The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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October 13, 2000 Issue
Local News

Mother Teresa's sisters help save malnourished children

Supplies from Green Bay Diocese assist the effort

By Tony Staley
Compass Editor

Malnutrition claims the lives of many children each year in the Elias Piña area, where 13% of the children die before age five.

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 resistance.

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 open latrines.

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.

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