Photo by Don Doll, S.J.
Ugandan streetchildren gather around Jesuit Father Gene Hattie, who invites them to come to CALM before they choose drugs to ease their pain.
I have witnessed East Africa
exploding in spasms of pain.
The youngest are first to fall.
I have met former child soldiers
who were kidnapped and
thrown into war in southern
Sudan. They were told that
their gun is now their mother, their
best friend, their everything. I have
encountered streetkids in Uganda who
walk aimlessly on the streets, totally
abandoned. I have ministered with
AIDS orphans in Kenya who watched
helplessly as everyone they have ever
loved was torn away from them
Amidst all this intractable pain, I
have also met two remarkable priests
who embrace African youth with the
gift of hope. From them I learned that
all humanitys children are our children,
including those who suffer and
die at a great distance from us. Indeed,
we share responsibility for themguilt
for their plight and accountability for
their rescue. This is a story about two
ministers of the gospel who embody the
love and concern of Jesus for humanitys
First Stop: Namugongo, Uganda
The Children and Life Mission (known
commonly as CALM) is just a short
walk from where the 13-year-old Kizito,
the youngest of the Ugandan martyrs,
was burned alive in 1886 by the Bugandan
King Mwanga. Here, approximately
120 young people are today being loved
back into life. Each has suffered the
devastating loss of parental love.
Prior to coming to this mission, these
youngsters, boys between six and 13,
tried to forge an existence on their own
in the bustling streets of Kampala,
Ugandas vastly overcrowded capital city.
For some, cruelty and abuse at the hand
of their own fathers pushed them out of
the family home and onto the streets.
The AIDS pandemic and malaria
made many orphans in this region of
the world. The sad reality is that families,
who were unable or unwilling to
care for them for many reasons, abandoned
many of these youngsters.
Circumstances far beyond their control
made them streetkids, forcing them
to become self-reliant at a tender age.
The one thing they could not provide
for themselves was love.
Enter Jesuit Gene Hattie, an 82-year-old
priest with the energy of a man
half his age. I walked the streets of
Kampala with Father Hattie. I noticed
the childrens eyes light up with recognition
and friendship when they see
Crowds walk by these children every
day. Many adults are frightened, judging
them to be thieves and a threat to
their security. Father Hattie sees something
else: humanitys future struggling
forward. He is determined to find a
way to reach them with a loving solidarity
strong enough to reclaim promise
in their young lives.
Father Hattie founded CALM because
of what he witnessed on the streets of
Kampala. He told me, At times it almost brings tears to my eyes when I see one
of these kids take a small banana given
him by a tourist and break it into six or
seven pieces to share. These kids will
pass around an ice-cream cone or bottle
of Coca-Cola so each can have a small
lick or sip. They will share a discarded
newspaper or torn piece of plastic to
use as a blanket on Kampalas streets.
The ultimate abdication of moral
responsibility toward these streetchildren
took place when President Bill
Clinton and his family visited the city.
Clinton was the first sitting American
president to visit Uganda. Before he
arrived, hundreds of streetchildren were
rounded up and put into prison so that
the nations prominent visitors would
not be subjected to any eyesores.
The sentiment of the day was that
the national scourge had to be removed
from the streets. The children were
imprisoned and kept out of sight until
the Clintons had left the country. Seeing
this, Father Hattie went to work.
It was not moral outrage that
prompted this American priest to act on
their behalf. Rather, it was the unspoken
appeal in their eyes, the look of
innocence lost etched in their tired
faces, the look of a child of God yearning
to be loved.
Search and Rescue Mission
The most prevalent danger at the present
moment for the children still on the
streets is that drug use will strangle
their young lives before adult help
reaches them. There is always the temptation
to escape into this temporary
On Kampalas streets I observed
many younsters huddled together in
small groups and holding a piece of
cloth to their noses. I initially thought
they had the flu. Father Hattie explained
that most of the children he has
dealt with sniff mafuta, the local name
for a form of kerosene. They keep a
small bottle of mafuta in a pocket and
a small rag on which they sprinkle the
I asked a 14-year-old boy living on
the streets to help me understand what
draws him and his companions to use
drugs. He was brutally honest: I cannot
survive on the streets without using
drugs. There are different types of drugs
that I normally use. I take marijuana,
mafuta, glue, tobacco, mairungi (an herb
that is chewed) and alcohol. These
drugs give me relief and let me forget
my worries and problems. They make
me feel warm and strong. Others make
me sharp and sensitive to danger. If I
am sick, they take my pain away, and
when I am bored, they give me some
In other words, this youngster finds
in drugs the protection, joy and companionship
that most youth find elsewhere,
especially in a loving family.
