Message modified by board administrator 7/8/2008, 1:38 pm
Zimbabwe holds a sad record: one child in every four is now an orphan - mostly as a result of Aids. Zimbabwe has 2 million orphans and every four minutes another child is added to this list, as a result of the death either of their mother or father. Over 100,000 of them have no adult relative caring for them. Usually the older children care for their smaller brothers and sisters and look after the family all alone, with all the cares and burdens that this entails.
The more fortunate among these orphans have at least a grandmother who can care for them. Many a grandmother has in this way become a silent heroine in this country ravaged by poverty, hunger and sickness. Many of the children are too young to properly remember their parents, but still old enough to be conscious of their loss. Hence they not only need the love, care and security that their grandmother can give them but can also find in her someone who can tell them about their parents and answer their questions.
(Archdiocese of Bulawayo, a group of children in front of Burombo Hostel, where displaced people are accommodated. Many children are abused in this house as the conditions are appalling and
not secure for the young children)
One such hidden heroine is Barbara Makalisa. Her own five children have already all died; now she is caring for over 30 grandchildren. But despite this heavy burden, the smile scarcely ever leaves her face and she is never heard to complain. She says, "God has given me my children and has taken them back to himself. But since He has given me enough strength, I can now care for others instead." And indeed she even finds the strength to care for people who do not belong to her family. Nobody leaves her without also having been helped by her, and within the parish they can likewise count upon her silent but steady support. Father Martin Schupp, the apostolic administrator for the Archdiocese of Bulawayo, knows Mrs Makalisa and many other women just like her. He says, "These people grow to a new stature. Their Faith, their personal encounter with Christ is what gives them this strength. Such people can be an example for us." Another priest adds, "The nation should give the highest honour to these grandparents who have opened up their houses unhesitatingly to the children."
Even in wealthier countries it is far from easy to feed a large number of children. But in Zimbabwe, where the shelves in the local shops have been empty for months, it is a heart-stopping undertaking that demands great trust in God. Even in the better provided supermarkets there is nothing left but a handful of dried caterpillars and -- at astronomical prices -- Coca-Cola for the few who can afford such a luxury. In the other shops there is absolutely nothing. Milk powder is unaffordable for most people, and as for fresh milk and bread, these have long since ceased to be available. The average wage is now around three US dollars a month - for those who who can find work - and unemployment now stands at around 80%. Galloping inflation of 100,000% and an HIV/AIDS rate of 30% only add to the misery.
The Catholic Church is doing her best to support people, for example by caring for little Violetta. This little girl is just three years old; she still has her mother, but the young woman is HIV positive, just like her little daughter. While her mother had to spend the whole day trying to sell the few vegetables she is able to grow in her garden, in order to survive, little Violetta was left for a long time with no one to care for her. But a little girl like her, left unattended, can easily fall in victim to sexual abuse and other dangers. So now she spends the day in a Church-run kindergarten and her mother need no longer worry about her child.
(To the left is Violleta Bengesi, she is 3 years old and HIV positive. She lives in a hostel, sharing one room with two families)
The Church is also caring for those orphans who have no relatives left to care for them and for children who are unwanted by their own families. Many children do still have living relatives, but it is by no means uncommon, after the death of their parents, for uncles or aunts to take away from them the last few things they possess. Here the Church stands up for justice and protects the orphans from exploitation, by engaging lawyers to secure for the children what they have inherited from their parents until they reach their majority, so that no one can take it away from them.
The carers who are giving these children a new home nonetheless face the same challenges as everybody else in Zimbabwe, and hence they too are silent heroines -- just like the priests, religious and catechists who, despite all the difficulties, again and again make Christ tangibly present in the lives of the people.
The Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) is helping the Catholic Church in Zimbabwe in her pastoral and charitable apostolate, so that all these "hidden heroes" in the country can be equipped, not simply with their own love, but also with the necessary material means in order to be able to help others to survive physically and spiritually. For a short time Zimbabwe was the focus of world attention, but now that the cameras have disappeared and the media have turned their attention to other issues, it is these silent and hidden heroes and heroines who are providing the hope that this country can one day have a better future.
For more information or to help this cause please contact the Sydney office of ACN on (02) 9679-1929. e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or write to Aid to the Church in Need PO Box 6245 Blacktown DC NSW 2148. Web:www.aidtochurch.org
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