but it is something everyone needs to be aware of.

People were forced to live on tree leaves and plants but now that winter has set in there are no more plants and leaves.  Majed Ali, a 28 year old opposition activist, was 114 kilos before the siege and is now 80.  Abu Hassan Mousa, head of Madaya opposition council sees no point in negotiating when children are going without milk.   “What are we going to negotiate over?” he demands.  “Our dead?”  The Syrian people went for months without aid.  In fact, the October was the last time aid was delivered to Madaya.

Seeing the crisis in Syria motivated me to get in touch with Julie Marshall, Canadian Spokesperson of the United Nations World Food Programme.  I wanted to know what people in Canada can do to help and this is what she had to say:

The good news is the first UN convoy will move to Madaya carrying food for 40,000 people for one month will set off as early as Sunday. On Monday, other convoys carrying food should move into the besieged towns of Foah and Kefraya in rural Idlib with WFP food for 20,000 people.  Non-food items, including medicine, specialist nutrition products, kitchen sets, blankets, winter clothing and other supplies will hopefully follow in the next few days.

The last humanitarian supplies reached Madaya on October 17 on an interagency convey – this was enough food to feed more than 19,000 people for one month. The convoy was a result of a locally negotiated agreement reached between the opposition and government to allow access to four besieged communities in Idlib and rural Damascus (Foah, Kefraya, Zabadani and Madaya). Since then, no food assistance or humanitarian supplies have reached these areas.
WFP provides food assistance to over 4 million people displaced inside Syria in both government and opposition-controlled areas every month.  And around 1.3 million refugees in neighbouring countries.

Canada has been one of WFP’s largest donors to our response in the region and we hope the extension of the matching funds, until the end of February will encourage Canadians to donate to organizations like WFP working in Syria.

Canadians can support WFP by donating here: https://give.wfp.org/en/629/?step=country
Also, we launched an app a few months ago called ShareTheMeal which makes it extremely easy to support our school meals for Syrian refugee school children living in Jordan.

It is extremely difficult to see babies starving.  And it upsets me when I see food go to waste when there are people starving everyday.  Let us do what we can to help the people in Syria.  Hunger is a terrible thing and something that we need to fight against.  The starvation in Syria is likened to warfare.  It’s like when Hitler starved the Russian people during the battle of Stalingrad.  Hunger is being used as a weapon to oppress the people and this cannot and should not be allowed to happen.  Let us help WFP and other humanitarian agencies to save the lives of the men, women and children in Syria.

Source:  CBC News; World Food Programme

Oppressed Because She is a Woman

Then I returned and considered all the oppression that is done under the sun: And look! The tears of the oppressed, But they have no comforter—
On the side of their oppressors there is power, But they have no comforter – Ecclesiastes 4:1

It saddens me that in some countries, it is dangerous or even deadly to be a woman.  Sex trafficking, bride burnings, infanticide, gender related crimes, poverty and oppression are the realities that girls and women face in Asia.

Women should be able to live in a society where their rights are protected  and are not oppressed because of their gender.  Gender discrimination is something that all women may encounter at some point in her life but in Asia, women are perpetual victims of violence, abuse and oppression.

Imagine that you are a mother and one Sunday evening you find your daughter lying naked on the front step of the house she shares with her husband and children.  There is no one there to help her and no one wants to come to her so you are the only one she can call for help although you live quite a distance away.   Imagine how you would feel when you see your daughter with burns on more than 80 percent of her body, crying in agony. She survives for three days, long enough to tell the police that she was doused in kerosene by her mother-in-law and set on fire by her husband–the father of her children.  Then she dies…

This is what happened to Laxmi, a woman in Bangladore.  She was a victim of bride burning which is a crime that accounts for the death of at least one woman every hour in India.  More than 8000 women die in this horrendous way.  This type of crime is also called, “dowry death”.

A dowry death is the death of a young woman in South Asian countries, primarily India, who is murdered or driven to suicide by her husband. This results from the husband continually attempting to extract more dowry from the bride or her family. Bride burning is just one form of dowry death. Others include acid throwing and Eve teasing.  Because dowry typically depends on class or socioeconomic status, women are often subjected to the dowry pressures of their future husband or his relatives.

