Sister Hilary Lyons: Mentor, Champion and Innovator for Primary Health Care in Sierra Leone.
Presentation by Nancy Edwards
What a night we had in the company of Prof. Nancy Edwards in Killeen Community Centre to celebrate the memory of Sr Hilary Lyons.
We were delighted to host Nancy and her companions Connie and Nicki. Nancy gave a very heartfelt and emotional presentation on her time spent in Sierra Leone where she worked along side Sr Hilary. During their time spent together Nancy grew to love Sr Hilary and all that she encompassed as a passionate advocate for women and children and the struggle to educate, train and improve the well being of all the natives.
Learning to modernise health techniques in a country where women’s health was embedded in local traditional practices was no easy feat. Given the age old beliefs and customs of the area it took many years of listening to and adapting modern western ways to be respectful and inclusive of the traditions and beliefs so that positive change could be achieved. These women were pioneers of bringing about support and developing a network of trained local midwifes and medics to a country that was mostly male dominated with a deep rooted suspicion of any new ideas. They built hospitals, traversed wild terrain with hidden dangers, trained and educated locals, saved many children and their mothers from certain death, who without modern medical intervention would have died.
But it was the little antidotes of humour and glimmers of hope that really reinforced what we knew of Sr Hilary and her work. Her determination to succeed despite the harsh challenges shone through. When faced with a challenge, Sr Hilary surely must have drawn on her own life experience of growing up in a small village in the West of Ireland and all that had entailed, to expertly adapt and rise to the problems as they arose.
We are so grateful to Nancy for documenting her experiences in her book, “Not One, Not Even One: A Memoir of Life-altering Experiences in Sierra Leone, West Africa.” The fact that she was encouraged by Sr Hilary to continue in health care in her own professional life is testament to the person Sr Hilary was. Nancy continued her friendship with Sr Hilary long after their time in Sierra Leone and had sent transcripts to Sr Hilary of her book before she sadly passed away. Her memory lives on in the pages of this incredible story.
We had the “Our Irish Women” exhibition on display for the weekend and it was so lovely to meet with locals who remembered Sr Hilary and her family.
Thank you to all who supported this event and especially to Sr Hilary’s nephew Richard and his wife Lorena for hosting us on Sunday afternoon. It was so lovely for Nancy to meet the family and visit the “new” old house. She had visited with Sr Hilary and her mother many years previously.
Thank you to iCAN for loaning us the exhibition in Killeen.
Nancy Edwards is a Distinguished Professor and Professor Emeritus, School of Nursing, University of Ottawa.
Dr. Edwards obtained her undergraduate nursing degree from the University of Windsor and completed graduate studies in epidemiology at McMaster University and McGill University. She is a fellow of the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences and has received three honorary doctoral degrees.
Dr. Edwards’ professional interests are in the fields of public and population health. She has worked in global health for most of her career focusing on capacity building, the delivery of maternal and child health programs, reducing health inequities, and implementation research. She has mentored many colleagues, led global health program delivery and research initiatives on four continents, and shaped strategic directions for global health during her tenure as a Scientific Director with the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.
In both Canada and abroad, Nancy has drawn on her foundational global health learning roots in Sierra Leone, West Africa, where she worked as a community health nurse and program evaluator for five years. She had the pleasure of working alongside Sr. Hilary Lyons and has captured these experiences in her book Not One, Not Even One: A Memoir of Life-altering Experiences in Sierra Leone, West Africa. Her book was released by FriesenPress in 2022 (www.nancyedwards.ca).
Nancy Edwards book can be purchased Here with the proceeds of the book donated to international development organizations that support the education of girls and women in lower-income countries