As children, most of us can remember clinging to the hand of our parent or guardian. We remember the warmth of their hugs and goodnight kisses. We vividly recall the sound of their voice, murmuring those precious words “I love you” as we drifted off to sleep.
However, many children face a much different reality.
In Africa, children wind up orphaned due to illness, war or financial struggles. The children feel abandoned and without hope. They are cold without the warmth of a parent’s or guardian’s or hug. They feel lost not hearing the words, “I love you.”
There are approximately 52 million orphans in Africa alone, making up more than 30% of the global orphan population. Children face profound suffering when their parents become sick and die. They face a myriad of issues, like psychosocial distress, economic hardship, withdrawal from school, malnutrition and illness.
Nuns vocation to serve orphaned and vulnerable children
However, African Sisters graduating from ASEC’s Sisters Leadership Development Initiative (SLDI) and Higher Education for Sisters in Africa (HESA) programs are working to change this reality. Through the hands of these nuns, ASEC aims to eliminate extreme poverty in sub-Saharan Africa. ASEC tailors its programs exactly to the training and support nuns need to minister to the poor. Because of this, thousands of Africans, including orphaned children, benefit from the education of nuns who care for them.
Mgolole Orphanage, Tanzania
In Morogoro, Tanzania, the Immaculate Heart of Mary (CICM) Sisters care for over 100 orphans at Mgolole Orphanage, one of the oldest centers in the area. Any one of the orphans would tell you without hesitation that a religious Sister has touched their lives. But perhaps the biggest impact is on the Sisters’ themselves.
HESA alumna Sr. Efrosina Mbiki, CICM, is a secondary school teacher who often assists at the orphanage. She admits that caring for the orphans is difficult, but well worth the challenge.
“The experience of looking after the orphans teaches me to be absolutely surrender myself for the purpose of rescuing life with love and care for the innocent children.” -Sr. Efrosina
“The beautiful angels that live in the orphanage all seem to have a medical issues of some sort and many ended up getting sick [with malaria] before we left. ...I hope to do all that I can to assist the orphanage, whether through monetary donations or supplies. ...I have no doubt that I left my heart at that orphanage.” -Emily Schweiger
Emily graciously shared with us her poetry about her Service Learning trip to Africa. Here’s an excerpt from her poem, Orphans of God, about the children at Mgolole Orphanage.
This orphanage in Tanzania
Is one of my favorite places to be;
Though the conditions are sad,
There is much more to see.
You do not know true joy
Until you have seen a child smile,
Especially one that appears very sad,
And hasn’t been loved in a while.
...We must always remember
That no one is ever alone;
Orphans are children of God
And His loving comfort will be shown.
As the hands and feet of the Lord,
We must do what we can do
To spread His love to these children,
And help them make it through.
Excerpt from Orphans of God by Emily Schweiger
Help and Hope for Orphaned Boys in Kenya
Experts estimate that there are 250-300,000 children living and working on the streets of Kenya, with over 60,000 on the streets of Nairobi. The majority are male, urban migrants (ages 6-15) coming from single family homes with very little education and no source of income. These boys are branded locally as chokora, meaning, scavengers. Some of the boys are abandoned and others are orphaned due to war or illness. They survive by eating garbage, working small jobs and through petty crime. Sexual exploitation of street children is also common.
Because there’s such a serious problem with street boys in particular, several of our ASEC alumna dedicate their lives to help and hope to these young boys.
Ukweli Home of Hope, Kenya
As Director of the Ukweli Home of Hope, Sr. Catherine Wanza, LSOSF is responsible for shepherding nearly 200 orphaned boys through Ukweli Home towards an education and an independent life. The Home, located in northern Nairobi, cares for about 35 boys at a time. The Home runs via donations and the income generated from a large garden that the boys plant and harvest themselves. Much of her knowledge she gained through the mentorship of Sr. Anisia Kitaka, LSOSF, who is an alumna of ASEC’s SLDI and HESA programs. When asked about her dedication to gender equality by Global Sisters Report (GSC), Sr. Catherine simply stated,
"Many people are taking care of girls, and we felt the boys were lost." -Sr. Catherine
Kwetu Home of Peace, Kenya
Sr. Felistas Chematia Chesire, ASE told us a similar story about her boys at Kwetu Home. Three times a year, she combs the slums of Nairobi, rescuing homeless boys from a difficult life dictated by gangs and drug/alcohol addiction. The 250 street boys of Kwetu Home of Peace get medical care and drug rehabilitation. Then, Sr. Felistas gives them the opportunity to attend school and turn their lives around.
“We take them to school. We change their lives. They become good people and good citizens of the country.” -Sr. Felistas
While many of the street boys are able to break the drug and alcohol addiction, Sr. Felistas still struggles with the fact that about 65% of them end up back on the street. But, she doesn’t give up hope. She’s using the lessons on resource mobilization and income generation from ASEC programs to fund Kwetu Home. Some of her efforts include a health dispensary, a farm and regularly seeking support and engagement from her local community.
