• Sister Adele Brambilla has spent nearly three decades treating some of Jordan’s most vulnerable people. (Dieter Knierim)Source: Dieter Knierim
This historic Italian Hospital is run by nuns and is pioneering medical services in the south of Jordan, providing specialised care and emergency relief to the country’s most vulnerable.
Charlotte Grieve, Michaela Morgan

The Foreign Correspondent Study Tour
28 Nov 2016 - 12:36 AM  UPDATED 28 Nov 2016 - 11:57 AM

There is an Italian hospital between the castle ruins and busy streets of Karak, a small town in the hills above the Dead Sea. It is the largest hospital in the south of Jordan, treating some of the country’s most vulnerable people.

Sister Adele Brambilla smiles. Originally from Milan, she has been living in Jordan for 30 years.

“We are here just to share our Christian values, especially to take care of the most abandoned,” Sister Adele tells SBS.

Although a predominately Muslim country, Jordan has a rich Christian history. The country is home to some of the world’s earliest churches and today Christians make up nearly six per cent of the population.

The Italian Hospital was established in 1935 and has since been run by the Comboni missionaries. Catholic hospitals also operate in Jerusalem, Iraq and Syria.

Sister Adele speaks Arabic to her colleagues as she ushers us into her office.

“We are part of this family and this area. We have been here many years,” she says. “They know we are religious sisters, they know and they respect us. They always tell us, ‘you are part of our history, you are part of the family’.”  

“We don’t have division, we don’t have problems; we are working together for the same cause."

Apart from a few years when she returned to Italy, Sister Adele has always lived in Karak. Over that time, she has seen the Kingdom accommodate several generations of refugees fleeing neighbouring conflicts.

“In Amman we treated them during the Iraqi wars. Then I came back and it was the Syrian wars,” she says.

Jordan’s population has almost doubled as a result of the Syrian conflict. This has put the health sector under constant pressure and in 2014, refugees were banned from accessing free healthcare outside of the camps.

“The government cannot face this big group arriving in Jordan,” says Sister Adele.

The hospital has a strictly open-door policy and is funded by donations from NGOs, individuals and Catholic parishes around the world. Emergency procedures are given priority, and those who can pay are encouraged to give what they can. While the service is technically private, referrals are taken from the local branch of Caritas, the Catholic aid agency.

“We are part of this family and this area. We have been here many years."

This year alone, treatment has been provided to over 2,000 refugees.

“Little by little, we help as much as we can,” Sister Adele says.

The hospital also provides specialised services such as ophthalmology, gynaecology, neurology and rehabilitation for children. Every three months, doctors visit from Rome to train local physicians.

In a quiet sunlit room, four-year-old Zead strengthens his upper body by climbing a wooden ladder. He suffers from spina bifida and has little use of his legs. Zead has been receiving treatment from the Italian Hospital for two years. The nurse supports his body as, step by step, he reaches the top. His mother and father clap as they watch. Everyone is smiling.

The Italian Hospital was established Jordan’s southern town, Karak, in 1935. (Dieter Knierim)

Isra, Zead’s mother, is confident that with treatment, her son will be able to live a normal life.

“He likes everything – to play, music, boxing. I think he will be a dentist,” she tells SBS.

The Italian Hospital is also alleviating Jordan’s rising unemployment problem. The hospital employs over 80 people from the Muslim and Christian communities.

“We don’t have division, we don’t have problems; we are working together for the same cause,” Sister Adele explains.

The nun’s message is to embrace diversity and not to be afraid of refugees, to work together and to help those in need.

“Sometimes it’s not easy, but it’s not impossible,” she says. 


The author travelled to Jordan as part of The Foreign Correspondent Study Tour. Read more stories form this series: 

A herbivore’s guide to Jordan
From crisp falafel to colourful salads and stuffed breads, there are delicious options for vegetarians among Jordan's traditional foods.
How Zumba is helping Syrian refugee women to heal
Female Syrian refugees in Jordan are taking up Zumba to help them recover from the trauma of war.
The Middle East’s first self-defence gym for women
She Fighter is empowering its students through martial arts, with a mission to end domestic violence in Jordan, and a letter of approval from Barack Obama.
The Arab cooking school keeping a grandmother’s recipes alive
Three sisters have been carrying on the tradition of their grandmother’s Jordanian recipes.
Meet the people restoring Madaba’s magnificent mosaics
Jordan has a rich mosaic making tradition, dating from the Roman and Byzantine periods. There are thousands of sites, posing huge conservation challenges for a small institute charged with the job of training people to protect them.
Desert cultures connect through art
A small gallery in Amman offers locals and tourists a glimpse into contemporary Australian and Jordanian art.
Breaking down cultural barriers through skateboarding
Jordan’s first skate park is building human connections between Jordanian youth and young refugees.

The Foreign Correspondent Study Tour is a joint UTS and Swinburne University project, supported by the Commonwealth through the Council for Australian-Arab Relations, which is part of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.