Four years after being shot by bandit, missionary Maud Kells makes one last trip to Africa
A missionary who survived being shot by a bandit in the jungle of the Democratic Republic of Congo has said she will make her final visit to the war-torn country without fear after the man who almost killed her died.
Maud Kells (79) has spent five decades providing maternity care to Congolese women and working to build a hospital and nursery in the rainforest village of Mulita.
Despite being shot and wounded four years ago at the age of 75, just days after she was awarded an OBE by the Queen for her work with WEC International, the former midwife from Cookstown astounded many with her determination as she continued her selfless aid work.
Now Maud is preparing one final delivery of medical supplies and baby clothes to the hospital, maternity ward and nursery in the rural Mulita area she spent most of her adult life helping to build.
The memory of the incident that almost cost Maud her life is still fresh. Shot in the chest by robbers at her Mulita home on January 4, 2015, the bullet passed through her ribs, narrowly missing a major blood vessel.
"I thought the gun was just a bit of wood to frighten me, so I went to grab it and he just pulled the trigger," she said.
"I got quite a shock when the shot went out. The bullet went straight through and came out my back.
"I could feel the blood trickling down my back, so I put my back to the wall.
"I stood against the wall to try to stop the bleeding and I think that saved my life, because I had to wait at least seven minutes for help.
"The man who shot me died last year. That's one fear that will not travel with me."
Crowned Belfast Telegraph Woman of the Year for 2015 after surviving her ordeal, Maud is almost ready to tell her story in a book.
"People have always told me I must have so many stories to tell about my time in Africa," she said. "I'm working on it with a friend and I hope to launch it after I get back on February 19.
"Before that I'll do whatever I can to help in Mulita one final time. I'll be praying things are quiet when I get there."
Maud is making the trip with another Cookstown woman, Lorna Glasgow, whose daughter lives in Uganda.
"It was in the back of my head that I might like to make one final trip," Maud said. "And when Lorna told me she was going to visit her daughter and asked me if I'd like to come along, I prayed hard for a few days. In the end it felt like the right thing to do.
"I have so many friends over there and to see them one final time was too good an opportunity to say no to.
"I know it won't be easy to say goodbye to so many good people. We booked the flights before I could change my mind!"
Maud heads off on January 20, flying from Dublin to Amsterdam, then Nairobi and finally on to Kampala, where she will spend a few days with Lorna and her family before making the lone journey to Mulita.
"I tell everyone this will be my final trip and they just smile at me," said Maud. "But the years are catching up with me now."
Over the course of 16 years she has spent six months a year working in the village since her first trip in 2002 - and before that had been a frequent traveller to Africa after starting her missionary work in 1968.
She explained: "I have heard from friends over there that things are tense as elections have been happening. That's always a time you need to be careful, so I'm not too sure what the atmosphere will be like.
"Elections could make it difficult for me to get into the country, and there has been a recent confirmed case of Ebola, which is a worry."