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Maud Kells: 'I want my wounds to heal first, then I'll think about going back to jungle'


Maud recovering in hospital in Africa after the shooting

Maud recovering in hospital in Africa after the shooting

Maud recovering in hospital in Africa after the shooting

Maud Kells gently laughs at the suggestion she should have been enjoying retirement instead of labouring in the depths of an African jungle.

By their mid-70s most people have settled for a quieter lifestyle, but not this remarkable woman.

Until the dramatic events of early January, she was selflessly devoting her time to helping the poverty-stricken people of the Democratic Republic of Congo, a troubled country ravaged by civil war and corruption.

Her life story reads like something straight from the pages of an adventure novel.

Living in what colleagues describe as a basic jungle mission station, Maud has worked tirelessly for people who have known only extreme hardship and conflict.

Nor has she been deterred by the travails of daily life.

Forced to flee several times, most recently in 2012 amid fears that rebel fighters were about to attack the hospital where she worked, her home has been ransacked by bandits, and less than eight weeks ago she was shot during a botched robbery.

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It is this latest incident which may yet persuade Maud to finally call it a day after almost half-a-century of missionary work, although she says it is too early to decide for sure.

"That's a big question - we don't know what the future holds," she said.

"I just want my wounds to heal up first, and then we'll think about that."

Now back in Cookstown, Maud shows few physical signs of the ordeal which unfolded at her home in Mulita, a remote rainforest village, on January 4.

The terrifying events which left her seriously injured are recalled in vivid detail as she flicks through photographs on her laptop. The graphic images taken by a colleague show the 75-year-old bleeding heavily as medics treat her injuries.

Maud explained how she was lured from her home late at night by bogus reports of a seriously ill woman.

She returned to find bandits outside her home, and was shot in the ensuing struggle.

Her night guard, who was attacked by one of the gang, managed to wrestle free and raised the alarm.

The sound of drum beats reverberating through the still of night alerted colleagues to the drama. Maud was taken to a nearby hospital, where colleagues tended her wounds.

Twelve hours later she was airlifted out of Mulita and spent several weeks receiving treatment at Nyankunde Hospital, arriving home in Tyrone last weekend.

However, her thoughts are still with the people she left behind. A vast country with immense economic resources, the Democratic Republic of Congo has been at the centre of what some have called Africa's world war.

The five-year conflict pitted government forces, supported by Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe, against rebels backed by Uganda and Rwanda.

Despite a peace deal and the formation of a transitional government in 2003, people in the east of the country remain in fear of continuing death, rape or displacement by marauding militias and the army.

Maud said she travelled to Congo after a calling from God. Her first mission was by boat in 1968.

"We used to sail out to the mission field," she explained. "We sailed around the west coast of Africa. It took two weeks from Antwerp.

"When I first went there the buildings were just mud. There were very few brick buildings."

Eventually a hospital was built using brick machines left behind by the Belgians before the country gained independence in the early 1960s.

The facility now includes a maternity unit, surgical ward and an operating theatre.

Over the last 47 years Maud has seen the country's problems at first hand. One incident in 1998, where she was evacuated at the height of the brutal civil war gripping central Africa, was particularly dramatic.

Authorities would not grant permission for a plane to land to evacuate aid workers.

"So the mission decided a plane would come in from Nairobi and evacuate us," she explained. "They told us to put a white sheet on the ground if it was safe to land. We were to be ready to jump on the plane - they wouldn't turn off the engines.

"There were all these rebel supporters around the air strip trying to stop the plane landing by rolling out barrels."

As the plane came in to land, the rebels pulled the sheets away.

Maud was wearing a white coat, which was commandeered to guide the pilots.

"They were about to leave us, and we would have been taken hostage if they'd left," she continued.

Despite the daily hardships, Maud speaks with genuine warmth about the Congolese people. Nor has she any regrets about sacrificing the comforts of home.

"I have no regrets whatsoever - I count it a great honour to be used by God," she said.

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