Laxmi was only 28 years old when she died.  Hers was not an arranged marriage.  It was a love marriage and she came from higher caste than her husband, Majunath.  He became increasingly drunk and was unable to find regular work because most of the money Laxmi earned was spent on liquor.  Pressured by her in-laws to provide, Laxmi turned to her mother for financial support.  Laxmi was harassed and accused of adultery by her in-laws and beaten by her husband.  It turned out that it was her mother-in-law who compelled her son to set his wife on fire.  Majunath ended up dying because he suffered from burns when Laxmi hugged him in a desperate attempt to put the flames out.  So, their two children became orphans.   An arrest warrant was issued for Laxmi’s mother-in-law but she has disappeared.

Trafficking of minor girls – the second-most prevalent trafficking crime – surged 14 times over the last decade and increased 65% in 2014, according to new data released by the National Crime Records Bureau.

Girls and women are the main targets of immoral trafficking in India, making up 76% of human trafficking cases nationwide over a decade, reveal NCRB data.

Other cases registered under human trafficking over the last decade include selling girls for prostitution, importing girls from a foreign country and buying girls for prostitution.

Sexual exploitation of women and children for commercial purposes takes place in various forms including brothel-based prostitution, sex-tourism, and pornography.

As many as 8,099 people were reported to be trafficked across India in 2014.

In the article, Silent Slaves:  Stories of Human Trafficking in India, I read about a 15 year old girl who was in a New Delhi hospital.  She was frail, her face and head were bandaged.  A bruised black and blue eye and swollen lips were visible.  She had burn marks and scabs on her neck and down her whole body and one of her ears was disfigured.  She had a wound on her skull which was rotting and filled with maggots.  This caused a stench. She was in this horrific condition because of her employer who beat her everyday with a broom and a stool.  Many times the woman would put a hot pan on the girl’s body and burn her skin.  The skin on her skull started to peel because she was repeatedly burned in that same spot.

How could one human being treat another like this?  Sadly, this teen’s case is not an isolated one.  Thousands of girls like her are trafficked every year from remote villages to large cities and sold as domestic workers. Many of them are abused or sexually exploited.

Extreme poverty, lack of education and employment, and poor implementation of the government’s minimum wage system in rural India make girls more vulnerable to being trafficked. The 2013 Global Slavery Index, published by the Australia-based Walk Free Foundation, an organization that works to end modern slavery, found that almost half of the 30 million “modern slaves” in the world are from India.

The article describes how domestic worker placement agencies operate and how they are flourishing at the expense of minor and illiterate girls. Read more.

Due to the fact that girls are seen as an economic burden and boys a source of income, girl babies have been aborted and murdered – female infanticide or Gendercide – in their millions in India. The Lancet estimates that 500,000 female fetuses are aborted in India every year. As a result according to the BBC, “an estimated 25-50 million women in India are ‘missing’, if you compare the proportion of women in the population with other countries.” Staggeringly, Unicef believes 10 million girls, were killed by their parents in the last thirty years.

Killing babies because they are girls really hits close to home.  As a woman, I can’t imagine my parents ending my life because I was born a girl instead of a boy.  I always remember my mother telling me that she had a dream of how I would look before I was born.  My father used to take me kite flying. My parents loved my two sisters and me.  I know fathers who have only daughters and no sons but they are ecstatic.  They adore their girls.  This is not the case for the girls in India, however.  Some are aborted or killed after they are born, others are neglected or abandoned.

In India a girl is an expensive burden because when she marries, her family is expected to pay a sum of money to the groom’s family regardless of whether or not they can afford it.  It’s an expense they don’t want to deal with.  So, when a girl is born, there is no joy.  There is no celebration, only disappointment and anxiety.  In some cases, there is rage–rage of the husband toward the wife and the baby girl.  The wife is blamed for the gender of the baby and the girl, if she survives, is constantly reminded that she is a mistake–she should have been a boy.

Bride burnings, sex trafficking and girl infanticide are just some of the hardships that women and girls face in Asia.  The documentary film, “Veil of Tears” takes you on a harrowing journey into their lives.  Their stories may make us squirm but instead of shutting them out, we ought to raise awareness and do what we can to help.  Let us be the voice of hope for the oppressed.

