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Every Child Has a Name

Despite limited resources, one orphanage in Ethiopia cares for every child who crosses its doorstep – or lands in its garden.

text and photographs by Christian Molidor, R.S.M.

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One year ago, I made the first of two visits to the Kidane Mehret Children’s Home in Addis Ababa, one of the many Ethiopian child-care facilities enrolled in CNEWA’s Needy Child Sponsorship Program.

At one time, Kidane Mehret was run by a single nun who continued to work at the orphanage well into her 90’s. One can hardly imagine a 90-year-old nun caring for the children all by herself in a house that should have been demolished some 50 years ago. Poor maintenance and healthcare and rat bites on the unruly children were the norm. The local bishop tried to remove the old sister, but she remained dedicated to the children, refusing to leave until her death.

After the nun’s death, Sister Lutgarda Camilleri of the Franciscan Sisters of the Heart of Jesus was asked if her community would assume responsibility for the orphanage. Sister Lutgarda was told the sisters had two options: “Take care of the children or throw them back on the streets.”

If Kidane Mehret did not exist, chances are many of the children would have been aborted or died from exposure. The Franciscan Sisters receive what the government considers “reject children.”

My first visit to Kidane Mehret was to gain an overview of the orphanage and its children. Besides caring for 90 children, the sisters also provide meals twice a week for more than 150 displaced persons from the surrounding area, mostly women and children. Many of the displaced women reciprocate, working in the kitchen, preparing food and serving.

How do the children come to Kidane Mehret? They are often illegitimate. In Ethiopia, the shame of bearing an illegitimate child remains strong. Many children are just left at the gate of the orphanage. Sister Lutgarda told me about a small, very ill boy who was thrown over the fence into the garden. When the gardener went to work the next morning, his first thought was to scold the children for throwing their clothes in the garden. Then the tiny boy started to cry. He was taken into the orphanage. After much difficulty, Sister Lutgarda received government certification for the boy – without such certification, he cannot be adopted.

I was given a tour of a new building – much of it paid for by CNEWA – which was still under construction. At the rate the sisters are “receiving” children, I commented, there will be even more children in need by the time the building is completed.

“But,” said Sister Lutgarda, “if we don’t start now, what will we do?” I knew she was right. The children need help now.

Kidane Mehret receives little support from the government. In fact, Sister Lutgarda was recently denied government sugar because “there are too many in the orphanage now.” As a result, she was forced to buy sugar on the black market.

The Franciscan Sisters of the Heart of Jesus are currently in dispute with the government; the government wants to classify Kidane Mehret as a nongovernmental organization (NGO), thereby absolving the government from any responsibility for the support of the orphanage.

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Tags: Ethiopia Children Sisters Orphans/Orphanages Funding