24 October 2018
St. Barbara Mother and Child Care Center provides a safe haven for women facing domestic violence and homelessness. (photo: Molly Corso)
In the current edition of ONE magazine, photojournalist Molly Corso reports on a center in Georgia helping at-risk mothers and their children. Here are some additional reflections on her visit.
I arrived at Caritas Georgia’s St. Barbara Mother and Child Care Center in Tbilisi early one Saturday, curious to see how the five women and seven children living there would spend the weekend.
I don’t really know what I was expecting, but the scene before me in the kitchen was not unusual: a mother balancing her baby on her hip as she went about the business of making breakfast, one hand securely around her child, the other stirring a pot or warming a bottle.
It is a balancing act played out every morning in thousands of kitchens around Georgia, and likely around the world: One eye on the child, one eye on the pot.
That image of the mother balancing her duties and her child stayed with me — in part, because the center itself is a bit of an extension of the country’s own attempts to find a balance.
Georgia is actively seeking to balance he resources of a poor state and the needs of its population. Even more so, it is attempting to find balance between its strong traditions and the painful truths of the modern world.
Everywhere in Georgia today you feel it. It is visible in the tug-of-war between honoring the past and working toward the future; it is palpable in the political debate over how far the government can, or should, go to protect minority rights — or care for women locked in abusive relationships.
Over the past several years, the veils of family honor and shame that traditionally masked domestic abuse have begun to slip. Horrific cases of murder and violence have forced the issue, once hidden, into the spotlight of media attention and political debate.
The good news is that the attention has brought results. The bad news is, as always, that attention to the issue has also underscored its scope: how widespread domestic abuse and violence against women really is in the country — and how hard it is to stop.
All this has forced the government into its own balancing act in terms of whom to help and how much to help them.
For the five mothers living at Caritas Georgia’s St. Barbara Mother and Child Care Center in Tbilisi, how well the government managed that balance had become an issue of immediate importance.
In the women’s own lives, the act of balancing their needs and those of their children had become an everyday process of weighing decisions and consequences that had life or death repercussions.
To remain at home or keep their child? To stay with an abusive partner or seek an uncertain future? To risk a new life alone, or remain locked in a cycle of violence?
For the women and children living at the Caritas center, at least, the act of balancing life and child has gotten much easier.
For one year, those living there are safely buffered from many of the problems that had plagued them. Caritas, in partnership with government programs, provides material care and psychological help for the women and children under their protection. It helps them use the law to defend themselves from abusive partners, find free childcare, get an education for a future job and last, but certainly not least, begin the process of unraveling the years of abuse and shame.
The women are different ages, come from different backgrounds and have different stories. But each shares one common truth: the St. Barbara Mother and Child Care Center is a last resort of sorts, a temporary safe haven to take stock of their lives and attempt to start again, to create a future — still balancing their roles as mother and caregiver but standing on firmer ground.
But at the end of the year, it is time for the women to take another step onto the high wire, balancing their children on one hip and the weight of their responsibilities on the other.
Not all of them make it, but the ones who do — those who have either found peace and security with families ready to accept them (and their children) or have committed to the hard work of surviving as a single parent — are able to because of the year gifted to them by Caritas Georgia.
That time offers a short step back to safe ground to regroup, readjust, and plot a path ahead.
Read Molly Corso’s story about Confronting Abuse of Women in Georgia in the September 2018 edition of ONE.
17 October 2018
Students gather outside Sacred Heart Balanagar Hostel for Boys, near Cochin.
(photo: Meenakshi Soman)
In the current edition of ONE magazine, Anubha George writes of how the church is continuing to care for children in India, despite some significant changes in the country. She offers some additional impressions of those she met below.
I still think about my visits to orphanages in Kerala. It was about a month ago that the photographer and I set on our journey to see how a change in Indian law has affected Christian institutions that have taken in children who have either lost both parents or are from single parent families. This new law, the Juvenile Justice Act 2015 has brought big changes in how orphanages in India are run. It wants institutions to have a lot more staff than they previously had, and there is a restriction on foreign aid, among other things.
We chose three orphanages to visit. Well, we shouldn’t call them “orphanages” any more. All three places have had to change their status. They are now boarding places or hostels for boys and girls. Kerala has a big number of places that helped look after children. They are all pretty much missionary-run, and mostly Christian. I understand the concerns of the Indian government: there have been reports of child trafficking in India. Children have gone missing without a trace.
