A new use for an old convent

The old convent of the Sisters of St. Martha in St. Andrews, Nova Scotia, had been on the market for a year after the sisters decided it was too large for them.

Then Pope Francis urged parishes to take in Syrian refugees.

"Maybe it wasn't meant to be sold," Sr. Brendalee Boisvert, the order's congregation leader, told the Times Colonist. "Maybe this was always in the mind and heart of the Holy Spirit — that we would always have a family enjoy this home that we enjoyed for 87 years."

The congregation and volunteers have since been busy preparing the house for a refugee family that’s been living in a camp in Lebanon.

The Times Colonist reports that the community is welcoming the refugees, believing that despite what the refugees been through, they will fit in. This shouldn’t really be surprising if you recall what happened nearby in Gander, Nova Scotia, after the terror attacks of Sept. 11.

Gander is a small town of 10,000 people with a massive international airport that made a good fueling stop for trans-Atlantic flights before long-distance flights became common. When all flights were grounded on Sept. 11, 38 of them were sent to Gander, depositing 6,600 passengers in the little town.

The town was so welcoming, many of the passengers still keep in touch with residents, and many return for anniversary observances.

The Times Colonist reports that Harry Daemen, a retired engineer and chairman of the volunteer group helping prepare the convent, says St. Andrews — population 1,100 — has a well-earned reputation for welcoming newcomers.

Daemen should know: His family first arrived in the area as part of a wave of Dutch immigrants looking for farmland after World War II, and like today’s refugees, they had to be sponsored for a year. Another volunteer recalls how the town took in a family of Vietnamese boat people in the early 1980s.

"The immigration cycles of the past have kept us healthy and renewed," Daemen told the paper. "We need an injection of new cultures, people and new thoughts."

Time to go

Ever wonder what it’s like to be an aid worker rushing to the scene of a humanitarian disaster? How about being one of the first ones in — the workers who get there before the supplies and equipment arrive, before there are generators or temporary infrastructure?

Refinery29 has an interview with Emily David, part of International Rescue Committee’s Emergency Response Team, which deploys within 48 hours of an event to assess the situation and set up the programming that will be needed. At a moment’s notice, she can be called away for two or three months.

"You come and go when you're working pretty much seven days a week,” she said. “And then when you're not working, you’re — you have down time, but you're sleeping a lot. You're trying to get the basics done, and catch up with friends. And then you’re off again.”

The interview will make you appreciate these people even more.

Another Ebola setback

Last week, we gave you an update on the Ebola situation in West Africa, where Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone were waiting to finally be declared Ebola-free. The United Nations’ World Health Organization declares a nation Ebola-free when two 21-day incubation periods for the dreaded virus have passed without any new cases.

We also pointed out that Liberia had already been declared Ebola-free twice before and was awaiting its third declaration.

Friday, Jan. 15, NPR reported that one day after all three nations had been declared Ebola-free, a new case was reported in Sierra Leone.

"We are now at a critical period in the Ebola epidemic as we move from managing cases and patients to managing the residual risk of new infections," said Dr. Bruce Aylward of the WHO, NPR reported.

Back in 2014, we told you about the Missionary Sisters of the Holy Rosary, their work in Liberia and their belief that education would be key to fighting the disease that has killed nearly 12,000 people in the two-year outbreak. Experts noted at the time that Ebola has been largely controlled in Central Africa, where it was first discovered, because they have adopted the practices required to keep it from spreading. Those practices were not in place in West Africa, allowing it to decimate entire families and to ravage villages. Now, experts say, the practices that halted the outbreak will need to continue to keep it at bay.

Remember, links, tips and accounts of the response to any crisis anywhere in the world are always welcome at dstockman@ncronline.org.

[Dan Stockman is national correspondent for Global Sisters Report. His email address is dstockman@ncronline.org. Follow him on Twitter @DanStockman or on Facebook.]