Man with a Mission

Dec. 4-10, 2003
VOL 122 NO. 43
Man with a Mission
By Eileen Jevis/ SUN staff writer
Brother Peter Daino, SM, believes in miracles. They are the foundation of his life. It is, in fact, the name of the mission that Brother Daino and his team of Marianists started in 1999 in Karonga, Malawi. M.I.R.A.C.L.E. – Marianist Institute of Rural Artisans for Christian Life Education is a two-year technical school for orphaned children between the ages of 15 and 25 whose parents have died of AIDS.

According to information provided by UNAIDS, there is between 34 and 46 million people in the world living with HIV or AIDS. UNAIDS reported that in sub-Saharan Africa in 2003, between three million and three and a half million adults and children have been newly infected with AIDS, close to 28 million adults and children are living with AIDS and there have been 2.4 million AIDS-related deaths. Brother Daino has served in Niger, Kenya and Malawi working with orphaned youth. Most of his 28 years in Africa have been spent in Kenya where he started two technical colleges for poor youth in Nairobi and one technical college for poor youth in Mombasa. Malawi is the third poorest country in the world and Karonga is one of the most remote and isolated parts of Malawi. According to Brother Daino, there are 25,000 people in the town of Karonga and of those, 5,000 are orphans. In the Karonga District, there are approximately 30,000 orphans.

“When I first arrived in Malawi, the Marianists and Rosarians agreed to divide the work in the following way,” said Brother Daino. “The Marianists would care for the older orphans and the Rosarians would care for the younger orphans. However, four years later, it is clear that the Rosarians can not do their part alone because the care of the younger orphans [ages 0-14] is much more difficult.” Brother Daino said that there are many more orphans in that age group and they face greater problems – the biggest being survival. Also, the Rosarians do not have a national network of support because their order is found only in northern Malawi. Brother Daino’s M.I.R.A.C.L.E. program not only assists orphans, but focuses on the poorest of the poor. “This means we do home visits to determine levels of poverty,” said Brother Daino. “The ones we accept typically have no farm animals except a couple of chickens. They live in mud-floored, mud-walled, grass-roofed huts. We choose the one most likely to succeed out of the nine or 10 parentless children we find in that hut,” he said.

The orphans accepted into the M.I.R.A.C.L.E. program learn carpentry, tailoring and home management (hotel services). The two-year training provides the students with a skills that will enable them to support themselves and their parentless families. During the first year, students are taught remedial studies in English, math and agriculture as well as Gospel living, AIDS awareness, family life, respect for life and basic business skills. The second year focuses on skills training and life skills education. At the end of the training, each student is given the tools they need to continue their trade. Each tool kit costs $200. A tailor will receive a sewing machine, an iron, and 200 yards of cloth. The carpenter receives a tool kit and the home management graduate will receive a combination oven/stove. The goal of the M.I.R.A.C.L.E. program is to economically empower the neediest of the Karonga orphans through education and to spiritually empower them through Jesus Christ. The project is ongoing and is supported by contributions from Catholic Churches in the Diocese of Syracuse and the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.

Brother Daino said that Deacon Ed Blaine of St. Ambrose Parish in Endwell and George Phillips of Christ the King Church in Endwell have worked tirelessly to raise awareness and support for the programs. “Deacon Blaine has been advocating support for the programs in Africa for over 18 years,” said Brother Daino. “The support of the parishioners of the Diocese of Syracuse is instrumental in the success of our work.” To date, the program has 250 students learning a trade and 300 more on the waiting list. With the success of this program, the Marianists felt it was time to turn their attention to helping the Rosarians with their difficult tasks.

