When Sylvia Wright is visiting England she tries to lunch with us to update us on her work in Tamil Nadu, South India. Tuesday, 23 April, 2013 was such a day.
She has just turned 75, amid great celebration and joy with local priests and all the staff and children, student nurses and friends celebrating this remarkable woman whose work is so visibly working for good and building a future of hope for many children and adults. What has she achieved since she left Leeds as a newly qualified nurse?
Charity hospital with 200 beds
- Outpatient clinic treating 80,000 patients a year
- 2 Day Centres for 80 severely disabled children
- Residential School for 205 profoundly deaf children
- Nursing College with 80 students
Last year Headingley Rotary Club presented the hospital with hearing aids for 40 children. The children arrive, profoundly deaf, at the residential hospital at three and a half. Being profoundly deaf, they lack the ability to hear the sounds needed through imitation to enunciate and develop speech. The state often fails to make an early diagnosis and the trauma of profound deafness is sometimes mistaken for idiocy. Even if it is diagnosed, local hearing aids simply amplify sound indiscriminately. Computerised aids can monitor the exact problem in each range and provide the distinct augmentation for each level. The boarding school the children attend is free and dependent on Trust funds.
The first batch of nurses from the Nursing School will be graduating from their four year course in June. The very best will stay to work in the hospital; many others will find work with no difficulty at a new State hospital.
Sylvia reported that the two Day Centres are increasingly busy, collecting children from their villages, diagnosing and responding to Cystic Fibrosis, Cerebral Palsy, Downs Syndrome and many other needs including children who need dialysis. This going in to the villages to find the children who need help at as early an age as possible is not a feature of State provision.
A photograph taken of Sylvia in front of the statue of Florence Nightingale in Sebastopol had to lead to the misconception that Madame was Florence’s grand-daughter! On the trip Sylvia had been shown Florence’s letters: how often she heard her own voice in them, bewailing the lack of sterile clinical practice and failure to maintain basic cleanliness. Evidently there is a distinction in India between cleaning a hospital and an “English Clean”. So far, Sylvia commented, there has been no cross-infection in her own hospital. Although she was trained half a century ago the insistence on correct procedure and meticulous cleanliness she learnt at the LGI fifty years ago have stood her in good stead training nurses in India. One of Florence’s letters contained the sentence “The hospital shall never do the patient any harm”, no longer such an obvious truism as it should be. Compassion and love of the patients, Sylvia insisted, are essential to an environment of healing and care.
And of course we had to have news of Monty the bull. At the end of every day Sylvia walks down the lane to feed the cattle and, of course, Monty knows she is coming and lets this be known in an increasingly stentorian manner. Arriving at his pen Sylvia has a conversation with him, encouraging him to be less vociferous and more patient. Two new young helpers from the cow sheds were amazed to see a grown woman talking to a bull! Sylvia is able to calm Monty and in spite of comment that he is not fulfilling his principle duties as well as he used to, that he has been a bit aggressive sometimes and that he disturbs everybody she says in his defence; “Monty has done well by us and now we should look after him.” Elsewhere in her address Sylvia made it clear that she was not a person who people took on lightly, whatever their status or sex; yet her understanding of how things are from Monty’s side of the equation illustrate the underpinning love that motivates her. In her birthday newsletter she quotes from the psalms: “They shall bear fruit in old age; vigorous and sturdy shall they be, declaring how just is the Lord, my rock, in whom there is no wrong.”
Long may she bear fruit and share a little of her strength of purpose with us in Rotary.
Find out more about her work at