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Jenny Tustian MBE

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Jennifer Tustian MBE her story

Image 1 for Jennifer Tustian MBE her story
Jenny Tustian was born in Swerford but spent the majority of her adult life in Uganda as a nurse and missionary. Now retired and returned to Swerford she was awarded an MBE in 1995.

Jenny was born in the 1930's, where she now lives, in Ash Hill Farm, Swerford. She was the middle child of three her sister Dorothy having been born some two years earlier and her brother Leonard being born six years later in the war years.

Her father farmed and her mother did all the usual things that busy wives of full time farmers did in the era before washing machines, tumble dryers and dish washers etc. The farm was a busy place and they had a live-in help. Many houses of the time, such as Ash Hill, kept a pig to eat the cast offs and be slaughtered for meat in the late autumn. In the 1930's the farm was rented from an Oxford College but in the 1960's her father was able to buy the freehold.

Reaching the age of five Jenny went to Primary School at Wiggington following Dorothy's footsteps. Neither went to school in the village for Swerford School closed in 1936. She was even at such an early age, fascinated by the prospect of nursing and would be found bandaging up the cats' legs whether they needed it or not!

This "rural idyll" was soon ended because in 1948, when she was only forty three, Jenny's mother died. Whilst not certain Jenny believes that her mother died of stomach cancer.

It was, not surprisingly, a devastating blow to her father and to the three children then aged thirtenn, eleven and five. The village rallied round to help keep the household activities going and the extended Tustian clan became involved to settle on the schooling for the children. Clearly if their father was to continue to farm he would have little free time to devote to the children so Leonard, as youngest, went off to boarding school. Jenny went to St John's Priory in Banbury until she was sixteen, a school that was already attended by two of her cousins.

At an early age Jenny showed every interest in religious matters. She remembers when she was twelve a travelling Mission (CSSM - the Childrens Special Service Mission) visited the village. She recalls that they had a tent set up in what is now the Playing Field near the Village Hall. They brought along visiting speakers who sparked Jenny's interest.

A year later the Mission returned and held a meeting in the Village Hall. It was there, when she was thirteen, that Jenny "heard the call" and gained an inner conviction to commit her life to Christ and a determination that at some point she would serve overseas. She was however unwilling to be seen to make that commitment there and then and sat on her hands rather than walk up to the Minister and declare herself. After that particular meeting she did sneak up to him and say that she wanted to be a missionary, but he wisely thew up a barrier by telling her to read Acts Chapter One. This says that the disciples started in Judea which was their home and that is was only much later in life that they travelled far and wide.

It was at this point in time that Reverend Stanley Guest Davidson took up the incumbancy at St Mary, Swerford. He was an evangelical and encouraged the Church in supporting the Rwanda Mission Church Missionary Society. This particular Mission was focussed on taking the Word and medical support to the countries of Central Africa (Rwanda, Burundi and South West Uganda). It had a particular interest in Kisiizi Hospital in South West Uganda.

As she grew to be sixteen Jenny was determined to train as a nurse, it was the career that she had always wanted to follow and it would also fit perfectly with the missionary role should she so decide. Another Aunt had an association with Wanford Hospital at Leamington Spa, indeed another of Jenny's cousins was training there. So Jenny went as a "cadet" from the age of sixteen to eighteen, continuing with part-time education mixed with "hands-on" ward experience.At eighteen she then became a fully fledged trainee nurse through to age twenty one when she qualified.

Throughout this period of the 1950's, schedules permitting, Jenny would return home to the farm most weekends. There she could assist both in the farmhouse and on the farm itself, to "help in holding the family together". Leonard went on from school to return in the 1960's full-time to the farm which he still farms to this day. Their father continued to work the land until he died in 1991 aged almost eighty six.

On qualifying Jenny went on immediately to undertake an eighteen month training and practical in Midwifery. For the six months practical, the stint as a midwife on a push bike (as it was then), she moved to Tilehurst near Reading.During that pewriod of midwifery practice at Tilehurst she attended a weekend conference of the Mission at Reading, but again backed away from making any commitment.

After completion of her midwifery course Jenny returned to Leamington Spa, working in men's surgical wards.Later she applied for a midwifery position in Chesterfield, and became Midwifery Sister at Scarsdale in Chesterfield. There she thought that she would be far enough away from mission influence and more able to think clearly about her future!

Jenny more or less settled into a new life, working at Chesterfield and returning when she could back to Ash Hill Farm, Swerford.She attended church in Chesterfield where she discovered that the rector had already been briefed of her interest through a letter from one of the secretaries of the Ruanda Mission CMS. The best part of three years passed, Jenny torn between her conviction that she ought to serve Christ in Africa and, on the other hand, the realization that that would effectively sever her family relations in Swerford and a developing career in the nursing profession.

