I eat at Anastasia’s house almost every night and I’ve never dined with less than 10 people. Tonight we were 12 people and 3 kittens. We ate chipati and beans and I had to eat twice. “Am I thinning?” Mama Anastasia says. “No Mama, I reply, I am not on a diet but I am satisfied.” ” You eat like an old woman.” Haha. I had seconds. No one is a visitor here for long, you are soon family.
The number of people that call Anastasia “Mama” reads like a public high school graduation ceremony: Antionette, Alphie, Judith, Whitney, Eddy, Tony, Esther, Vincent, Moreen, Millicent. . . and these are just the ones I’ve met in the house. In total, she’s had 40 kids spend from 5-17 years in her home and has had hundreds pass through on their way back to their family communities.
Her organization, Our Lady of Perpetual Support (OLPS), has restored more than 3000 orphans to their home communities. The first priority is always to connect the child with the extended family, the last choice is placing them at her home. OLPS sponsors 794 orphans right now and provides for their school fees, health care, and counseling. Amazingly, these children are not the main focus of the organization, only an outlier of the larger service of wholesome AIDS/HIV care.
At OLPS, AIDS/HIV care is more than just treatment and prevention, it addresses the consequences as well: orphans, widows, grandmothers with unexpected mouths to feed, child headed families needing work skills, additional health care for immune-deficient patients, secondary education for promising students, sexual education in school and on the list goes.
Now, the vision has expanded to include the Rescue Center and I could tell you about the bricks and mortar or the price per item we’ve negotiated but the real story is written on the walls of her home and it’s heard ringing across the dinner table each and every night.
During the holidays, many of her “family” come back from boarding at school to her house. You’ll find 22-30 kids and young adults asleep wherever there is space, or isn’t. Some came to her when they were 1 week old, some when they were 1, 11, 14, or 17. Some were alone and others came in twos and threes. The oldest are now police officers, nurses, teachers, literary scholars, university students and telecom workers. The youngest child everyone just calls baby.
“When you have, why should they go without?,”Anastasia says in her lyrical way.
A modern day saint; he kind we see very rarely these days in independent, nuclear America.When did we stop opening our doors to our neighbors. When did we cut the throat of community?
The Rescue Center will have a reception, an office for a counselor, a veranda to study in and beds for children to stay one week, one year or until they grow to become adults. Those that can be matched back into their extended family units will be supported by an already fluid operation. Those that can’t? Now they have a home and a family as well–with each other.
Anastasia and her family are resolute. So much so that they committed to cutting back on meat, to cook with charcoal, use propane only for emergencies, and to buy water by the liter instead of with a metered service. All of this, so that Anastasia could take out a loan against her salary to advance the construction of the Center.
I’m not called to action because I pity Anastasia or any of the children and adults I have met in her home. I am struck with something more powerful; a deep respect for the sacrifice and love for your brother, sister and neighbor that goes far beyond the self.
“When you have, why not share?”
In light of the extraordinary kindness and gratitude that Anastasia and her family showed me and out of a deep respect for who she is and what she represents: the good, the humble, the nothing is impossible, the saint. I am going to commit a months salary to expedite the construction of the Rescue Center. Will anyone join me? Will anyone share?
If not a month, toss in a week, a day, or even an hour’s worth. It may be a struggle, you may go without. But maybe, just maybe, you’ll knock on your neighbors door or ask a friend to make you a meal. And this would be the true nature of the challenge; to reconnect with those close to you, to rely on a friend, and to sacrifice something of yourself for others.
Photo Update coming soon. Progress, progress, progress!