MOTHER TERESA LEFT A LASTING IMPACT IN YEMEN
– Dr Ausaf Sayeed*
The acclaimed and beatified Mother Teresa (1910-1997), who founded the ‘Missionaries of Charity’ in Calcutta, India on October 7, 1950 with the primary objective of loving and caring for those persons nobody was prepared to look after, won the hearts of the people of Yemen and left a lasting impact in this country with her benign benevolence.
Mother Teresa’s tryst with Yemen started in early 1970s, when one fine day in Calcutta Mother Teresa told Father Edward Le Joly, her friend and priest, “Father, we are going to Yemen. We have been invited by the Prime Minister, who even presented me with a ‘Sword of Honour’!”. Father Le Joly exclaimed: “What! A sword for a woman of peace!”
Mother Teresa responded favourably to the invitation extended to her by the Prime Minister of the then Yemen Arab Republic (YAR) by arriving with five nuns from the ‘Missionaries of Charity’ in Calcutta at the coastal city of Hodeidah overlooking the Red Sea in 1973.
The Sisters started a home for over hundred unwanted children and also cared for adults with diseases and birth defects. The Sisters used to visit a leper village once a week. Initially the lepers used to run away in fear, but soon they gained confidence and agreed for treatment. Under the supervision of Dr Sister Garth Rode, the nuns began taking professional care of the people with disabilities and those suffering from leprosy in Hodeidah. A ‘Leprosy Centre’ was formally opened at Hodeidah on August 22, 1973, which was named by Mother Teresa as the ‘City of Light’.
Mother Teresa visited Yemen again in 1978 and 1991. In August 1991 she formally hand-over another ‘Leprosy Centre’ set up in Taiz to the Yemeni Ministry of Health. The Centre housed and looked after hundreds of sick people in a most efficient manner.
Despite facing a setback on July 27, 1998 when three sisters were killed by a mentally sick person in Hodeidah, the ‘Sisters of Charity’ continued their noble mission in Yemen. Today, over two dozen nuns provide nursing services to the abandoned, disabled, elderly, and convalescent, besides looking after the malnourished children from amongst the local communities irrespective of religion, sect or creed. The ‘Missionaries of Charity’ currently operate four serve centres in Sana’a, Hodeidah, Ta’iz and Aden, each with six volunteers. In all there are fourteen Indians who are serving in these centres throughout Yemen. The Sisters also run a shelter for the old and physically challenged and a dispensary that provides primary healthcare services.
While pointing out that Mother Teresa’s fantastic love knew no religious bounds, author Wayne Weible wrote: “In Yemen,” recounted Mother Teresa, “which is entirely a Muslim country, I asked one of the rich people to build a Masjid there. People needed a place to pray, I said to him; they are all Muslim brothers and sisters. They need to have a place where they can meet God.”
Yemeni authorities regarded Mother Teresa as a saint and held her in very high esteem, so much so that they sent a delegation led by a member of parliament for the ceremony of her beatification. There is deep sense of gratitude in Yemen for the humanitarian work being carried out by the ‘Sisters of Charity’ in their centres across the country.
 Elaine Murray Stone in ‘Mother Teresa‘, p.68-70, Paulist Press, 1999