Name: Sister Belaynesh Walteji
Order: Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent De Paul
Facility: Atse Tekleghiorghis Catholic School
Location: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
They’re poor. They’re hungry. And if not for their daily school lunch, many students at Atse Tekleghiorghis Catholic School would eat little or nothing at all.
Sister Belaynesh Walteji is a member of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent De Paul. Each school day, in one of the poorest slums in Ethiopia’s capital city, she and her staff offer free education and a hot lunch to 681 impoverished students.
“Many kids are physically weak, thin and underweight,” Sister Belaynesh explains. “They’re restless and inattentive due to hunger. They don’t have enough to eat at home.”
She says the meals help kids grow physically and be focused mentally. Few ever miss class. That’s not surprising, since each also receives an added treat of nutrient-rich biscuits, accompanied by tea and milk. “For kids,” she points out, “the stomach issue is more sensitive than lesson issues!”
But it’s the lessons that offer hope. Sister Belaynesh is especially proud of a 13 year-old boy named Eshetu. “He lost his mother at age 4,” she says. “His elderly father lives in a shelter run by a charity organization. I found a poor family with whom he can share a shelter. I personally contribute some money for his supper and breakfast.”
Has her support worked? Ask young Eshetu. “This past semester I stood fifth among 37 children in grade seven,” he says, adding that his hobby is “science creativity. I produced a winnowing machine for the family I live with. My school is everything to me — home, hope and stepping stone towards my future. Sister Belaynesh rescued me. Otherwise I would have ended on the street.”
Such caring costs money. As Sister Belaynesh says, “I come from one of the poorest and remotest parts of Ethiopia. I do not have external connections and cannot look for resources from abroad. Local costs of living are high and teachers’ salaries increasing.”
She admits that without help from Catholic Near East Welfare Association and its donors, many more children would go hungry. As one of the 25 Ethiopian Catholic schools with feeding programs supported by CNEWA, Sister Belaynesh’s school is a place where learning and nutrition come together. And where young lives change for the better.
Thousands of sisters. Millions of small miracles.
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