The Lord's surprises

Brazilian Erbeson Santos de Souza before and after receiving care at one of the movement`s homes

Brazilian Erbeson Santos de Souza before and after receiving care at one of the movement`s homes

The Gozo-based charitable organisation Moviment Missjunarju Gesù fil-Proxxmu runs 164 homes in three countries. Rosanne Zammit interviewed its energetic founder, Fr Gorg Grima, who somehow manages to find the funds to run all the homes and build new ones across continents year after year.

A 13-year-old girl gives birth in Kakamega, Kenya, and buries her baby alive. The mother is an AIDS victim and does not want her baby to suffer. Although she initially denies giving birth, she admits her crime when the police are called and tells them she did it out of love for the baby. The movement finds the buried baby girl. She is still alive. The girl is cleaned in hospital but she dies after five hours.

This is just one of the many heart rendering stories the Moviment Missjunarju Gesù fil-Proxxmu, based in Gozo, faces in its daily work in Brazil, Ethiopia and Kenya.

Set up by 54-year-old diocesan missionary priest Gorg Grima 18 years ago, the movement is still going strong thanks to the people's generosity and now heads 164 homes - 100 in Brazil, 47 in Ethiopia and 17 in Kenya, the majority for children.

The homes are each visited annually by Fr Gorg who, although based in Gozo, spends four months each year in Brazil, two in Ethiopia and one in Kenya.

Ordained at the age of 26 on June 18, 1977, Fr Gorg left for Brazil two months after his ordination, not knowing a word of Portuguese. Brazil to him at that time meant nothing more than "banana and rice".

He was sent to the Londrina diocese on August 29 of that same year, spending his first three years with the late Fr Carmel Bezzina, killed recently in a traffic accident there.

Soon after his arrival he started building his first children's home. Eventually, he built other homes and spent a total of 12 years in Brazil.

"I was lucky... the people took to me, loved me and gave me all the help I needed.

"The Brazilians are clean people with a heart of gold. They suffer because they lack the courage to reform their country.

"There will always be poverty in Brazil for as long as there is corruption and this is so deep that it is nearly impossible to remove. But in spite of all their problems, the people are happy."

He said that while he was stationed in Brazil, money was somehow found to fund his missions. "My father used to organise lotteries in Malta and Gozo and send me the proceeds."

But Fr Gorg had to leave Brazil and return to Malta for health reasons and he realised that unless he did something through which his work in Brazil could be continued, all his projects would become white elephants.

So, on returning to Malta, he set up the Moviment Missjunarju Gesù fil-Proxxmu in order to be able to continue working on the projects he had started.

He introduced a scheme under which people could "adopt" a child for Lm12 a year and although that amount was only a symbolic fee and did not cover a child's annual expenses, it encouraged people to give and those who could always gave more. These donations made it possible for the movement to continue running the existing homes and open new ones.

In fact, the movement has not stopped growing and uses any extra money it receives to open another home. Fr Gorg says that he has to spend all the money he receives on the poor because people give their money for that purpose.

Fortunately, he never had to buy land for the homes he set up. Sometimes, he takes over homes which are on the verge of closing down due to a lack of resources and, at other times, land is given to him by the Church or by the people. He builds the homes through fund-raising campaigns in Malta, Gozo and Gibraltar.

For Fr Gorg's brother, Mgr Kurunatu Grima, is based in Gibraltar and raises money there for his brother's charity.

Most of the homes, Fr Gorg said, are in the poorest states of Brazil, namely Tocantines, Piauí and Maranhão. In the latter, for example, the movement has a home housing around 200 street children. They are given a new life after which the movement then tries to trace their origins to reunite them with their families if it feels this would be beneficial.

Jorge, for example, left home when he woke up one day to find that his mother had gone away. His father used to beat her up and she used to say that she would escape to Sao Luis.

And one day she did. So Jorge put himself on a truck heading in the Sao Luis direction, seven hours away from where he used to live.

He searched for his mother and when he did not find her, he became a street child. He got a job as a street vendor getting a plate of rice a day as payment. He had to sleep tied to his wheelbarrow to prevent it from being stolen.

This was how Fr Gorg found him. He explained who he was and what he could offer him and after returning the wheelbarrow to its owner, Jorje became a member of one of Fr Gorg's homes. He now works as a soldier and was eventually reunited with his family.

Fr Gorg said that in spite of a drop in donations this year, the Lord always made money available somehow.

"For as long as he continues to provide, we continue to work. The Lord has his own surprises and no one is so poor not to be able to help others and no one is so rich not to need any kind of help."

About eight years ago, Fr Gorg moved on to Ethiopia where the people are poorer than the ones he had come across in Brazil.

There were many lepers living in a cemetery in Jima. He started taking them out of the cemetery and organising a village for them. At this village, there is now a kindergarten, a school, two grinding mills and a number of boreholes. Moreover, residents are being trained in income generating programmes. Electricity and sanitary facilities have also recently been connected. There are now some 4,000 lepers living at this village.

About two years ago, Fr Gorg started setting up another village for sufferers of elephantitis in the Denbi Dollo area. Elephantitis is caused by mosquito bites and the people are being taught how to prevent the disease by wearing shoes and eating more nutritious food to prevent malnutrition.

In the very poor areas, the foreigners, farengi, are the people's only hope and are warmly welcomed everywhere, Fr Gorg said.

Another project in Ethiopia is with the Gumuz tribe - the oldest and most primitive tribe of the country in which members do not even wear clothes.

In this tribe, mothers go to the woods on their own to give birth and if they die in the process, the other members of the tribe organise a feast because they believe she was a bad spirit.

Undertaken in collaboration with the Carboni nuns, the project has seen the setting up of the first kindergarten and although no one visited during its first few months 135 children now attend - sometimes tagging their parents along.

A lot of manual pumps have also been put up for water retraction.

A kindergarten for another Gumuz tribe is now being built in another area of the country in collaboration with the Reaching Out Group.

Fr Gorg said that he and his people do not try to convert the people, most of whom are Moslems. They only speak about and explain the Catholic religion if asked.

"We are not looking for numbers and we do not want to baptise anyone unless they want to do this willingly and consciously and in full knowledge of what they are taking upon them," he said.

As if he does not have enough on his plate, Fr Gorg also set foot in Kenya about six years ago.

Although one gets the impression that this country is not poor because of the tourism it attracts, the reality is very different.

In Kenya, the movement has an institute for orphans, a home for 350 deaf and dumb girls and boys, a home for other disabled people incorporating an operating theatre, and other homes which take up to 10 children and a carer, known as the mamma, situated near schools and in very accessible areas.

The biggest problem in Kenya, Fr Gorg said, is the number of AIDS victims. They are the most vulnerable people at the moment.

And although AIDS orphans are supposed to be kept by relatives, they are not and end up sniffing carpenter's glue to put themselves to sleep. They are then collected by the police and taken to juvenile prisons.

A bishop in Kenya has now accepted the movement's request to build a home for up to 300 children suffering from AIDS in his diocese. The home is intended to have an orphanage, a hospital with isolation cells and a school. As Fr Gorg gets older, his main aim has become to empower the local people with the capability to run the homes and units. Only in this way can he ensure that the homes will continue to survive.

A donation, even if it is just of Lm2, can save lives. They are accepted by cheque at the Moviment Missjunarju Ìesù fil-Proxxmu, 103 Charity Street, Victoria, Gozo or via HSBC account 071204242050, Bank of Valletta account 12410403078 or APS account 11496630017.

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