IN THE LAND TIME FORGOT
By CRAIG McTEAR
ONCE or twice a year, Nola McGovern takes a walk on the wild side.
The 78-year-old farewells the creature comforts of her Sapphire Beach home for a place half a world away.
It's a remote Pacific island republic where disease, malnutrition and death hold sway over the populace.
Nola is a Catholic Church missionary dedicated to helping the impoverished people of Kiribati, the land time forgot.
The 100,000 islanders are dirt poor ? they have few possessions and no income. There is no work, no government handouts and few natural resources.
In fact, the only things growing in abundance in this harsh, soil-free environment are coconuts.
Nola, who has a nursing background, administers first aid to the villagers for a host of ailments including ulcers. Many of them are children.
"They line up at my door before I'm out of bed," Nola said.
"I also visit the small hospital with the nuns, and also the handicapped children's centre, where many children are totally blind, deaf and dumb and mentally and physically disabled."
The situation at the nation's hospital is dire ? medications, dressings and linen are in short supply, with cancer victims often dying in agony because there are either insufficient or no painkillers.
"The villagers are terrified to go near the hospital because everyone they know who goes there dies," Nola said.
"Children in Kiribati celebrate one birthday in their lifetime ? if they live to one year old.
"Hepatitis, TB (tuberculosis) and malnutrition are the causes of mortality. There is also leprosy and many other diseases on the islands."
Global warming is the latest threat, with many villages now permanently under water. In years to come, mass relocations will be essen- tial.
Nola had always wanted to be a missionary, so when the opportunity arose five years ago, she took the plunge.
"When my husband died, I wondered what I was going to do with my life. I knew I'd be lonely and bored at home on my own," she said.
"I'd wondered what had hit me when I first arrived on Kiribati. It's 40 degrees day and night, no air-conditioning, no fans, no electricity, and the water is frightfully polluted due to runoff from graves and lack of sanitation.
"But I've never regretted going there. I love the place, and I love the happy, beautiful people.
"I'll keep going over there as long as my health keeps up, because I just want to keep helping these desperately poor people. If someone doesn't help, they get nothing.
"No matter what I do, I feel it's not enough. It's only a drop in the ocean."
Nola has only just returned from her sixth trip to Kiribati in five years, and she's already planning next year's adventure.
She also hosts villagers on their visits here for much-needed medical treatment and relaxation, and devotes much of her time to raising funds and organising shipments of provisions.
"I truly consider being chosen as a mission- ary is a gift from God," she said.