Children Helping Special Children

In many places in the missions, when a child is born with a physical disability it can be the beginning of a hopeless existence. Depending on the education level of the child's parents, quite often a physical problem is assumed to mean a mental challenge as well. The child may be loved but left out on the fringes of the family. In the life of subsistence farmers, someone who cannot work to help raise the family's food, even at a young age, can be viewed as a burden. Families often choose to spend what little money they have on things other than education for such a child, thinking that the funds would be wasted.

Imagine the blessings that the Sisters of St. John the Baptist and the Cheshire Home bring to the Diocese of Chipata, Zambia with support from the Missionary Childhood Association (MCA). These Sisters go to the distant villages, seeking out children born with club feet and missing or malformed limbs. Once found, the Sisters reach out to the parents and help them to understand that these children of God have value and can be medically helped.

Once parental trust is gained, the child is moved to the Home in Chipata where they are evaluated physically and mentally. They attend school, some for the first time, and can catch up to their peers. When the child is deemed strong enough, they make the long trip to Lusaka where they receive whatever surgical intervention has been deemed necessary -- straightening of legs, rebuilding of bone structures, or receiving prosthetic limbs, like the little girl pictured here.

Post surgery, children are returned to Chipata for lengthy physical rehabilitation, all the while continuing their schooling.

The Sisters know that their work is only beginning when a child leaves Cheshire Home and returns to their family. A system of follow up home visits by the Sisters is necessary to track the child's progress. Is the family following through with the physical exercise program necessary for full healing? Is the child attending school regularly? Are educational programs needed for the village to understand that disability does not mean inability?

Because children in our Catholic schools and parish Faith Formation programs pray, sacrifice, and fill their MCA Mite Boxes, the Sisters make sure that the answer to each of those questions is a positive one.

This weekend, the parishioners of Saint Oscar Romero Parish, Canton will learn more about Chipata and have an opportunity to prayerfully support all the ministries present in that diocese.

- Maureen Crowley Heil is Director of Programs and Development for the Pontifical Mission Societies, Boston.