Find out more information at this link:  http://veiloftearsmovie.com/take-action/ 

And the LORD shall help them, and deliver them: he shall deliver them from the wicked, and save them, because they trust in him – Psalm 37:40

Sources:  Gospel for Asia; The Sidney Morning Herald; Wikipedia; Scroll In; Women’s Media Center; Counterpunch

 

Twin Killings in Nigeria

I heard about this but couldn’t believe that this could actually happen.  For me having twins would be a double blessing.  I would be so thankful to God for giving me double the joy.  Growing up I always found twins fascinating.  My Dad had twin brothers and I had school friends who were twins.  Having twins was something I considered–preferably a boy and girl like Brendan and Brenda in 90210 but it didn’t happen for me.  God blessed me with a boy and for that I am eternally grateful and thankful.

How could anyone think that twins are a curse and want to kill them?  Imagine babies being left at the back of a compound to starve to death because they are twins or parents having to give their babies away or else they would be killed if they kept them.  Thankfully, there is Orphan’s Promise, a Christian organization which is saving these children from their horrible fate.    In the video, the couple was helped by the organization.  Their twin girls are happy and well cared for.

Killing of twins is nothing new.  It was happening centuries ago during the time of Mary Slessor.  She was a Scottish woman and Sunday School teacher who became a missionary in Calabar, Nigeria.  Un- deterred by constant bouts of illness or the danger around her, she lived with the tribes, learned their language, and traditions and earned their respect,  She even put an end to some barbaric practises, such as the killing of twins.  She adopted many Nigerian children (particularly twins) who had been left to die.

The birth of twins was considered a particularly evil curse. Natives feared that the father of one of the infants was an evil spirit, and that the mother had been guilty of a great sin. Unable to determine which twin was fathered by the evil spirit, the natives often abandoned both babies in the bush. Slessor adopted every child she found abandoned, and sent out twins missioners to find, protect and care for them at the Mission House. Some mission compounds were alive with babies.[4] Slessor once saved a pair of twins, a boy and a girl, but the boy did not survive. Mary took the girl as her daughter and called her Janie.

After they are delivered, twins were poisoned or strangulated after being forcefully taken from their mother by masquerades that the women were not allowed to see.  The twins are killed and then offered as a sacrifice on an altar to the spirits and to ward off the twins from returning.

This practice was supposed to have been abolished however, just last year, The Current broadcasted a story of missionaries in a remote village who saved twins from being sacrificed.  You can listen to it here.  I must caution you that the content is very disturbing.

Let us pray that this barbaric practice of killing twins is abolished.  God created them too and they deserve a chance to live.  Pray that the government will do more to protect innocent lives and to stop this practice.

Sources:  The Current, Mary Slessor; Mary Slessor – Wikipedia; Bella Naija

Religious Freedom At Risk in Nepal

For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers1 Peter 3:12

Not so long ago, Nepal was devastated by two earthquakes and as a result lives and homes were lost and now the people face another potential loss that could be just as devastating. They are at risk of losing their religious freedom.

Riots and protests are going on in response to a recent draft of the country’s constitution; a process that’s been in the works since the Nepali monarchy was dispelled in 2007. Many are demanding that Nepal return to its traditional religious roots, while religious minorities fear for their freedom to practice and share their faith if this draft of the constitution goes unchanged – Gospel for Asia

Currently the constitution declares that Nepal is a secular state and protects people’s rights to worship freely.  However, this could change if the government decides to go along with those who are calling for the country to return to its traditional religion.

If you’d like to learn more about the Nepal Constitution and how you can pray, please visit the GFA webpage here: http://www.gfa.org/nepal/constitution/

Pray

Many of us live in countries where we can freely worship. Religious freedom is a right that no one should be denied.  We and our children have the right to go to church and worship God in safety.

Let us pray that the new constitution will allow God’s people to continue to practice and share their faith.  The enemy is fighting to prevent the Gospel from spreading and this is why religious freedom in Nepal is under attack.   We must remember that he is a defeated foe and that God is in control.  Together we can make a difference.  Let us lift up our Christian brothers and sisters in Nepal in prayer and ask almighty God to impart His wisdom on the Nepalese government so that the country remains a place where religious liberty is preserved and protected in spite of those who want to do away with it.

The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails muchJames 5:16

In Need of Prayers

In the fear of the LORD there is strong confidence, And His children will have a place of refuge – Proverbs 14:26.