The main reason young people turn
down Father Hatties invitation to opt
out of life on the streets is that they
cant imagine themselves to be drug-free.
The Jesuit tries to intervene before
the power of addiction controls them.
Father Hattie has sought the help of
The Good Samaritan Sisters to care for
these children. He also hired several
former seminarians to live at the mission
and be male role models.
Let Children Be Children
In the summer of 2004, four American
seminarians, students of mine from St.
Marys Seminary in Cleveland, as well
as a lay social-justice leader from the
Cleveland Diocese, joined me to share
in the ministry of Father Hattie. We
learned much from these young people
as we witnessed their spontaneous
response to life and their joyful reception
of food, medicine, education, nurture
and the touch of love.
Like all children, these boys long to
be noticed. Some of them bear the scars
of past experiences of being unwanted
and neglected. They want to discover
that others find them acceptable. They
want to play as children should play.
They were exceedingly happy with the
gifts of playing cards and candies that
the seminarians brought for them.
The children flock to Father Hattie
when he comes to the mission from his
home with his Jesuit brothers at Xavier
House in the capital. Father Hattie has
fashioned a home for these youth and
given them a chance to dream about
their future. On their behalf he has
gone to America to beg for assistance
and support of his mission. He tells
their stories to donor groups in the
United States who want to be in solidarity
with the plight of the vulnerable
Every young person I met at CALM
senses that life is better for them now
because this man set his gaze on
thema gaze of love.
Second Stop: Karen, Kenya
Nyumbani, the first hospice for HIV-positive
orphans in Kenya, is certainly
a place where the human family is
being drawn together. As I arrived at the
Nyumbani compound in Karen, a Nairobi suburb named after Karen
Blixen, the author of Out of Africa, I
knew immediately where the children
were lodged. Their voices, raised exuberantly
in song, filled the early morning
The Swahili word nyumbani means home. I soon learned there were some
92 girls and boys, all HIV-positive, who
call Nyumbani home. They live in family
clusters of 15 to 20. The teenage
boys share a cottage of their own under
the watchful care of an uncle.
This family style of living allows
many of the young children to exclaim my mommy or my house for the
first time. Most of the children lost
both parents to AIDS while they were
still infants or toddlers, long before
they had the chance to acquire specific
memories of their parents or of
parental affection and nurture. Many of
them are now old enough to have at
least some understanding that the
deadly disease that robbed them of
their parents now lives inside them.
How the disease will unfold in them is
still a mystery.
Abandoned to AIDS, Adopted in Love
Jesuit priest and medical doctor Angelo
DAgostino founded Nyumbani in 1992
to care for babies who are abandoned
by their families who suspect that the
HIV virus has been transmitted to the
child. Abandonment is a cruel side
effect of the fear that AIDS creates.
At first the Jesuit could accept just
three babies, but soon found room for
25. Presently there are nearly 100, while
the number of AIDS orphans on the
continent mounts. Approximately 15
million children have already been
orphaned by AIDS in sub-Saharan
Africa. That number is expected to
climb dramatically, perhaps even double,
in the coming decade.
Time will prove the absolute necessity
of what we do. This is a problem
that has never happened in the history
of humanity, Father DAgostino
tells me. The enormity of the tragedy is
clear to him in a most personal way.
This gentle healer told me a remarkable
story of a child brought to him in
1997. This boy was found in the countryside
buried alive up to his neck. This newborn was likely buried just
hours after birth by a distraught mother
who just couldnt kill her child, Father
Others discovered this boy and
brought the tiny infant to me at Nyumbani
when he was just five days old.
This child grew strong and was adopted
by a local couple. The adoptive parents
are travel agents who have taken their
son everywhere with them. In his
young life he has already traveled to
Japan, to the United States and across
Africa. This boy, born desperately poor
to a mother who falsely believed that
her child was born dying, has been
gifted with an abundance of family
Nyumbani was born of love. At first,
the Jesuit doctors quest was simpleto give these children compassionate
care and to accompany them in the
dying process. In the early years, two or
three children would die each month
and were buried in the garden at Nyumbani.
This is a garden one is sorry to see
As I prayed in this small childrens
cemetery, I saw a plaque nailed to a
large tree with the inscription: In the
tree of life, all our roots are intertwined.
Father DAgostino wants the world to
acknowledge its link to these vulnerable
children. In caring for each infected
child, he cares for all infected children.
Their vulnerability becomes his own.
Tragedy and Success
Twelve-year-old brothers, identical
twins, arrived at Nyumbani in 1994.
They were parentless and had little
expectation of a future. Within two
weeks, one of these boys had died and
his brother was in despair.
