Twenty years after her murder, Tonelli’s work in Wajir County has not been forgotten and her memory is as present as ever
Annalena Tonelli (1943-2003) was an Italian lay missionary who lived for more than 30 years in Africa. She always resided in areas inhabited by Somali Muslim populations, first in Kenya, then in Somalia and finally in Somaliland, where she was killed on October 5, 2003. She was a free and independent woman of great intelligence and faith, and she left an indelible mark on the places she went and especially on the people she met.
This is still particularly visible today in Wajir, in eastern Kenya. It’s a region that’s still very poor, in addition to suffering the effects of a very long drought and being made unsafe by Somali Al Shabaab terrorists.
Annalena arrived here in 1969 and remained until 1985 when she was expelled for exposing the Wagalla massacre by the army.
Many local people remember her and benefited from her help in order to be able to study or be treated, particularly for tuberculosis – about which she had become one of the world’s foremost experts – or for various forms of disability, that still have social stigma attached to them.
Her home, the rehabilitation centre, the TB centre, the school for the deaf, the hermitage, but most of all her “sons” and “daughters,” whom she looked after and helped to study, and the many people who remember this dynamic woman who was totally dedicated to the poorest and most abandoned: all this is testimony to the fact that in Wajir
Annalena is not just a memory: she is a living memory.