Friday, July 25, 2008

Portrait #38: A true sister

There's a convent here with just a handful of nuns here busy saving the world, one person at a time. They try to keep a low profile, so I won't say too much about them, but I thought I'd give you a rough quote of what one of them told us when we met her a few days ago.

The centre we run is little more than a house that our church bought several years ago. There were a couple of dozen Christian families in that neighbourhood and so the house was converted into a church where people could come to pray and then leave again. We did religious classes there for the children, but that was it. Then the refugees came. Before long we had a few hundred children wanting to come to our classes. We got permission from the church to use the downstairs room of the house, which is the church, for doing activities with the children and families. We offer social, medical and educational services as much as we can.

The number of people who come to our centre varies a great deal. Sometimes it's a few dozen families a week and other times it's hundreds. When the official service providers stop providing services, that is when many more people come to us. Often big donors will provide resources to the official service providers for six months of food distribution or something like that, but after the six months, the people come to us.

We have known many of these families for many years now. But in the last few years, we have seen the people change. They used to come for activities, for company, maybe for food or material help. Now they come to us completely broken. We have seen the change over the years. Many of them now are so poor that they are emotionally unstable for trying to deal with their poverty. Others are coming from war where they have seen awful, awful things.

We're only a few nuns and a team of volunteers. We do what we can, but the children are never satisfied. They would like activities all day every day, but we can't take on any more. We have counsellors on our volunteer team, and people come in for counselling every day. We have some professionals who work with us, and because we have built a relationship with them over the years, many of us talk with them, too. This kind of work requires long-term investment in relationships. People now come to us from all over the city, but we can't open any new centres, we don't have resources enough.

We are focusing also on the needs of the handicapped and of abandoned children. There are so many children who are here alone, without anyone who cares about them. There is one girl we know who came here with her father. It was just the two of them. When her father died, there was no one to look after her and no one to help her take care of her father's remains either. Another big problem is medical needs, especially cancer treatment. One woman we know has cancer and she has four children. She is dying and can't get treatment, so she has begged me to take her children from her because if she dies and they are still with her, they will be left with no one. Our focus is on the needs of children, youth and women in need. We want to help all of these, from anywhere, and of any religion.

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