An Astonishing Commitment

For Thomas Awiapo, visiting the Missionaries of Charity in Tema, Ghana, brings back memories. The sisters in this Ghanaian port city care for those society tends to forget: mentally or physically disabled children, the poor, the blind, and HIV-positive Ghanaians. Many of the children Thomas saw had been rejected by their parents. Others were orphans.

“Most of those children will have no opportunity to call anybody Mum or Dad,” he says.

Thomas, who grew up in northern Ghana, says not having parents is a void he lives with every day. His parents were so poor, he was left to his own devices to survive. Only the school lunches provided to his village school by CRS saved him. It’s that same basic food — sorghum, vegetable oil, wheat-soy blend — that is saving the lives of those at the Missionaries of Charity. But the children have one advantage that Thomas didn’t — the sisters.

“They take in a lot of children who would have been left to die,” he says. Sometimes the sisters will even go into the streets and rescue abandoned children. The people of Tema turn to them when they have nowhere else to go. “People bring children to their doorstep and leave them there,” Thomas says.

Thomas recounts a story: Recently, a destitute Nigerian gave birth to twins in a hospital in Ghana. She was too poor to pay the bills and had no one to help her. The hospital brought her to the Missionaries of Charity. Now, through care and counseling, the mother and 1-month-old babies are fine, says Thomas.

The Missionaries of Charity in Tema, which CRS has supported since 1993, are known throughout the community as a place of refuge for the most in need. With CRS’ help, they feed more than 300 people.

They clothe, bathe and feed the children. Maybe more importantly, they love them, something the rest of society wouldn’t do. When the children are old enough, the sisters provide them with educational and vocational training.

The sisters, who are from India, made a deep impression on Thomas. “These young sisters, some of them very fluent in English, have all the potential to go for their education. And you see them in bathroom sandals, working with the children.”

Their commitment astonished him.

“These young [sisters] living here are completely giving up their lives to work with these children. I was impressed by their dedication. They’re not totally dependent on the staff. They show the way; they lead by example.”

“What society should have been doing, the Missionaries of Charity is taking care of,” says Thomas.

Lane Hartill is Catholic Relief Services’ regional information officer for West Africa.

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