The work of the Rosarians includes providing basic needs for the younger orphans – such as food, clothing and medical care. They have done this through the Lusubilo Project, which has set up Village Orphan Care Committees (VOCC) in each of the 20 villages in Karonga. The work of the VOCC has made it possible for the orphaned children to remain in their villages. According to Brother Daino, the bishop of the diocese is against setting up orphanages because he believes that the extended family is still very strong in Africa and that the orphan care should be built on that extended family. The VOCC is comprised of aunts, uncles and grandparents of the orphans, in addition to the Rosarian Sisters. Each VOCC runs a feeding station and typically provides one hot meal daily to about 40 orphaned children. “There are 20 stations that feed 40 children,” said Brother Daino. “That’s 800 children that the VOCC feeds daily.” Brother Daino said that the force behind the project is Sister Beatrice Chipeta. “She’s called the Mother Teresa of Milawi,” he said. “She is always surrounded by children and even takes care of some of them at the convent.” Brother Daino explained that Sister Beatrice’s mission is not to merely give the orphans handouts, but to teach them how to survive. “Her theory is ‘don’t enable them, empower them,’” he said.

With that in mind, Sister Beatrice requires that the orphans attend school in order to receive a meal. “She gives them a little porridge and then sends them off to school for four or five hours a day,” said Brother Daino. “When they have finished attending classes, they receive a full meal.” This form of tough love, she hopes, will move the children toward self-reliance and a brighter future. In a combined effort to continue to care for the 30,000 orphans in the Karonga District, the Marianists and Rosarians would like to start an Aunts and Uncles Academy. The program is designed to train some of the aunts, uncles and grandparents in various skill trades so that they can better support the orphans in their care. The goal is to start an accelerated program for the aunts and uncles modeled after the M.I.R.A.C.L.E. program. “The aunts and uncles would need less remedial education and preparation exercises because many of them are better educated than the present M.I.R.A.C.L.E. students,” said Brother Daino. “They could finish their training in one year and immediately be given a tool kit and start earning,” he said. With job skills and tool kits and more knowledge of irrigation agriculture, the members of VOCC can discharge their duties to younger orphans and focus on earning a wage.

The Aunts and Uncles Program will choose 20 men and 20 women to learn a skill of their choice. “We don’t want to flood the market with carpenters and tailors,” said Brother Daino. “Those chosen to be the breadwinners for their dependents can learn metal pounding [how to make pails and suitcases, hoes and watering cans], secretarial work or other valuable skills. We will connect the trainee with someone who already works at the skill,” said Brother Daino. “Every week the trainer will visit the student to make sure they are practicing their trade and are not being exploited.” Brother Daino said that the people of Africa are not contracting the AIDS virus through promiscuity. “The Africans are no more promiscuous than Americans or Europeans,” said Brother Daino. “It is the people who have income that are spreading the disease. The truck drivers who drive from one coastal city to another are the ones who have infected women along those routes. In fact, the truck routes are known as ‘Ukimwi Road,’ which means AIDS Road. Forty percent of the adult population in Malawi are HIV positive,” he said. “That includes people who were trained in government jobs, civil service jobs and teachers – the best educated people. Those infected by AIDS include the middle class and upper-middle class.” Sister Beatrice and Mama Singini, the congresswoman of the Karonga District, are working together to appeal to tribal chiefs to stop the practice of “bride inheritance.” “It’s a tradition among some tribes in Africa that if a female bride dies, the next female in the family will take the place of the deceased sister in the marriage,” explained Brother Daino. This tradition only exacerbate the spread of AIDS.

Another reason for the rapid spread of AIDS is needle use. “A team of doctors in Uganda have discovered that up to 60 percent of AIDS cases are caused by the misuse of needles in hospitals,” said Brother Daino. “AIDS also comes through the birth process itself.” December 1 is World AIDS Day. It is a day for raising global awareness, educating people and fighting prejudice. While most people are aware of the effects of this disease, many are unaware of the number of children, especially in Africa, who have watched their parents and family members die a slow death. The HIV/AIDS crisis which has hit Milawi is not just a grave tragedy to the adults but also to the innocent orphaned children currently suffering from a malady they don’t understand. The orphans are stigmatized by society, victimized by economic crisis and presented with an insecure future. The Marianists and Rosarians strive to promote the dignity of human life from the womb to the tomb. It is their mission to assist AIDS orphans and disadvantaged children in their own environment by providing them with support for basic needs and to empower them to become self-sufficient in order to survive the life they were born to. Donations can be made to the Marianists of America, c/o Father Dave Paul, SM., 4425 West Pine Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63108-2301or by calling (314) 533-1207.

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