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Education, medicine and food for over 36,000 children

Ethiopian children from families with leprosy line up outside the school built for them by the movement.

Ethiopian children from families with leprosy line up outside the school built for them by the movement.

In a world where “charity begins at home” and “love thy neighbour” vie for pride of place in people’s consciousness, a local charity has chosen the latter.

Missionary Movement Ġesu fil-Proxxmu (Jesus in thy neighbour) last year sent out more than €1.6 million to its missions abroad, providing food, medicine and education to more than 36,000 children in Brazil, Kenya and Ethiopia.

The movement, founded by Gozitan priest George Grima in 1987 after he spent 12 years working in Brazil, has 85 homes in Brazil, 87 homes in Ethiopia and 24 in Kenya, where it runs homes for HIV-infected children, for deaf and dumb children, children with leprosy, as well as disabled children.

But amidst all these problems, the biggest challenge, Fr Grima says, is education.

“In Kenya, we have a problem of albino children being hunted for their flesh, because witch doctors claim that it can cure diseases such as cancer,” the priest says. “Because of the lack of education, people believe these claims and hunt albinos, whose tongues even fetch $1,000 for their purported magical powers.”

Albinism is a characterised by the complete or partial absence of pigment in the skin, hair and eyes, which is far more frequent in African countries than in Europe, with an incidence of one in every 2,000 compared to one in 17,000 in Europe.

To combat this, the movement is now building a home for albino children, where parents could leave them and visit them in the knowledge they are safer than hiding in the forest.

Another, far more well-known problem in Kenya is Aids, where whole villages are being wiped out because of the disease.

In Kenyan culture, the brother of a dead man has the obligation to take his brother’s widow into his home, where he can treat her as his wife. However, if the dead husband had the virus and his brother is now sleeping with his widow, he contracts the disease as well.

Here, education is also key, Fr Grima says: these people are told by the Church that they should treat their brother’s widows as such, and not as their wives. “You tell them once, twice, three times, a hundred times, and eventually they learn.”

Up to five years ago, the priest recounts, the Gumuz tribe in Ethiopia could not read or write. After the movement started basic schooling in the tribes, parents have become envious of their children, who can now at least write their name and basic sentences.

A disturbing custom in the tribe is when pregnant women go out in the woods for three days to give birth. If she comes back, all is well, and if they die in the woods the tribe still celebrates, because this would mean that she was afflicted by an evil spirit.

The movement fought this by building a clinic where women could give birth and so far over 70 have used the service.

Ethiopia received €499,915 last year, where one of the major projects is the building of homes for children of families with leprosy. These families currently roam the streets or live in a cemetery.

Most of the money – €907,102 – goes to Brazil. The movement is enlarging three homes in the state of Maranhao, where poverty is on the rise and the group has to increase its operations to cater for the children in its care. €216,848 went to Kenya, while Peru and Fondo Clero Missjoni Gozo received €2,330.

Because of the financial crisis last year, the group had to spend more money than it received, with a difference to the tune of €400,000. “But the work has to keep going,” Fr Grima says.

People wishing to help the movement’s work by sponsoring a child or donating money can do so on HSBC account 0712 0424 2050 or Bank of Valletta account 1241 040 3078. For more information, visit www.maltamission.com or call Fr George on 2155 6453.

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