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They affectionately call her “our mother.” Sister Seraphine has been leading the DfA sponsorship project for over 14 years and, together with her team, currently cares for 462 orphans. The 47-year-old nun knows all the children personally ever since they were accepted into the project at the age of about four to seven years.
The warm-hearted woman with the kind eyes and the shy smile has a particularly close relationship with the children who have lost a parent or even both parents. “The AIDS rate in western Kenya is over 20 percent, depending on the region,” she explains. When children lose their parents, they are placed with relatives. Some of them are very old grandparents who can’t really take care of the children. Often the children have lost several caregivers at a young age. Sometimes it seems as if an entire generation has disappeared.”
Working with traumatized children
Caring for these deeply traumatized children is no easy task. “When I took over the management of the sponsorship project at DfA in 2007, I often had to leave the room during consultations to calm down. I told the children that I had to get something for a moment. Then I went out and cried. Eventually, I enrolled in a youth counseling and therapy course to learn how to better deal with such situations.” Sister Seraphine is also there for adults. The members of the small community of Nyabondo come to their office to share their concerns. As an employee of an aid organization, Sister Seraphine is the point of contact for many who are hoping for support. But she can’t help everyone. “When parishioners come to me with their concerns, I often have to send them away,” says Sister Seraphine. It’s really hard for me because many people in our region suffer a lot.” In order to relieve Sister Seraphine, a committee was formed to select particularly needy children for the project. So, she does not have to decide for herself who is helped and cannot be held responsible for these decisions by her community.
Happy childhood in the countryside
Sister Seraphine, née Sarah Rono, grew up with her eight siblings on a farm in Bomet, a rural area surrounded by green tea plantations and lush fields. Her father was a businessman. He sold food, clothes and school uniforms. When he took little Sarah to the city center, they passed a home for disabled children. She watched as the nuns in the home took care of the children. I’d like to do that later, she thought to herself. She had found her calling. At first, she did not tell her parents about her plans to become a nun. She secretly attended a seminar for prospective sisters. Then, excited and nervous, she awaited the visit of the nuns, who brought the family the news of her admission to the congregation. The parents let her go.
Appointment as head of the sponsorship project
In 2007 she worked as a laboratory technician at the hospital in Nyabondo. When the then manager of the sponsorship project Sr. Paulina was transferred, she took over the task and fulfilled her childhood dream. “At that time there were only 200 children that I looked after. Today, the work has become much more extensive,” she reports. And the success is impressive: more than 850 sponsorships have been arranged to date and more than 250 young adults have already left the sponsorship project with a completed school and vocational training. With touching gratitude, they keep in touch with their mother and tell her about all the successes. Thanks to a good degree, they now have a real chance on the labour market and can leave the hopeless cycle of poverty behind. For Sister Seraphine, this is the biggest motivation. The success of her children gives her the strength to continue. Luckily, because no one at DfA can imagine the sponsorship project without Sister Seraphine today.