1 December 2016
Sister Lutgarda Camilleri cares for children who have been abandoned or even discarded
in Ethiopia. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)
For decades, Sister Lutgarda Camilleri, F.C.J. has been a tireless and devoted caretaker for children in Ethiopia — a true hero who has provided encouragement and love for those most in need at the Kidane Mehret Children’s Home in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
When Sister Christian Molidor visited the home in 2001, she described the daunting task facing the sister when she first took over the home:
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.”
Besides caring for the 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.
Over a decade later, the home is still providing sanctuary — and hope. And Sister Lutgarda is continuing her mission. In 2013, journalist Don Duncan interviewed her for ONE:
ONE: How many children does the orphanage house currently?
SL: At the moment, we have the lowest number ever: 80. The government policy has changed. All abandoned children must go to government orphanages now, and no longer come directly to us. I think the policy change is due to child trafficking.
The government in Addis Ababa gives the older children to us, especially if they are sick. They come to the sisters because no one else wants them. It is not easy. Many of the older orphans have contracted H.I.V.
ONE: Is H.I.V. — the virus that causes AIDS — an issue for many of your children?
SL: The majority of our children lost their parents to AIDS-related infections. Some were lucky enough not to contract the virus themselves, but others were not so lucky.
Every month, the H.I.V.-positive children get a checkup. It is a government requirement. They have a blood count and according to their count they are prescribed medicine. Some do not have to take medicine yet, but they still have to go for the checkup. We have others that are full blown and are on full medication.
Here at the orphanage, I do not think the children lack anything that most children have, except one very important thing: family. We tell them that we are a big family, but we cannot give them the same individual attention that a mother and a father can give. We try to love them. We try to educate them. We care for them — but as you can see, there are many of them and few of us.
...I know the situation around us is not easy, but God is always helping us in other ways.
Surely, the world needs more heroes like Sister Lutgarda. CNEWA is proud to be supporting her in her mission. Visit this link to learn how you can support her, too.