Mother Teresa's sisters help save malnourished children
Supplies from Green Bay Diocese assist the effort
By Tony Staley
Malnutrition claims the lives of many children each year in
the Elias Piña area, where 13% of the children die before
To help reduce those numbers, Mother Teresa's Missionaries
of Charity sisters have operated a nutrition center a few
miles from Elias Piña since 1982.
Missionaires de la Caridad Las Matas cares for up to 35
children at a time, ages six months to nine years. From 1992
to 1994, the center could care for 50 children at a time.
Sr. Carmen, a native of India and one of three sisters
working at the center, said children at the center often
look half their age because of malnutrition.
Not only are the children starving, but many are filled with
parasites they contract from animals, water or by walking
barefoot. These parasites swell up their faces and stomachs
making them look bloated.
Some have communicable diseases and must be quarantined.
Sr. Carmen points to one of the children, who she said was
so sick they thought she would die.
Now, the girl's nearly ready to leave the hospital, though
she may have to be adopted by another family, since the
child's step-father forced the girl's mother to abandon her
and may not allow her to return.
The children's parents bring many of them to the center or
else ask the doctors at the campos - the small rural
settlements that dot the area - to take the children to the
sisters. Parents can visit their children twice a week.
The day we visit - bringing with us medical supplies donated
by people in the Green Bay Diocese - most children are in
reasonably good condition. Many eagerly join their Wisconsin
visitors in playing catch or with other toys. Others only
want to be held. They respond by holding on tight, grateful
for human touch and a loving embrace.
Each of the 18 children being cared for receive their own
special doses of vitamins, which most take without
That's far different from when they first arrive, said Sr.
Carmen, who has been at the center four years and said she
enjoys working there. Initially, most are so malnourished
they can't retain even simple fluids, which run through
their bodies soon after a meal, so they must be held over
Most of the children will be at the center 6-12 months
before they are well enough to return to their families or
other families. The sisters conduct follow-up visits to see
how they're doing, Sr. Carmen said, but sometimes after six
months at home, a child returns to the center in worse shape
than the first time.
Helping at the center the day we visit were Mike Monaco and
Benson Joseph. They are seniors at Siena College and Albany
Medical in New York taking part in a six-week volunteer
program at the center as part of their medical training.
Monaco, who hails from Rockland County, N.Y., said it is "a
great experience. At first, they were so malnourished that
they couldn't move. Now they can feel themselves and play.
We gave them medications and can see the improvement. It's a
good experience all around."
The group from the Green Bay Diocese also appreciated the
experience. Most said they'd like to have stayed longer.
Some said it through tears.