“When she first came to Africa, in 1969, she looked like a girl, much younger than 23. Annalena went to Kenya to teach English to children at Thomsfall, where the Consolata Fathers had several schools. She came with two other volunteers who like Annalena were from Forlì. All three were enthusiastic about this missionary experience and enthusiasm was what they communicated to everyone they met. They made you want to drop everything and join them ”.
Consolata Sister Orietta Pino recalls her first meeting with Annalena Tonelli at Maralal mission in the area of the Samburu tribes where the Sisters had a school and a home for 164 girls for whom they provided everything from clothes to books.
In later years Annalena often returned to visit the Sisters at the Consolata missions. But in the meantime she realised that her mission was to serve nomads suffering from tuberculosis. So, with her degree in law she started studying medicine specialising in Italy in tropical diseases and then returned to Africa.
“Annalena was a woman of a strong character, cheerful, never tired” Sister Orietta recalls. “She had a strong spirit of sacrifice which led her to share the poverty of the brothers and sisters to whom she devoted all her energy. She always slept on a mat on the floor, although there was a bed in her room because her spirit of sacrifice was as big as her great heart”.
Consolata Sister Floriana Lano who worked in Mogadishu from 1970 to 1991 has vivid memories of Annalena as a mature woman totally dedicated to the people of Somalia. “She often came to join us for a retreat and she would tell us about her work at Wajir hospital, where she was responsible for the World Health Organisation programme. It was there that she was attacked and beaten and taken to hospital. When we went to visit Annalena to see how she was, it was she who encouraged us. A fearless women who would never give in the blackmail, she was determined to resume her work as soon as she recovered. She was totally absorbed by her work and her energy seemed inexhaustible. As a lay woman Annalena was an example of dedication for us Religious Sisters”. (M.F.D’A) (Agenzia Fides 20/3/2004 - Righe 27; Parole 408)