By Br. Alfonce Kugwa
As Covid-19 continues to ravage communities, the Dominican Sisters in Zimbabwe have come up with strict guidelines that help protect the members of the congregation from the virus. Four of the Dominican Sisters have been infected and thank God they all recovered. Although the congregation has not experienced any death as a result of corona virus, the sisters are not taking lightly the cunning presence of the pandemic. Instead, they have enacted strict measures in a bid to protect their own and others.
“We encourage sisters to wear masks and wash hands all the time. Each community is encouraged to have vitamin C and zinc on the table to boost the immune system of the members. Sisters should maintain their places in common rooms especially during meals, prayer and recreation. We emphasise on social distancing by utilizing bigger and spacious facilities for prayer and meals where people are not congested to avoid contaminating each other,” said Sr. Rudo Shungu Matsika, the Regional Prioress of the Dominican Sisters in Zimbabwe.
Sr. Rudo said things like common drying towels in common rooms and sharing of utensils may lead to the spread of corona virus among community members.
“We have removed all common drying towels from common rooms and encourage frequent cleaning of entrance doors to public places. We feel that protecting others from Covid-19 is everyone’s responsibility,” she said.
The congregation has for the time being discouraged inter community visits and completely banned unnecessary traveling by all the Sisters. Following the government’s Covid-19 regulations and the recommendation by the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference, the Sisters have adopted the “no mass” stance during the lock down and now have communion services in spacious rooms. Sr. Rudo said OP means Order of Preachers and Covid has called them to preach and pray in diverse ways in their communities as they have communion services and other forms of prayer. She said her congregation drafted a list of guidelines for some practical issues which were shared to all the communities and individuals after an awareness raising meeting for all the Sisters in the Region.
The guidelines include isolation of the sick and making that all their needs are addressed, provision of medication to those with mild symptoms, having a clean environment as hygiene is the key to stop the spread of Covid-19, placing food supplies by the door, having an infra-red themometre and pulse oximeters in all communities and washing the sick member’s clothes separately among others.
While taking medication including traditional remedies is critical, Sr. Rudo encouraged people to isolate for 10 or more days with a positive mind full of hope. She said there was need for provision of occupational therapy items, psychological, emotional, spiritual and moral support while it was important for other community members to regularly communicate with those not feeling well and to have medical personnel monitoring them.
She encouraged the religious communities to make available oxygen cylinders to support their sick members when necessary. With Cocid-19, Sr. Rudo said there are ongoing developments, hence the need to keep abreast with these changes and come up with the way forward and communicate the changes to members regularly. She proposed the testing of all community members in case one member tests positive.
“This is a time of crisis where leaders have to make bold, tough and quick decisions to save lives. For example, if one member tests positive, the whole community and contacts have to be tested quickly and the necessary steps taken upon receiving results,” she said.
“We are living in fear of each other and that is destroying our sisterly love and oneness”
The Superior General of the Sisters of the Child Jesus (SJI), Sr. Patricia Rubaya said the advent of Covid-19 has made life so hectic as it ushered more challenges that further complicate community life. She said her congregation has registered some cases of Covid-19 but did not disclose them so as not to frighten other Sisters.
Having an independent isolation centre is a challenge for most religious houses
Sr. Rubaya said, “We do not have quarantine places, so we just use our convents for self-quarantine. We thank God because so far the communities involved offer a lot of psycho social support to the ailing members. Each day I try to contact all those communities to check on them and so far the situation is under control.”
She said while they would want all their Sisters to get tested, the expenses involved were prohibitive and that they would handle cases as they come.
According to Sr. Rubaya, the pandemic has changed the pattern of religious life by attacking community aspects which are key in consecrated life.
“Community life is a life of sharing prayers, meals and other common rooms and now we are forced to live individually in order to protect ourselves and others. We are living in fear of each other and that is destroying our sisterly love and oneness,” stated Sr. Rubaya
According to Sr. Rubaya, Covid-19 challenges the relevance of the religious and priests as it has affected pastoral work and other community initiatives. She said the use of modern technologies for evangelization in poor countries such as Zimbabwe can only benefit a few while the poor rural folks will be further alienated and neglected.
The SJI leadership has encouraged their members to be flexible, adaptable and creative in living the community values and the rule of religious life in the present context.