But what we saw were stories of success. Girls and boys who wouldn’t have otherwise stood a chance in life have gone on to do good for the society. Some have become nurses. I remember meeting this group of girls, their faces happy and shiny, singing for us. They all came from families that are broken—where the parents aren’t together, where the mother or father has left to set up another family. Their parents are daily wage workers; no one has steady income. Where they live, the houses are so close together that it’s all considered one big place to live— where men from neighboring houses come and go as they please. Abuse of girls is common. Safety is the biggest concern. It is in this context that these institutions are a necessity.
I remember in particular the story of one girl. She was three when her father attacked her mother, as the little girl stood watching. Her mother had, perhaps, been unfaithful. Her father then butchered the body into pieces and tried to burn it. The neighbors reported him to the police and he was arrested. But the girl, who is now seven years old, remembers it all. The headmistress of the nursery she used to attend brought her to an orphanage. Here, she at least has some kind of normal life. A life of routine and love; of prayer and belief; of safety and security, where she doesn’t have to wonder where the next meal will come from or when is the next time she will have a bath.
Then there was a boy, Abin. His parents have left him and his older brother in Kerala while they live in Delhi, hundreds of miles away. Actually, we never quite figured out what his parents do. I don’t think he knows why he is there at all. All he remembers is a promise: that he will go back to be with mom and dad when Christmas comes. When that Christmas will come, no one knows.
But for now, at least, he has other boys, who play and smile with him, to be there every Christmas until then.
Read more in ‘Our Doors Are Open’ in the September 2018 edition of ONE.
17 July 2018
Tags: India ONE magazine Orphans/Orphanages
The Emili Aregak Center provides personalized support and resources for young people with disabilities in and near Gyumri. (photo: Nazik Armenakyan)
In the current edition of ONE, Gayane Abrahamyan takes readers on a journey to A Source of Light, the Emili Aregak Center in Armenia, which helps children with disabilities. Here, she reflects on some of the political upheaval facing the country during her visit.
This is Gyumri: the second city of Armenia, with still-visible traces of the earthquake 30 years ago — temporary metal huts, homeless people and around 40 percent living in poverty. It is difficult to go there; the stories are mostly sad, with the main cause of problems being the earthquake itself.
This time, however, the atmosphere was different.
I arrived in Gyumri on 6 May, just ahead of elections that would see the people’s candidate, Nicole Pashinyan, become Prime Minister. This was the first and most explicit victory of the people in the 26-year post-Soviet history of the independent Armenia.
It was a hard struggle for the people. In recent days, there had been massive protests, with more than one thousand people detained by police. The country was facing a time of challenge and change.
Against this backdrop, I found myself heading for one of the brightest spots in Gyumri: the Emili Aregak Center, established by Caritas Armenia, with support from CNEWA, to help care for kids with disabilities.
This day, before the coordinators of the center received me, I toured the building. Pashinyan had been to Gyumri a few days earlier, so everyone was talking about the election and the hopes for a revived Armenia. Shortly after I arrived, a boy slowly walked up to me with a scrutinizing look, and as he accompanied me into the room he asked if I have seen Nicole Pashinyan. Without even waiting for my response, he said, ”I attended the demonstration. I saw ... it was raining, I stood there for four hours.” Michael, a young man with Down syndrome, looked into my eyes and cried. I hugged him.
Nearby, 18-year old Edward, one of the ”old timers” of the center, was sitting by the table. He offered me cookies. He has infantile cerebral palsy. He kept on distracting me, making all efforts to talk in a way understandable to me. He said, “You know, his mom helps him a lot, my mom, my dad also help me a lot, but there are kids whose parents have abandoned them and sent to orphanage, because they are sick. It is difficult for them, but we are lucky.”
His enthusiasm is infectious.
At the center, these young people have a sense of hope, a feeling of independence and possibility.
Those are sentiments, I think, shared these days by many in Armenia.
Read more about her visit to Gyumri in the June 2018 edition of ONE.
And watch a video about the center below.
18 February 2015
Best friends Mariam and Demiana share a happy moment at the Good Samaritan Orphanage. (photo: Amal Morcos)
In the winter edition of ONE magazine, contributor Amal Morcos visits two child care institutions in Egypt helping vulnerable children. She offers some additional perspectives below.
