Sister Ayelech Gebeyehu, left, attends 5:30 morning prayer in the chapel of her convent in Bahir Dar. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)
Sister Ayelech, center, helps administer a church-funded school lunch program. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)
The school food program Sister Ayelech oversees feeds children who lack the means for daily lunch. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)
The sisters walk back to their convent after a morning liturgy. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)
Sister Ayelech chats with students during lunchtime at the Blessed Gebremichael Catholic School in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)
Students take a break from their studies at a school run by the Daughters of Charity in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)
Students attend a computer class at the Blessed Gebremichael Catholic School in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)
Nearly 1,000 children between the ages of 4 and 14 attend the Blessed Gebremichael Catholic School in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia — and the woman responsible for them all is Sister Ayelech Gebeyehu. A member of the Daughters of Charity, Sister Ayelech has a special mission to “serve the poorest of the poor.” This includes making regular visits to 30 poor families, whose children attend the school. Some of the parents have tested positive for H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS.
The sisters who serve the school live in a residence in the poorest corner of Bahir Dar, located about 350 miles northwest of Ethiopia’s capital city, Addis Ababa.
ONE contributor Petterik Wiggers recently contacted Sister Ayelech, who described her vocation, her mission and her hopes for the children in her care.
I was born in Debre Berhan, Ethiopia, in 1955. When I was two years old, my mother died. I went to live with my aunt, who was very good. She taught me the Christian way.
I know my mother was a very nice woman. She was very kind and she even shared what little we had in the house with the poor. When my mother died, I stayed with my father for a few months, but he couldn’t cope with me. He couldn’t give me enough food, so my aunt took me. I stayed with my aunt and I lived happily, really.
When I was 8, we used to go the parish for catechism in the afternoon. The parish priest taught us how to be good people. At the end, the parish priest asked for a place for me in Addis Ababa with the Daughters of Charity. He took me to them.
When I was 9, I became a boarding student. The Daughters of Charity were helping the poor children. Every Sunday, all the girls at the boarding school went out to visit with poor people, together with one of the sisters. We used to visit and clean the homes of the leprosy patients. Every morning, the poor people used to come to take bread, and I was involved with that. I was still very young.
This built everything in me. I was looking at that sister and seeing what she did for the poor. It really made me happy. I grew up there.
Then, at the end, they asked the six or seven of us, “Who wants to be a sister?”
I said, “I will. I will be a sister.” I was 13 or 14 at that time. They were not pushing me; I just told them, “I want to be a sister.” It was my will.
I have been in Bahir Dar for 13 years. As a Daughter of Charity, we go wherever we are sent. We obey, we are obedient; we don’t refuse. Now that we are here, we are happy. We don’t know our next station.
I have never regretted my decision, never. I didn’t care about other things. I don’t really care about getting married, having children. My family taught me to be kind and how to help others. And also, the first sister I worked with, she was a good example to me.
My work brings me satisfaction. The children continue studying, and some of them go to university. But it is first the will of God that is most important to me. God is very good to me. He made so many things happen to me in my life, so many things that I couldn’t have done by myself. God is always with me. Every day, he is with me.
I think God has given me the gift to lead. But I have struggled to lead, to reach this place. I have made a lot of mistakes, many times. Every day is a struggle. Every day we are trying to change. We are trying to live for God. We fail on a daily basis. We argue with the sisters. We argue with people in the work place. In spite of all this, forgiveness is there — we forgive each other. We are trying to do our work for God. We try to help each other in our spiritual life and in community life, too.
The future is about the younger generation — how to reach the younger generation. We received the spirit from the older generation. But it is a worry in our community; we need young sisters to take over and we know that we have to work toward that. It is a problem to get somebody to follow you. We have to work very hard. We are responsible. We have to lead them in the right way and help them. You cannot command the young — they don’t want to be told off, don’t want to be corrected. It is challenging.
We teach the children what we call human development. We talk about God. We talk about how to behave well, how to be a Christian. It is possible these children will be great adults. They will be good for their family and therefore for their country.