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Kay's Arctic adventure 29.04.08

"Minus 10 is warm when you're used to minus 50"

KAY MATTHEWS isn't exactly running around
hugging trees in Inishowen but she certainly likes being around them.
That's because the 69-year old lives in the Arctic Circle where there are no trees.
Nursing and midwifery pioneer Kay, whose late mother was from Buncrana, has been living and working among the Inuit (Eskimo) people since 2006.
She was persuaded out of retirement to co-ordinate a mother and baby programme in Canada's Arctic territories because of her vast experience running similar programmes in Newfoundland, Africa and Indonesia.
She's been on holiday in Buncrana for nearly a month, visiting her cousin Kathleen Joyce and other relatives. She says she's enjoying the daylight hours as much as the trees. "We get 18 hours of darkness in Winter which lasts from November to May. June is still cold by Buncrana standards but when you're used to -50 degrees, -10 is relatively warm," she laughs.
Kay, better known locally as Kathleen Kielty, is the daughter of the late May McDaid of the Cottage Bar in Buncrana and her late husband Henry Kielty from Belfast. Kay grew up in Cranagh near Strabane before the family moved to Dartford in Kent where she trained in her teens as a nurse. After meeting and marrying Keith Matthews, the couple moved to Newfoundland, Canada in 1967 for Keith to take up a job as Professor of History at Memorial University in the capital St. John's. Sadly Keith died in 1983 at just 46 and Kay, who had continued studying for a degree in Nursing, was left to support two daughters and two sons on her own. She had been working as a midwife in a local hospital but her husband's death coincided with an offer of full-time teaching at Memorial University. First she had to get her Master's Degree. As part of her Master’s she developed the Infant Breastfeeding Assessment Tool which is still used internationally to determine how well breastfeeding is progressing for mothers and their babies.
Meanwhile, having retired in 2002 after nearly 50 years as a distinguished practitioner and international teacher of midwifery, the indefatigable Kay accepted yet another challenge at the age of 67.
"I thought it would be very interesting to go from a very hot climate like Africa or Indonesia to the other extreme. She is the co-ordinator of the Maternity Care Workers' Programme in Nunavut Territory and has already kick-started the programme in two regions, Rankin Island and Iqualuit. "The project trains Inuit women to become maternity care workers and midwives. I currently have six students, all women aged from 22 to 40. They are really lovely people although I did have to get used to pronouncing their names correctly.
Kay Matthews
One is called Olepeeka but there are some easier names to remember such as Sula and Helu."
While the students sometimes wear their traditional dress of caribou coats and shoes, Kay’s students and Kay herself, are more often seen in big, heavy parka coats with fur-lined hoods. “One of the shopkeepers said to me recently, ‘I don’t recognise people in Spring, when they take their parkas off’,” she said, laughing.
Next college term, Kay moves even further north to teach the same programme in Cambridge Bay. It will be her final year of Arctic life and she will then go home to Newfoundland and “really retire”. "Hopefully, I will have helped the Inuit women to get good careers. Ultimately though, I hope the programme will help improve the health and lives of Inuit mothers and babies.”
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