Egyptians love to refer to their country as the “mother of the world.” But, if you are an Egyptian Christian orphan longing for the love of a parent, a combination of Islamic tradition, an unclear law and even international politics will make your chances of being legally adopted practically nil.
The Egyptian constitution — which states that it is “inspired” by Islamic religious law, known as Sharia — actually bans adoption.
Why Islam forbids adoption is not clear. Some believe it is in order to maintain a clear bloodline and to ensure rightful inheritance. Others believe it to be a reaction to Muhammad’s marriage to the former wife of his adopted son, which was a source of scandal in the community.
According to Atonement Friar Elias Mallon of CNEWA, “Islamic law sees three types of orphans: the fatherless (such as Muhammad), who ceases to be an orphan at puberty; the motherless; and the abandoned. “The first one is the one that gets the most attention. There is a great deal of material in the Quran harshly condemning oppressing or cheating the orphan. However, Islamic law is very complicated concerning who inherits what and whom one can marry or not marry. It is precisely here that it gets convoluted. “There is a type of acceptance of the orphan called kafalah, but this has nothing to do with what Western law considers adoption.
“In a traditional society with extended families this was not a problem since children were taken in. In a modern or at least urbanized society this is causing some problems. It has also come up before the European Court of Human Rights. There is also an inner discussion going on about adoption.”
But does Egypt’s law extend to Christians? This is where things get really murky. Those who support legal adoption in Egypt say the law does not explicitly prevent Christians from adopting. Adoptions by Christians do take place, arranged mostly by the churches. Some government officials are aware of this practice and turn a blind eye. Those who don’t fear Christians will adopt Muslims in order to raise them as Christians.
The legal stakes have been raised since two American couples were convicted by an Egyptian court in 2008 of trying to adopt children from a Christian orphanage and remove them from the country. Some observers believed Egypt’s government at the time, under Hosni Mubarak, staged the trial to show that Egypt was cracking down on human trafficking. (The U.S. government had criticized Egypt for not doing enough to prevent African migrants from trafficking into Israel.)
Since the revolution that toppled Mubarak in 2011, Egypt has had two governments. The president who was elected after Mubarak, Muhammad Morsi, led the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s leading Islamist party. He tried to pass a constitution that critics said “further disenfranchised” non-Muslims — especially Christians. After the military toppled Morsi in July 2013, Egyptian Muslims and Christians overwhelmingly endorsed a revised constitution in a referendum in January 2014. While the new constitution prohibits political parties to be affiliated with religions or religious movements, and grants greater freedom of expression, it remains to be seen whether the current government will move to improve the status of Egypt’s Christians, including her orphans.
Read more in Egypt’s Good Samaritans in the winter edition of ONE.
6 September 2012
Tags: Egypt Christian-Muslim relations Islam Orphans/Orphanages Christian
The Boghossian Education Complex and Youth Development Center in Gyumri, Armenia, offer dance classes for orphaned youth. (photo: Nazik Armenakyan)
In the March 2011 issue of ONE we wrote about a center for orphaned youth in Armenia, run by the Armenian Sisters of the Immaculate Conception:
“There are many of us here, but we are all alone in this world,” says Irina, an orphaned 19–year–old now living at a boarding vocational school in Gyumri, Armenia’s second–largest city.
If not for this Youth Development Center, operated by the Armenian Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, Irina might have found herself homeless a second time in her short life. As is the case for orphans in Armenia fortunate enough to have found shelter in an orphanage, Irina was expected to leave — whether or not she had a place to live — at the age of 18.
Irina was not always an orphan. Until the age of 16, she lived with her mother and attended public school. But when her mother died after a short illness, Irina’s world fell apart. Without any family or friends to turn to, the terrified adolescent wandered the streets before authorities finally placed her in an orphanage.
For more, read From Isolation to Opportunity.
20 August 2012
Tags: Sisters Armenia Orphans/Orphanages Eastern Europe Armenian Sisters of the Immaculate Conception
A resident of the Divine House in Zahle, Lebanon, takes a break from playtime.
