The Missionaries of St Charles and the Scalabrini Institute for Human Mobility in Africa Embark on a New Project – Scalabrini St Partick’s Community Health Centre
The Missionaries of St Charles (Scalabrinian Fathers) for over a century have been carrying out their mission in the world in more than thirty nations at the service of human mobility. In Africa we started our service in 1994 with the mission of Cape Town, followed by the mission of Nampula, in the north of Mozambique, and the mission of Johannesburg.
In each of our projects we seek to
- Promote human and spiritual development and integration between locals and migrants in the area where we work, in synergy with other agencies and organisations;
- Better understand the different dimensions of migration in order to implement practical and sustainable solutions in response to the needs of migrants, refugees and other disadvantaged people;
- Welcoming, promoting, protecting and integrating foreigners, migrants and refugees in a spirit of gospel love and professional dedication.
As we approached the twenty-fifth anniversary of our presence on the continent in 2019 we sought to open a new site in Johannesburg, where we were already involved in the pastoral care of many migrants and refugees and the local vulnerable population in the Johannesburg South in the Rosettenville area.
We started a feasibility study for some interventions in this area. St Patricks is a Catholic Parish of the Archdiocese of Johannesburg, where the Scalabrini Fathers, Missionaries of St. Charles have been operating since 2011. The parish is located in Johannesburg South, which is heavily impacted by the migratory phenomenon, and which is prone to eruptions of xenophobic conflicts and violence. The Scalabrini Fathers of St Patrick's serve parishioners of many different ethnicities and linguistic groups. These communities include Congolese, Zimbabwean, Angolan, Nigerian, Cameroonian, Malawian and Portuguese nationals as well English-, Zulu-, Sotho- and Portuguese- speaking South Africans.
In addition to these diverse communities, the parish finds itself in the centre of an economically impoverished and crime-ridden area where drug and alcohol distribution, prostitution and human trafficking abound. St Patrick's Church is frequented daily by destitute and vulnerable persons looking for food, shelter, health care and employment.
The presence of S.Vincent De Paul directly opposite the church which utilises parish facilities to feed the poor together with the distribution of food from the church premises by Mother Theresa Charity group has resulted in the Church becoming well known to the local community for its acts of charity and St Patrick's therefore constantly attracts people in need. Since these groups are already giving wonderful support, the new project aims at providing solutions to different needs of local and migrant communities, in order to avoid overlapping.
The influx of rural South Africans to Johannesburg in search of employment places pressure on the city's resources and increases the risk of conflict between unemployed South African's and the migrants and refugees who also seek to make a home and earn a living in the city.
Amended government policies and legislation in respect of refugees and migrants are expected to worsen the hardships faced by these people. It is this unique and complex set of circumstances together with the vastness of the church property that positioned St Patrick's Church to undertake a social project that stands to greatly benefit not only the economically disadvantaged local and migrant parishioners of St Patrick's, but also those poor local people as well as foreign residents in the area who approach the parish for assistance.
Having been awarded custody of the building that formerly hosted the Dominican Sisters’ Convent and more recently the Bible College from the Archbishop, both of which are located on church premises, the Parish is faced with both opportunities as well as challenges relating to the use and maintenance of these large structures.
Many volunteers and parishioners have expressed a desire to see these under-utilised spaces put to use for appropriate activities, inspired by our Catholic values of faith and charity and aligned to the charism and objectives of the Scalabrinian Missionaries of St Charles. From other different congregations and associations in parallel, arrived the request to use the building for activities related to the care of migrants and refugees
After many preliminary meetings were then held between St. Patrick La Rochelle, SIHMA, JRS and various other stakeholders in which ideas, needs and opportunities were discussed, the parties began to define a common strategy to undertake these projects in the building.
One of the greatest needs of the population of this area (as seen in many other parts of the country) is health. As SIHMA we then tried to build a Project, according to our usual Scalabrinian vision, in order to offer on the one hand direct and tangible support to migrants and disadvantaged locals in need of basic medical care, and on the other hand research on the real data and situations of these patients to investigate the barriers to access to public health care and promote support actions and interact with local authorities to improve the situation.
A proposal was accordingly submitted for the development of a Community Health Centre to provide basic medical assistance and support to the refugee, migration, and indigent local South African communities in and around La Rochelle and Rosettenville. The project proposal was approved for funding by the Société de la Chapelle through ASCS (Geneva).
Upon receipt of the funding work commenced with the Parish to identify the space for the project in the building, and similarly in the meantime JRS (Jesuit Refugee Service) moved a number of their projects into the building as well. Structural work was commenced and concluded to set up an office medical surgery and a visiting room. Meetings were held with doctors and nurses to form the medical staff of volunteers for the Community Health Centre.
Planning and mapping were done to define the scope of and services provided by the project ( eg blood pressure tests, sugar tests, cholesterol tests, children after birth visits, antenatal visits, HIV testing and counselling etc). A new secretary and administrator in the person of Ms Dhano Letchman was appointed in August 2021. We are in the process of finalising the finishing touches on the venue, preparing schedules for Doctors and Nurses to volunteer their time, coordinating registration of the Centre with a practice number and the like. We are almost ready to start our work and are pleased to be embarking on this new journey.