The community at Nyumbani literally
loved the surviving brother back to
life. They adopted a fourfold approach
to health care, attending to his nutritional,
medical, psychosocial and spiritual
needs. He is now 22 and recently
learned how to drive a car so he can be
of help to the staff at Nyumbani. The
success stories at Nyumbani make the
tragic stories easier to bear.
The most life-affirming aspect of
Nyumbani is undoubtedly the grace-filled
tie that binds the members of
this community to each other. As children
experience family bonds, many
for the first time in their young lives, a
new reason emerges for them to grow
healthy and strong. They are now surrounded
by persons who have connected
with them in the most personal
way in which human beings can relate
to one anotherthe way of family love.
There is no substitute for the psychic
security that comes from this experience.
Visitors to Nyumbani are
reminded that love heals more deeply
than the bodyit also heals the soul.
Father DAgostino has an expansive
dream. He wants to bring together 200
elderly adults with 1,000 orphaned
children in what will be called Nyumbani
Village. Many outside Africa do
not realize that this pandemic has a
devastating impact on the elderly all
across the continent, especially in
In Africa, it is customary for the
grown children to provide care for their
parents in the final years of their lives.
As AIDS robs large numbers of senior
citizens of their adult children, there are
many who are now forced to fend for
Father DAgostino dreams of bringing
these two groups together. The children
will care for the elders, who in
turn will care for them.
Nyumbani Village will be built on
1,200 acres of land near Nairobi. The
Vatican has pledged its support. It has
issued a new stamp with the image of
two African children on it, victims of
AIDS. All the profits from this stamp,
estimated to exceed 400,000 euros, will
go to support Nyumbani Village.
Unquestionably, Father DAgostinos
ambitions are many: He plans that this
village will provide housing, health care,
counseling, education and vocational
training for both the children and their
elders. Most of the land will be dedicated
to agricultural production.
Africa is the only continent to have
produced less food in the last two
decades than in previous ones. In
Nyumbani Village, modern organic
farming techniques, as well as organic
methods for breeding and raising livestock,
will be taught. The hope is not
only that the crops will feed Nyumbani
Village, but that there will also be
a surplus to sell.
Carpentry skills, traditional handicrafts
and many other enterprises will
be taught to all who want to learn. The
elders who have never been given the
opportunity to learn to read will be
Father DAgostino is convinced that
this model could be replicated across
the African continent. It would take
an enormous commitment by the
world community to be in solidarity
with humanitys most vulnerable.
Approximately 11 million children
under the age of five continue to die
each year of hunger and preventable
diseases, most of them in the southern
In the Faces of Children, the Future Unfolds
All across our world, children are falling
victim to powerful forces beyond their
control, forces that sabotage the bright
promise tomorrow should bear for
them. Never before has the world faced
the possibility of so many orphans.
The expectation of secure love and
hope in the future that is so natural to
young children is being replaced by
the reality of rejection and near despair
when death from AIDS robs millions of
children of their parents.
The dream of Nyumbani Village in
Kenya offers an alternative to this nightmare.
The welcome received at CALM
In the faces of children, we are given
the best glimpse of humanitys future.
This is why there can be no moral issue
more unifying, more urgent or more
universal than nurturing their well-being
and securing their future.
Just ask Father Gene Hattie. Just ask
Father Angelo DAgostino. They have
rallied around the children of East
Africa. But they dont intend to keep
their mission to themselves.
To support these mission efforts, contact:
• The Children and Life Mission, c/o
Jesuit International Missions, 7303
W. Seven Mile Rd., Detroit, MI 48221,
• Nyumbani, Children of God Relief
Fund, Inc., c/o Collier Shannon Scott,
PLLC, 3050 K Street, N.W., Suite 400,
Washington, DC 20007-5108,
Counting the Casualties
Maria Cimperman, an Ursuline Sister, teaches moral theology and social ethics at
the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, Texas. Sister Maria is the author of
the new Orbis book, When Gods People Have HIV/AIDS: An Approach to Ethics, and a
friend of Father Donald Dunson, author of this article.
Sister Maria points to UNAIDS December statistics to grasp the current situation:
• An estimated 2.2 million children (under age 15) around the world live with HIV.
• 1.9 million of the children living with HIV are from sub-Saharan Africa.
• 11,000 of the children living with HIV are from North America.
• An estimated 640,000 children (under age 15) were newly infected in 2004.
- 560,000 were from sub-Saharan Africa.
- Fewer than 100 of the children were from North America.
• There were an estimated 510,000 AIDS deaths in children under age 15.
- 450,000 of the deaths were of children in sub-Saharan Africa.
- Less than 100 of the deaths were of children in North America.