The earthquake in Nepal left more than rubble in its wake.  It left heartbreak, loss and uncertainty.

When I look at Drastaa’s weathered face, I see unimaginable pain and devastation.  I see someone who has suffered a crippling loss.  She lost her only grand-daughter.  The girl was only 16 years old.  She had gone in to the forest to gather firewood when the earthquake struck, killing her.  That day when Drastaa woke up, little did she know that her world would be turned upside down and that she would be facing the future alone.

Her life is like a heap of rubble.  She has no idea how she was going to pick up the pieces and rebuild her life.  The odds are stacked against her.  She’s elderly.  She’s a widow.  She can’t work to support herself.  Life for widows in Nepal is hard and they are victims of discrimination, isolation and rejection.  In addition to the stigma that is attached to widowhood, she had to worry about the spreading of diseases because of the unsanitary conditions and the monsoon season which is typically lasts from mid-June to mid-September.  A monsoon can seriously hamper relief and recovery efforts.

“As one whom his mother comforts, So I will comfort you” (Isaiah 66:13).  Pray that Drastaa will receive this comfort and the help she needs to get back on her feet.  Ask God to reveal Himself to her, letting her know that she is not suffering alone.

Nepal Earthquake Survivor Photo

Leave your fatherless children, I will preserve them alive; And let your widows trust in Me – Jeremiah 49:11.

Nepal Earthquake Survivor Photo

When the earth started shaking, Tarana’s husband rushed inside their home to look for their children, unaware that they were safe outside. The house collapsed on him, and Tarana is now widowed, caring for five children on her own – Gospel for Asia

When I read about what happened to Tarana’s husband, it brought tears to my eyes.  I was touched by this family’s tragedy.  In a matter of minutes, Tarana’s had lost her husband–she was a widow and her five children had lost their father.   He had gone into their home, risking his life the save them.

What is going to happen to Tarana and her children?  They are homeless.  Their house was reduced to rubble.  Where could they go?  Who would help them?  How is she going to rebuild their lives?

I encourage you to pray for Tarana and her children.  Pray for their protection against disease and danger.  I read that in the wake of the earthquakes, the UNICEF is working with the Nepalese government to stop child trafficking as the organization feared that there was a surge in the number of cases.  According to Tomoo Hozumi, a UNICEF representative in Nepal, “Loss of livelihoods and worsening living conditions may allow traffickers to easily convince parents to give their children up for what they are made to believe will be a better life.”  The traffickers promise education, meals and a better future but in reality, many of these children end up being “horrendously exploited and abused.”

As a widow with no source of income and raising five children, it is possible that Tarana could be approached by traffickers, promising her a better future for her children.  Pray that God will watch over them.  He is now the Father of these children and He will guard them.  “…He will save the children of the needy” (Psalm 72:4).

Drastaa, Tarana and all of the other survivors need our prayers.   Gospel for Asia offers these suggestions for prayer requests:

  • Comfort and hope for those grieving
  • Protection from disease and danger
  • God’s provision and sustenance for relief teams
  • Many to understand Jesus’ love

I applaud the work that GFA Compassion Services teams have been doing.  They “have touched many lives through relief events during the past several weeks. They’ve focused on reaching remote, hard-to-reach villages where many lost homes, possessions, and sometimes loved ones.”

If you feel impressed to reach out to these survivors and you want to find more information on GFA’s relief work in Nepal, please visit http://gfa.org/earthquake/nepal.

Now, my God, I pray, let Your eyes be open and let Your ears be attentive to the prayer made in this place – 2 Chronicles 6:40.

Sources:  Global News; The Weather Network; United Nations News; Gospel for Asia

Mary Seacole

I just finished reading a very long but interesting biography of Mary Seacole. When I mentioned her to my husband, he immediately knew who I was talking about. He’s from Jamaica where Mary was born. She was born on November 23, 1805 to a Scottish father and Jamaican mother. Her father was a soldier in the British Army and her mother was a free woman. Mrs. Seacole was a doctress, a healer who used traditional Caribbean and African herbal remedies. She ran Blundell Hall, a boarding house, considered one of the best hotels in Kingston. It was from watching and helping her mother, that Mary became interested in nursing.