Comfort and Care for HIV Positive Orphans
Approximately 32% of orphans in are in their current situation because one or both parents have died due to complications from the AIDS virus. Many of these children suffer from the virus as well. AIDS continues to be a major epidemic in Africa, and the number of those affected continues to rise.
In fact, four out of five children orphaned by HIV/AIDS worldwide live in sub-Saharan Africa. That’s why many nuns graduating from ASEC programs are using their education and skills to improve the lives of vulnerable children infected or affected by HIV/AIDS.
Cottolengo Centre for Orphaned HIV Positive Children, Kenya
In Nairobi, Kenya, the Cottolengo Centre for orphaned HIV positive children hosts about 85 orphans. The children, ranging in age from newborns to their early twenties, are subdivided into seven family groups. Cottolengo Centre provides holistic care for these orphans so as to restore their human dignity and stabilize their health.
An alumna of ASEC’s SLDI and HESA programs, Sr. Margaret Kaleli, SSJBC, has been serving at the centre on and off since 1995. Sr. Margaret told ASEC staff that with proper nutrition and health care, the condition of many of their infants improve. In fact, about 85% of their infant orphans create their own immunity to HIV and turn zero-negative.
When asked her about the skills she’s gained in ASEC’s programs, she emphasized the importance of education in effectively serving the orphans. Even simple things preparing programs for the children was incredibly stressful. Now that she’s gained technology skills, this has become second nature. She says,
“...we learnt how to work with computer and it is helping because sometimes I need to prepare some programs for the children and I can use the computer, I can print my work.” -Sr. Maragaret
The administration skills she learned have also been extremely helpful for Sr. Maragaret.
“...Especially in the side of management, you find you have got new skills of organizing arranging your work and even delivering your work. ...Especially human resources, you find that if you can arrange [the children’s records] better you can meet their needs better; you can understand them better.” -Sr. Maragaret
HIV/AIDS Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC) Project, Uganda
Sr. Margaret is not the only alumnae that holds a special place in her heart for orphans struggling with HIV/AIDS diagnoses.
In Uganda, Sr. Lilian Baitwakakye, OLGC serves as the Director of the HIV/AIDS Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC) Project. She also founded the OVC, which focuses on providing educational opportunities to orphaned children with HIV/AIDS.
Sr. Lilian and her staff of nearly 300 caretakers use an integrated approach to HIV/AIDS that includes prevention, care, counseling and psychosocial support for the orphans. The goal is to provide these vulnerable children with access to formal education. The OVC also supports them in acquiring vocational and business skills so they can become self-reliant.
Sr. Lilian has been able to raise grant funding to cover school tuition for many of the orphans. Since 1994, the OVC has provided support to over 700 orphans. Sr. Lilian also organizes educational workshops for the childrens’ caretakers in order to improve service to the children.
Nyumbani Village Orphanage, Kenya
In Kitui County, Kenya, the desert-like climate leaves the majority families living below the poverty line. Lack of water and poor soil make it difficult to provide adequate food for their families. The result is many impoverished and orphaned children in desperate need of help.
Nyumbani Village Orphanage was originally founded to care for children turned away from other orphanages due to their HIV positive status. Nyumbani Village is unlike other orphanages because children live in the Village with a grandparent who acts as their guardian.
As a trained social worker through ASEC’s HESA program, Sr. Faith Kamau, OSU supervises the Village staff, visits with families and takes on new orphan rescue cases. She says,
“Working in an orphanage and vulnerable children organization is [a challenging] and fragile place to be. Being a Religious Sister am called to serve people regardless of status and even age gap.”
But, her education is helping Sr. Faith to navigate the difficult situations she sees every day.
“...With the knowledge I received while studying at The Catholic University of Eastern Africa [I] am able to learn different needs of these children and handle cases differently. I have also learn from them children techniques of handling them due their character and needs.”
There are over 100 homes supervised by six social workers in the village. Nyumbani now serves more than 4,000 children every year.
Across Africa, it’s often that a nun’s hand is the one that an orphaned child clings to. Nuns are providing the warmth of hugs and the love of goodnight kisses. Because of their dedication to serving the poor and vulnerable, many orphans have a soft, safe place to rest their heads at night. They have hope for a brighter future. They have a chance to break the cycle of poverty that they endure by no fault of their own.
But without an education, many nuns in Africa are placed in service positions that they are not qualified for. It’s difficult to manage records, mobilize resources and keep an orphanage running without proper skills and training. But, because of generous donors like you, ASEC is providing tailored training for nuns so that they can gain the skills needed to effectively help poor and vulnerable children who have lost their parents.