A LIFE DEVOTED TO THE HOSPITALLER MISSION IN LIBERIA
Sister Inca has dedicated almost her entire life to helping and collaborating with the people of Liberia, playing a crucial role in providing health services to the population of the country, located on the west coast of Africa.
Born in 1949, she was assigned to England in 1967, where she professed perpetual vows as a religious in 1974. From 1988 to 1992 she was assigned to the Philippines, and after returning to England, her mission in Liberia began on September 21, 1992.
The first Community of Hospitaller Sisters was established in Virginia in 1966 and was composed of four Sisters who took care of children with polio. In 1989, the Sisters decided to move to Pipeline, a neighborhood on the outskirts of Monrovia, because of the insecurity in the Virginia area, the low population and the distance to the hospitals where the children underwent surgery.
It was in 1989 when the new Clinic was built in Pipeline and where a pavilion was also erected for the rehabilitation of children with orthopedic problems, many of them with sequelae of poliomyelitis.
The Clinic soon became the outpatient maternity center of reference for the Pipeline community to this day.
The rehabilitation center received children operated on at various hospitals and had a prosthetic workshop, thus showing the level of specialization of the center as one of the most advanced in Liberia.
Inca arrived in Liberia on September 21, 1992, in the midst of Liberia’s first civil war. A month later, Charles Taylor’s rebel troops surrounded Monrovia in their final assault on the capital. The Sisters were forced to leave the center with all the children and take refuge in the St. Joseph Catholic Hospital of the Brothers of St. John of God.
From the Hospital, Sister Inca traveled several times the 15 kilometers that separated her from the Health Center to check on the situation, until she saw how it was occupied and looted by the soldiers.
Faced with the escalation of the war, she and another sister went into exile in Ghana on November 29, two months after arriving in the country. She would return six months later, in May 1993, while the war lasted until 1996. The second period of war began in 1998 and did not end until October 2003. During this period she had to leave the country again for four months in 1998 and after the end of the war she was transferred to Ghana in October 2003.
Sister Inca returned permanently to Liberia in 2007, a post-war period full of fears and mistrust due to the horrors experienced. It is estimated that between 200,000 and 250,000 people died in the country, and more than one million had to leave Liberia as refugees.
THE EBOLA EPIDEMIC
Just when it seemed that the country was forgetting its worst nightmares, in March 2014 the worst known Ebola epidemic arrived. Liberia was the nation most affected by number of deaths, and the epidemic highlighted the structural fragility of the country, with all health centers being closed for four months.
Inca traveled to Spain in June and by July the borders were closed. He would return on December 1, 2014 with the mission to reopen the health center, once again putting his life at risk, as he had previously done during the war periods. The reopening of the clinic required adapting the facilities by building a new triage area and a new isolation area for possible Ebola cases.
Liberia was declared Ebola-free in June 2016, and in 2017, after successfully refurbishing the unused ward that had been dedicated to children with polio sequelae, Inca Gonzalez led the opening of a specific unit intended for women with mental illness.
The original mission of the Sisters Hospitallers since 1881, to care for women with mental illness, came to Liberia after many hardships and tragedies, in line with the hospital charism of the Congregation.
During the 30 years that Inca has been in Liberia, she has been the administrator of the center, assuming a complex and arduous responsibility due to the difficulty of running a care center during periods of war with the existing limitations and shortages and with the personal risk involved in obtaining supplies for the care of patients.
Sister Inca has been a fundamental pillar in the creation and support of medical centers in remote areas. She has enabled the training of local workers to improve the quality of health care services in the region and her tireless efforts and faithful dedication have earned her the respect, affection and admiration of health professionals, the religious community and the people of Liberia.
After 30 years of service in Africa, on March 29, 2022, “Sister Inca” received a fond farewell from the sisters and staff of Saint Benedict Menni and left for Spain. As the sister says, Africa “has been a place full of love and color” that she will never erase from her memory. Having completed her mission, she is certain that her message and her work will continue to resonate in the place where she learned to love without fear, and to be happy with what is really important.