By Fr. Benedict Mayaki, SJ
In some rural parts of Ghana, children born with physical deformities are considered to be “spirit children.” Many of them, due to cultural practices, are abandoned, ostracized, and in some cases killed, as they are considered portents of bad fortune for the community.
Sister Stan Terese Mario Mumuni, a Ghanaian nun of the Marian Sisters of Eucharistic Love (MASEL) Congregation, has become a beacon of hope for these rejected children. She founded an orphanage (Nazareth Home for God’s Children) at Sang, in the Yendi Diocese of Northern Ghana to welcome and cater to children with deformities, irrespective of religion, class or ethnic background.
In an interview with Vatican News, Sr. Mumuni describes her passion for children, her love for God, and her important work of bringing about cultural change, one child at a time.
Sister Mumuni said she got into the apostolate of caring for “spirit children” because that is how she felt God’s call to her. She explained that even after becoming a nun in 1994, she still felt that God wanted her to do more. And hearing about the plight of the children born with deformities in Yendi, she decided to involve herself to “bring life” to the children.
Sister Mumuni explained that the practice of violence against children born with deformities dates back many years in Yendi. The indigenes - a mixture of Christians, Muslims and traditional worshippers – are still strongly influenced by some ritual and cultural practices that lead them to believe that people with deformities are evil, and as such, are responsible for any misfortune in the area.
She said children and even older people with disabilities such as deafness, mutism, epilepsy, lameness or hydrocephaly (a condition in which there is an accumulation of fluid in the brain causing swelling of the head) have been unfortunate victims of this practice.
Seeing the situation, Sister Mumuni said she was moved to get involved because the people “need God” and “the children need to be saved from their hands.”
Sister Mumuni explained that one of the initial challenges she had with caring for the children was accommodation. With sparse resources at her disposal, she was able to rent a mud house from one of the Muslim leaders in the community. After renovating it and making it livable, the children were finally able to have a home.
A major preoccupation for the Ghanaian nun is water. Sister Mumuni said the region of Yendi still has difficulties with water, and she often has to buy water for daily use.
“I had to carry water on my head from a distance to bring to the house for us – myself and the children - to drink, to bathe and to cook,” she said.
Another difficulty she encountered was getting staff to help her. She recalls that early on she had to take care of the children all by herself, in addition to living up to the demands of religious life. However, she is now assisted by other sisters in her congregation.
“Everybody felt that the children were not neat enough. They were evil. They had all kinds of deformities,” she recounted.
Currently, she pointed out that the orphanage needs a clinic that will serve not only the children but also the surrounding village. And that's not all: the orphanage needs a school where the children will be comfortable, especially since some of them are rejected from other schools due to their deformities.
“Spirit children” are inspiration
When asked about her source of inspiration, Sr. Mumuni claims that she draws strength from the “smiling faces of the children,” and their intelligence, adding that many of them have gotten awards for academic excellence from school.
“It is very hard but I know that these are children that will become leaders in the future; children that will also turn back to save others in the future, children that will grow to become promising,” she said.
“I will lay down my life for them”, she declared. “I will sacrifice for them and I will always try to do more if I have the strength… in order to bring life to the children and in order to rescue more.”
Evangelizing the culture
The Ghanaian nun explained that she still meets with a lot of resistance from the local people, even though she tries to “evangelize, preach to them, speak with them, draw closer to them” to let them know that the children are not evil.
She gave the example of a child who had been accused of killing fifteen people in the village because she could not speak, even though she was only five years old. Sr. Mumuni recalls that the villagers brought the child to her because they were convinced that the child could not harm her.
“We are trying to let the people know that what God has created with His holy hands cannot be evil,” Sister Mumuni said, adding that “we are created in the image and likeness of God.”
As for most people in recent months, Sister Mumuni said the orphanage has been going through challenging times, especially since it runs on the goodwill of donors who now have to respect the prescribed social distancing norms due to the Covid-19 crisis.
She notes that the strain of these times is further compounded by the return of all the children from their various schools due to lockdown measures.
“They have to eat,” she said. Whether "you have the money or not. And their medical needs cannot be stopped.”
However, with a note of hope in her voice, she prays that “the good God, who is a great provider, will bring an end to the pandemic,” and send people to come to the aid of the orphanage.
Sister Mumuni thanked all those who have helped the children, and encouraged everyone to never turn away from the needs of others, adding that “perhaps we might be turning away from Jesus” and from “carrying our crosses.”
“We are the hands, legs and voice of Jesus today,” she said.