(photo: Gabriel Delmonaco)
CNEWA has been helping children in Lebanon for many years, primarily through our needy child sponsorship program. During his pastoral visit to Lebanon last winter, Msgr. John Kozar met some children who have benefited from CNEWA’s support at the Blessed Sacrament Orphanage:
We were warmly greeted by the present superior, Mother Francoise Doueihy, and a number of the other sisters. As we tried to meet everyone present, the grand entrance into the hall filled with singing, smiling and happy girls between the ages of 5 and 16. They welcomed us with some songs and dances, dressed patriotically in the colors of Lebanon: red, white and green, especially green, representing the famous cedars of Lebanon.
What a loving and lovable group of young ladies. I shared with them that the children of North America sent them their love and their prayers and they offered the same to all of our children back home. We had some real fun taking photos with all of them. Their radiant faces truly expressed the presence of Jesus on their faces and in their hearts. What a wonderful visit.
Interested in sponsoring a child? Visit our website for more information.
22 June 2012
Tags: Lebanon Children Education Orphans/Orphanages
In this photo taken in 2005, two young orphans are cared for at the Kidane Mehret Home in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. (photo: Sean Sprague)
In 2009, thanks to generous CNEWA donors, the Kidane Mehret Catholic School in Ethiopia started offering students the opportunity to attend 11th and 12th grades. This means that young children, like those featured in the photo above, are promised a brighter future. In this month’s CNEWA Connections e-newsletter, we featured a letter from a recent graduate of the school:
We and our families are so grateful to the CNEWA family and Mr. Doty. If it were not for you, we could not have gotten a good education.
What I am trying to say is that regular schools do not have as many resources as we have. Regular schools may have a science lab, but not enough lab material for the students. Regular schools do not have a sufficient number of computers, but we have a computer for every student who needs one. Thanks to CNEWA, we have enough.
I always thank God because He is always with me. I also thank CNEWA because you are my source of success. God willing, I want to graduate from university and help my family, my school and my country.
For more read, “We Are So Grateful to You.”
2 May 2012
Tags: Ethiopia Children Africa Orphans/Orphanages Catholic Schools
Residents of St. Joseph’s Orphanage take a break from classes.
(photo: Cody Christopulos)
In the September 2005 issue of ONE, Paul Wachter reported on the lasting impact of St. Joseph’s Orphanage on its residents in Kerala:
“Nearly all the girls are scared when they first get here, which is only natural,” said Sister Flower Mary. “But they soon make friends. We try to make this transition period as easy as possible for them by making sure the new girls are well-attended to.
“In many cases, the friends they make here will be with them for the rest of their lives,” Sister Flower Mary continued. “And they will always be a part of my life. Just because they move away and get a job or get married doesn’t mean I don’t stay in touch with them. We are all one big family.”
For more, read St. Joseph’s ‘Orphans’.
12 April 2012
Tags: India Kerala Orphans/Orphanages
Residents of Palai Girls’ Town in Kerala perform onstage. (photo: John E. Kozar)
During his trip to India last month, CNEWA president Msgr. John Kozar had the opportunity to visit CNEWA-supported institutions and projects, like Palai Girls’ Town in Kerala. Here’s what Msgr. Kozar experienced upon visiting the girls home:
Guess what kind of welcoming reception greeted us as we entered the rather large compound: A large, beautifully bedecked marching band made up of about 35 girls who live at this orphanage. They led us into a large and immaculately clean auditorium where we were given the ceremonial bouquet of flowers. A special treat of this visit was to meet the founder of the congregation, Father Abraham, and the sisters’ superior general, Mother Virmala. Father Abraham is 98 years old and is still sharp in mind, albeit limited in mobility. What an honor to be in his presence!
The girls also presented some absolutely professional-grade dancing entertainment. They were dressed in classical Indian garb, displaying intricate moves, and were well disciplined in their every move. The superior told me they have won a number of competitions. There are about 175 girls at this institution and CNEWA has been a major donor in support of the wonderful programs offered to the girls. In many of these “orphanages,” the girls are not necessarily orphans in the traditional sense, but are nonetheless in need of some type of support. Some have lost a parent; others have parents who cannot care for them. Some have been abandoned; others have parents too involved with caring for the ills of another family member.
For more of Msgr. Kozar’s impressions from his visit to India, check out all of his blog posts from his India visit.
Tags: India CNEWA Kerala Msgr. John E. Kozar