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Heeding the call to serve the sick

Many nurses these days lack proper dedication to their profession

Sister Mary Nibedita, SMRA (Photo Credit: Chandan Robert Rebeiro) Sister Mary Nibedita, SMRA (Photo Credit: Chandan Robert Rebeiro)
  • Sister Mary Nibedita, Dhaka
  • Bangladesh
  • May 12, 2011
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May 12 is INTERNATIONAL NURSES DAY
Our life is like a flower, to bloom for others. Throughout the years of my life I considered myself “blessed” for getting the opportunity to serve people in need.

When I was a little girl I didn’t think much about what will happen in the near future, I thought neither about becoming a nun nor a nurse. When in high school, many suitors started pressing my parents for my hand in marriage because I was short and fair-complexioned. I started realizing after I passed my matriculation exams (after 10th grade) that my family would take me to Dhaka and arrange my marriage. But God’s plan was different and so He changed the course of my life forever.

The Associates of Mary Queen of Apostles nuns who ran our school knew me well because I regularly had good results. Three months before the exams I received a letter inviting me to go to their provincial house. I went, but wasn’t allowed to return home. My family was concerned and argued with the nuns to get me back. The nuns asked them: “During these days we’ve watered the plant and you are trying to get her married?” That meant they had wanted for long time to get me into their congregation and they were determined to do it. I started living in the convent and eventually loved this beautiful life.

When I took my first vows in 1968, according to congregation rules, my name was changed from Fulkumari (Flower Maiden) Rebecca Rebeiro to Sister Mary Nibedita (Dedicated). Throughout my life of service I’ve tried to make my name meaningful with my deeds.

During the 1971 liberation war I worked with Xaverian missioner doctor Father Anton Alberton and senior SMRA nun Sister Imelda to see and serve injured war victims and freedom fighters. Their pain and suffering moved me and I became interested in becoming a nurse. My superior finally gave her permission and I completed my nursing studies at Mymensingh Medical College and Hospital in 1982.

I served at Dhaka Children’s Hospital from 1983-2004. Since retiring, I have been serving as nursing principal at the Children Health Foundation.

As a nun and nurse I have received profound trust, respect and love from people. I have tried with heart and soul to make myself worthy of their respect and trust. I believe Jesus helped me remain faithful and dutiful in my life of service.

The only major challenge I had to face at the beginning was my nurse’s uniform. My congregation asked the relevant authorities to allow me to wear my congregation robe telling them that as a nun people would much prefer to see me in robes.

There are memorable moments in my life that delight me. In 1990, President H. M. Ershad gave me a “Best Nurse Award.” In 2003, I was called to tend President A. Q. M. Bodruddoza Chowdhury’s sick grandson on regular basis. Many times many children who I helped cure come for blessings on birthdays and other occasions.

Earlier this year when I was in New York, a Muslim woman approached me and asked if I knew Sister Nibedita who cured her son. When I told her I was that nun she embraced me and showered me with hospitality.

For 27 years I also tended former Dhaka Archbishop Michael Rozario, who had a history of illnesses.

These days many nurses lack a “service-oriented” mind, and seem less dedicated, unlike our role model Florence Nightingale. They try to skip their duties and forget that their presence and touch bring solace for patients. However, Christian nurses are still very popular because of their gentle service and behavior.

There are some international-standard hospitals in Bangladesh but few qualified local nurses. There are many nursing institutes in the country today but most of them are too commercial. The Church has only one. If there were more Church-run institutes we could have more trained and dedicated nurses. Nursing is a demanding profession.

It’s unfortunate that Christian families discourage their children from taking up nursing. There are reasons. A number of Christian girls after completing their nursing training become too proud and look down at Christian boys. They then become involved with non-Christians because Christians usually trust others easily. When caught in a compromising situation they marry them which most Christians don’t like. I know very well none of them are happy in their married life.

At the start of evangelization, foreign missioners put emphasis on two basic ministries -- education and healthcare. The local Church, with its limited resources, provides health services to people irrespective of religion with the Episcopal Commission for Healthcare, and trains Catholic nurses in moral formation through the Catholic Nurses Guild. There are several Church-run hospitals and about 66 health clinics in the country that offer low cost medical services to poor people, mostly non-Christians.

To be a nurse is a blessing. It helps a Catholic nurse to extend the healing hands of Jesus to a patient. I’ve put the service before the religion, and even today, I’m still trying to truly become Sister Nibedita (Dedicated) in practice with my service.

Sister Mary Nibedita, 65, is a nun from Bangladesh’s largest local women’s religious congregation –the Associates of Mary Queen of Apostles or SMRA. Since 1983, as one of the few professionally trained nursing nuns in the country, she has served in various government and non-government hospitals and also the Church.

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