2010 Opus Prize
Sr. Beatrice Chipeta
In the northern district of Karonga, Malawi, in one of the poorest countries in the world, Sr. Beatrice Chipeta begins each day sharing a moment of prayer with her staff of the Lusubilo Orphan Care Project, a program she founded in 1997. Facing the twin “plagues” of hunger and HIV/AIDS, Sr. Beatrice’s singular focus is empowering individuals within communities to gain control over a measure of their lives, supporting both the young and old in each village, celebrating one another’s successes, and sustaining each other in moments of sorrow.
She was raised as a Presbyterian but became enamored at an early age with Catholic nuns who were ministering in Malawi. As a young woman, Sr. Beatrice converted to Catholicism, joining the Rosarian Sisters who live and work exclusively in the diocese of Mzuzu. She spent much of her career as a teacher, and when she retired from the classroom, Sr. Beatrice focused her energies on creating an organization that would empower poor communities at the very edge of the diocese in Karonga.
Each day, she spends time visiting large and small communities throughout the district, walking quietly among thousands of orphaned children, the grandmothers and aunts who serve as their caregivers, and with the village chiefs and elders. Early on, she began organizing 10-12 villages into a catchment area, and today Lusubilo (which means “hope” in the local language, Ngonde) supports four catchment areas in a sizable geographic region that is entirely rural. Everyone is poor, and almost every family has been affected by the AIDS pandemic or other diseases.
Constantly voicing the mantra, “…our orphans are our children,” Lusubilo sponsors a service delivery program designed to empower individuals and communities to care for orphans and each other. The agency invests more than $200,000 a year in formula for malnourished infants, trains young mothers in nutrition and infant care, underwrites community-based child-care centers and home-based care, oversees agriculture programs to increase the food production capacity of local families, sponsors vocational training for teenagers and adults, and staffs a series of one-room village classrooms and a residential facility for 70 orphans. One of Lusubilo’s signature programs is its support of 380 orphan-headed households – truly among the most vulnerable family units in the world – where the older orphaned children learn life skills and parenting techniques in helping raise their younger orphaned siblings.Sr. Beatrice understands her ministry as an answer to a call from God, and goes about her life’s work in a spirit of gratitude and hope combined with a relentless commitment to improve the lives of the poor. The people of Karonga have truly embraced the theme “…our orphans are our children,” and their commitment to young children who have lost one or both of their parents resonates in the songs they sing, the prayers they utter, and in the interactions of grandparents and other caregivers who are inspired by Sr. Beatrice’s tireless faith and passionate belief in the more than 9,000 children and 800 adults served each year by the Lusubilo Orphan Care Project.
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