Catholic Relief Services’ partner Sister Beatrice Chipeta of the Lusubilo Orphan Care project was recently recognized as an Unsung Hero by the Opus Prize an annual Faith-based humanitarian award. Jim Lund, CRS vice president for Charitable Giving, attended the ceremony at Fordham University and wrote about the experience.
It was a surreal juxtaposition to see Sister Beatrice addressing the Opus Prize audience at Fordham University. This is a woman who walked from village-to-village convincing people to band together to assist the children orphaned by the AIDS epidemic. Most of those meetings were held outside under a tree, and yet here she was in a plush New York City auditorium speaking in front of several hundred people. Humble as always she was dressed in her traditional blue habit and a pair of sandals. Even in that tremendous setting so far from her home she was able to convey the same wisdom and depth that she had when we first met in Karonga so many years ago.
The auditorium was packed with hundreds of students, professors and those lucky enough to have worked and been inspired by Sister Beatrice and her co-winner Fr. John Halligan who works in Quito, Ecuador. She shared with us how excited everyone was in Karonga about the win.
“The children are happy because there has been a change from the way things were to the way things are now,” Sister Beatrice told the crowd. “God has used me to meet the needs of so many people he cares. He is using the powerless to carry out his will.”
The word Lusubilo means hope in Northern Malawi and that is what Sister spreads. Since the project was founded in the late 1990s it has grown to meet the various needs of more than 9,000 children orphaned or made vulnerable by the AIDS epidemic in Malawi. Still, Sister told us that despite Lusibilo’s successes, there are many more children in need.
What was particularly moving was the video that they showed of the Lusubilo project during the ceremony. It began with grisly statistics: Malawi is the eighth poorest country in the world, its annual per capita income is $280 and 53 percent of children under five suffer from malnutrition. You hear these appalling numbers and then you see images of Sister Beatrice surrounded by beautiful chubby-cheeked children. They look so healthy that the impact of Sister Beatrice’s work is evident.
There is a song by the band Five for Fighting titled, World, that really sums up how it felt to watch Sister Beatrice receive the Opus Prize. The lyrics ask, ‘What kind of world do you want? Let’s build a masterpiece. History Starts now. Be careful what you wish for.’
Sister Beatrice and everyone at the Lusubilo Orphan Care project have built a masterpiece. It was so heartening to see this recognized by the Opus Prize organization, which Fordham president, Fr. Joseph McShane, dubbed the Nobel Prize for humanitarian work.
Hearing Sister Beatrice speak, watching that video and seeing how moved the audience gives me a real conviction that we can inspire others to support people like Sister Beatrice all over the world.
I’m often asked what I wish for the world. I know that the next time I come across that question my mind will go to Sister Beatrice and the over 9,000 children who are being fed because of her good work. She gives a real example of what is possible through partnership. To see all that she has accomplished celebrated was deeply moving and affirming of our own work.
When I see someone like Sister Beatrice and the project that she leads recognized, I’m proud to be part of CRS, an organization that is supporting her work and has helped that work to flourish. We provide a real foundation to help projects like Lusubilo grow. Through partnership we go beyond what is currently being accomplished. I hope that the fact that Lusubilo has won this award will help them get much needed attention from the outside world which will help them to expand their reach of touching more children and families.
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