“We are in the epicenter of a world crisis,” said Sister Barbara Staley, MSC in an interview with The Loquitur.
Three-fourths of HIV and AIDS victims live in sub-Saharan Africa. Thirteen million African children are orphans because of the loss of one or both their parents from AIDS, according to Cabrini Ministries.
Since 1971, The Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus – the Cabrini sisters – have been serving at St. Philip’s Mission in Swaziland, South Africa. Today they provide healthcare to HIV and AIDS patients, care for orphans and vulnerable children, supply the elderly and HIV patients with food and food supplements and provide education and skills training for children in homesteads.
Recently Sister Barbara and Sister Diane Dalle Molle, MSC invited President Antoinette Iadarola and the Vice President for Institutional Advancement and Mission Margaret Fox-Tully to visit the Cabrini sisters and witness their work first hand.
“I came away from the visit with a great deal of respect, admiration and awe for the work that the Sisters do,” Iadarola said.
The Cabrini Sisters along with a staff of 15 look after 141 orphans, nine of whom are HIV positive. Seven of the nine are receiving antiretroviral drugs. “The children have been exposed to great loss and abandoned in a world that most of us cannot even begin to imagine,” Sister Barbara said.
“One of the saddest things was that there was a child talking about losing parents and siblings without much emotion. The children live with so much death it seems so matter-of-fact,” Fox-Tully said.
In the midst of all the loss the children have experienced at such young ages, Fox-Tully describes a peacefulness she felt as she watched the children sing and perform traditional Swazi dances. “It was clear that the children are very well cared for and that if the Sisters were not there the orphan children would have no future.”
Although the children are orphans Sister Barbara strives to keep them connected with extended family and the Swazi culture. The sisters know each child individually and the specific needs of each child. Their goal is to provide a safe environment where the children can be children and don’t have to be preoccupied by the many stresses that are in their lives.
The typical day for the orphans begins when church bells ring at 5:30 a.m. They wake up, dress, have a simple breakfast of porridge and complete their household chores.
They attend school at 8 a.m., which is paid for by the mission. The educational program educates 120 children and gives them the opportunity to continue their education and have a better future.
Lunch consisting of beans and rice with gravy is provided by the government. After school they are tutored, eat dinner, shower, clean laundry and dishes and prepare for bed. The children are distributed medications and multivitamins to treat malnutrition, scabies, worms and chronic conditions such as tuberculosis and kidney disease. Before the lights are turned off the children, led by the staff, engage in prayer.
The Home Based Care program serves approximately 200 people and offers care to those ailing and dying from AIDS, tests for HIV, provides people with the proper treatment and offer transportation to treatment centers. Without the sisters there, many people would not receive life-saving treatments.
“It is something else when you go there and see the needs of people with HIV and AIDS. It is so overwhelming,” Iadarola said.
The scarcity of food can be attributed to the drought that the region has been experiencing for the past 20 years. In response to the problem, Cabrini Ministries has launched an agricultural project that provides water for food and creates income for approximately 200 people and serves the children in the hostel.
In a lack of government to help with the crisis there is aid coming from CARE and from the United States through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief or PEPFAR. Iadarola is looking into ways to support the Cabrini sisters’ mission through partnership. She sees opportunities for Cabrini students to offer educational aid teaching English in Swaziland.
“I hope that we are bringing hope for a future and that we are adding to the quality of life for the people that we serve,” Sister Barbara said.