Mary was proud of her Scottish ancestry and called herself a Creole. Legally, she was classified a mulatto, a multiracial person with limited political rights. She was also very proud of her black ancestry. “I have a few shades of deeper brown upon my skin which shows me related—and I am proud of the relationship—to those poor mortals whom you once held enslaved, and whose bodies America still owns.” Being the educated daughter of a Scottish officer and a free black woman with a respectable business would have afforded Mary a high position in Jamaican society.

Mary married Edwin Horatio Hamilton Seacole, rumored to have been the illegitimate son of Horatio Nelson and his mistress, Emma, Lady Hamilton. Edwin was a merchant. The newly married couple moved to Black River where they opened a provisions store which failed to succeed. In the early 1840s, they returned to Blundell Hall.

During the years 1843 and 1844, disasters struck Mary and her family. They lost much of the boarding house in a fire on Kingston. Blundell Hall burned down and was replaced by the New Blundell Hall which was deemed “better than before.” She lost her husband and then her mother. Overcome with grief, Mary didn’t move for days. Then she composed herself and assumed the role of manager of her mother’s hotel and plunged herself into work, turning down many offers of marriage. She became a widely respected among the European military visitors to Jamaica who frequently stayed at Blundell Hall.

During the cholera epidemic of 1850 which killed 32,000 Jamaicans, she treated patients and blamed the outbreak to infection brought on a steamer from New Orleans, Louisiana. Shortly after she arrived in Cruces, Panama where her half-brother moved, cholera struck. Familiar with the disease and having treated those who had the infection, Mary moved into action, treating the first victim who survived. This did wonders for her reputation and many patients were brought to her as the infection spread. The epidemic raged, causing many casualties which filled Mary with exasperation with the victims, claiming that they “bowed down before the plague in slavish despair.” Towards the end, she too became sick but managed to pull through.

During the Crimean War, disease broke out and hundreds perished, mostly from cholera. Hundreds more died while waiting to be shipped out or on the voyage. It was during this time that Florence Nightingale was charged with the responsibility of forming a detachment of nurses to be sent to the hospital to save lives. After suitable candidates were selected following interviews, Florence left for Turkey. Mary tried to join the second group of nurses to the Crimea. She applied to the War Office and other government offices but arrangements for departure were already underway. She applied to the Crimean Fund, a fund raised by the public to support the wounded in Crimea for sponsorship to travel there but again, she was refused. Resolute, she decided to travel to Crimea using her own resources and to open a British Hotel.

On the ship Malta, Mary met a doctor who recently left Scutari, where Florence Nightingale was. He wrote Mary a letter of recommendation to Florence. Mary visited Florence at the Barrack Hospital in Scutari, asking for a bed for the night as she planned to travel to Balaclava the following day to join Thomas Day, her Caribbean acquaintance. In her memoirs, Mary mentioned that Florence was very friendly. They found a bed for her and breakfast was sent to her in the morning.

As she had planned, Mary opened the British Hotel near Balaclava. Meals were served there and there was outside catering. It prospered. Meals and supplies were provided for the soldiers. One frequent visitor was Alexis Soyer, a French chef who advised her to concentrate on food and beverage service and not to have beds for visitors as the few either slept on board the ships in the harbor or in tents in the camps.

The Special Correspondent of The Times newspaper highly commended Mary’s work, citing, “Mrs. Seacole…doctors and cures all manner of men with extraordinary success. She is always in attendance near the battle-field to aid the wounded, and has earned many a poor fellow’s blessings.”

Florence Nightingale acknowledged favorable views of Mary to Soyer and Mary had told him how kindly Florence had given her board and lodging. When Soyer mentioned Mary’s inquiries of her, Florence responded pleasantly and with a smile that , “I should like to see her before she leaves, as I hear she has done a great deal of good for the poor soldiers.” Yet, Florence didn’t want her nurses to associate with Mary and in a letter to her brother-in-law, Sir Harry Verney, she insinuated that Mary had kept a “bad house” in Crimea and was responsible for “much drunkenness and improper conduct”. This letter came at the time when Mary approached Sir Harry for the opportunity to assist in the Franco-Prussian War because of his involvement in the British National Society for the Relief of the Sick and Wounded.