Eventually she made the decision, she was in her words "convicted" and offered herself to the Mission. After a number of interviews she was accepted for missionary training which was to start at Chislehurst,Kent. training involved four terms at Chislehurst, followed by training in the French language at Mons in Belgium and then tropical medicine training at Liverpool. Throughout this time Jenny expected to be sent out to the French speaking territories of Rwanda or Burundi but, quite literally at the last moment, she was told to pack a tea chest for Mombassa for she was off on the Union Castle by sea to Kenya and thence to Kisiizi Hospital near Kabele in South West Uganda.

In actual fact a port strike intervened so she flew out to Uganda and was re- united with her luggage six months later. She arrived on 18th June 1966, the date is remembered clearly, to start a four year (no breaks) commitment. This, it has to be remembered, was in the hey-day of President Idi Amin, medical supplies were at best sporadic and to be British in Uganda was to be at risk.

Each subsequent four year stint was also spent at Kisiizi hospital as the senior nursing officer supporting doctors based at the Hospital. This was not in any way state aided, any funding came from European/USA linked churches through the Mission. The chaotic condition of the Country and its run down state medical services simply worsen matters and increased the load on the charitably funded sector.

At the end of each four year period Jenny would come back, by air. She would then spend eight months in the Uk "recharging her batteries" and visiting every church that was linked to the Hospital through the Mission. To these congregations she would give real life feedback as to the impact and progress the Church was making through the Hospital at Kisiizi. She still vividly remembers addressing 17 meetings in Liverpool at various schools and churches during her first home visit in 1970. Jenny worked three four year tours, a three year tour and then three two year tours. The cost of air travel so diminished through the 1970's and 1980's that it became feasible to move to a pattern of two year tours with four months "off" rather than four year tours plus eight months "off".

After sixteen years at Kisiizi Hospital, in 1982, Jenny started to feel that she ought to move on and that there were more pressing challenges elsewhere.That feeling was clearly shared because she was approached by the Bishop of the Diocese who wanted her to set up a "hospital" in Kabale itself.As one might expect there was some reluctance to let her go. The Bishop encouraged prayer from all parties about the matter and after much deliberation the move seemed right and Jenny rose to the challenge.

Her move took place during the period of the ousting of President Amin and near civil war conditions prevailed in Uganda. On the intended site, a hill just outside Kabale there was no "hospital" but an unfinished set of buildings which were intended to include administration offices for the Bishop and a clinic. There were no doctors at all. Jenny set up a clinic initially in the nightwatchman's hut, then progressively in the Bishop's office and eventually was able to move to the intended rooms. The buildings were finished in stages through the 1980's. To start there were no beds at all but eventually the total rose to 40. On occasion there was medical support from Doctors in private practice who would treck out to help for a few days. However for at least the first dozen years Jenny was the most experienced and often the only trained person on the site.

Gradually the political and social situation in Uganda stabilised and then improved so that the availability of drugs became less of an issue as did transport and communication. The first medical assistant arrived in the mid 1990's and a full-time doctor was funded and appointed by the Mission in 2001, some eighteen years after Jenny had set up that first clinic in the "hospital".

With the arrival of the Millennium funds were also committed by a mission- minded church in Truro, USA to build a "proper" hospital from scratch on land that the church had acquired even nearer Kabale. This was built in 2002 & 2003 and then, through training and development, it achieved full formal Hospital status in 2007/8. It is a general & maternity hospital with a special care baby unit, opthalmic department and a specialised unit for the care of malnourished children. It is now known as Rugarama Hospital, Kabale, Uganda.

Jenny formally retired in 2001, the arrival of a full- time doctor in that year and the commitment to build a brand new hospital were the signs she recognised as saying "end of an era, time for a change". She still spends two months a year in Uganda, in a bungalow she owns where her adopted son Paul (now 18) also lives.

In 1995 she was awarded an MBE, sponsored by the Ugandans rather than by any UK body. She"fitted in" a trip down to Buckingham Palace during one of her planned returns to this Country. Jenny took down with her for the ceremony her sister Dorothy, her brother Leonard and Margaret a close friend she had met in Uganda. One of the highlights of the event was that they were chauffeured down to London and back by Sting's driver, Sting having heard about Jenny via the family nanny!

Jenny is still active in the Church and in the Mission, which has moved its headquarters out of London to Oxford "just to be handier for Swerford" she says! There are however no grandiose ambitions, she sees a pattern in the events that brought the concept and then the reality of serving her beliefs in Uganda. That pattern continued and allowed her to retire at an opportune moment, yet be able to see her efforts be the foundation of a growing Christian and Medical service to the indigenous population.