14 July 2016
In this photo from 2005, Sister Winifred Doherty enjoys lunch with children at Good Shepherd School in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. (photo: Sean Sprague)
For 16 years, Sister Winifred Doherty of the Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd — informally known as the Good Shepherd Sisters — ministered to the poor in Ethiopia.
In 2012, citing dwindling vocations, the congregation suspended its work in the country. But we can’t forget the tremendous good work that Sister Winifred accomplished — work that is, in every sense, heroic.
Much of her ministry was devoted to helping those who had become victims of trafficking:
“While our ministry as Good Shepherd Sisters always had women in prostitution in mind,” says Sister Winifred, “we took a more direct approach in October 1994.
“The distresses of these women are many: poverty, depression, unwanted pregnancy, homelessness, the threat of AIDS, the distress of working on the streets — they face these things every day. But we listen to them and invite them into friendship.
“A novice and I used to venture out two nights a week to meet these women,” she continues. “I remember those nights when we walked the roads beside our house. There was some initial nervousness, but soon these feelings disappeared.
“I recall one woman who was out on the road only two nights after giving birth by Caesarean section. Immediately we drove this woman to her house outside the city where her little baby lay alone. The woman had no money for food, the rent was due and there were no social services available! Ongoing support for this woman meant teaching her rudimentary baby care, buying milk for the baby and providing financial support when she or the baby got sick or the rent was due. We were ready to help.
“My direct street ministry with these women only lasted seven months, but the friendships have continued. Today these women are involved in various training programs and income-generating activities such as card-making, cosmetology, catering, bamboo crafts, weaving and others.”
In 2012, as she embarked on a new chapter in her life, she looked back with fondness at her time in Ethiopia, and her congregation’s efforts to bring dignity to the poor and marginalized:
The work of the Good Shepherd congregation is about compassion and reconciliation. It is identifying and wanting to be close to and in solidarity with people who have been excluded — especially women and girls — and the most excluded groups are people living in poverty, women who have been forced into prostitution and, today, women and girls, boys and men, who have been trafficked. So I am energized by the work that we do. …
The one thing that always stood out for me was the spirit of the people, their sense of hope in the midst of desperate situations. I often think of them. Even when I was there, I remarked on their richness of spirit. Despite dire circumstances — horrible poverty and often threatening environments — they continue to give freely, share rich relationships with one another and seek to live in peace. That always impressed me and, of course, that was informed by their faith in God and their great prayer lives.
You can view a video interview with Sister Winifred below.
Tags: Ethiopia Sisters human trafficking