In spite of this, Mary moved in royal circles. Prince Victor of Hohenlohe-Langenburg, a nephew of Queen Victoria was one of Mary’s customers in Crimea when he was a young Lieutenant. Perhaps as a token of gratitude and appreciation, he carved a marble bust of her in 1871 which was exhibited in the Royal Academy summer exhibition a year later. Mary also became the personal masseuse to the Prince of Wales who suffered from white leg rheumatism.

Sadly, while she was well-known at the end of her life, Mary quickly faded from public memory and her work in Crimea was overshadowed by Florence Nightingale’s for many years. And there were controversies surrounding Mary. It has been argued that she is being promoted at the expense of Florence Nightingale. According to Professor Lynn McDonald, “…support for Seacole has been used to attack Nightingale’s reputation as a pioneer in public health and nursing.”

There are claims that her achievements have been exaggerated for political reasons and a plan to erect a statue of her at St. Thomas’ Hospital in London, describing her as “pioneer nurse” has sparked some outrage. According to those who oppose, Mary has no connection with the institution whereas Florence Nightingale did. In Dr. Lang’s opinion, she “does not qualify as a mainstream figure in the history of nursing.”

Mary’s name appears in an appendix to the Key Stage 2 National Curriculum, as an example of a significant Victorian historical figure but teachers are not required to include her in their lessons. At the end of 2012, it was reported that she would be removed from the National Curriculum. This was opposed by Greg Jenner, the historical consultant to Horrible Histories. He believes that removing Mary from the curriculum would be a mistake in spite of the fact that her medical achievements have been exaggerated.

In January 2013, Operation Black Vote launched a petition to request that Education Secretary Michael Gove not drop Mary Seacole or Oloudah Equiano from the National Curriculum. Reverend Jesse Jackson and others wrote a letter to The Times, protesting the proposed removal of Mary Seacole from the National Curriculum. The campaign was a success as Michael Gove was forced to concede after receiving approximately 35,000 signatures.

Today, Mary Seacole is remembered in the Caribbean. She was posthumously awarded the Jamaican Order of Merit in 1991. In 1954, the headquarters of the Jamaican General Trained Nurses’ Association was christened “Mary Seacole House”. This was quickly followed by the naming of the University of the West Indies in Mona, Jamaica. A ward at the Kingston Public Hospital is named in her memory. In Britain, buildings and organization now commemorate her by name and near the bottom of Fleet Street in London a Seacole Lane existed until it was redeveloped in the 1980s.

Notes to Women celebrate this pioneer in healing and helping those who were sick. She may not have been a registered nurse and her achievements may have been exaggerated but what matters is that she had the heart for nursing. There are some in the nursing profession who not in it because it is their passion. Mary Seacole had the heart and the passion for nursing and she was a blessing to many of those whom she treated. We think that this phenomenal woman should be recognized for what she has done.

She is a role model for all of us.  She was proud of her heritage.  She defied racism and bigotry and she embarked on her calling to help others, not allowing rejection or any other obstacles to get in her way.  If you have a goal in life, make it happen.  Don’t dream.  Act.  Florence Nightingale was not the only light.  Like Mary Seacole, you can be light too wherever you are.

I must say that I don’t appreciate your friend’s kind wishes with respect to my complexion. If it had been as dark as a nigger’s, I should have been just as happy and useful, and as much respected by those whose respect I value: and as to his offer of bleaching me, I should, even if it were practicable, decline it without any thanks.

I have a few shades of deeper brown upon my skin which shows me related to those poor mortals you once held enslaved, and whose bodies America still owns. Having this bond, and knowing what slavery is, having seen with my eyes and heard with my ears proof positive enough of its horrors, is it surprising that I should be somewhat impatient of the airs of superiority which many Americans have endeavoured to assume over me.

I have always noticed what actors children are……….whatever disease was most prevalent in Kingston, be sure my poor doll soon contracted it…….before long it was very natural that I should seek to extend my practice, and so I found other patients in the cats and dogs around me.

Doubts and suspicions rose in my heart for the first and last time, thank Heaven. Was it possible that American prejudices against colour had some root here? Did these ladies shrink from accepting my aid because my blood flowed beneath a somewhat duskier skin than theirs?

 

Mary Secole

 

Sources:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Seacole; http://www.biographyonline.net/humanitarian/quotes/mary-seacole.html