Sister Stella Ekka was born near Calcutta and has worked for 17 years in the Congolese capital at a girls’ closed center, Home Maman Souzanne, where she supervises 23 girls, ages 6 to 15.
A few of the girls at the center suffered from physical or sexual abuse and had run away from home. Some were abandoned by parents too poor to support them.
The girls have few possessions—a change of clothes, a school uniform. They share 30 books, some crayons, a doll, and a game of Scrabble. One room has a TV.
Sister Stella takes great pride in the girl who got a job in a bank, the one who married a doctor, and a young woman who went to another country. “That makes me happy. That encourages me,” she said.
Another girl who is now at the center also gives Sister Stella reason to hope—a girl who barely said a word when she first arrived. T. lives at the center and goes to the afternoon session at the Lycée Kasa-Vubu, where she studies French. She is in 10th grade but is unsure of her age. She came to the center on her own four years ago after some other girls on the street told her about it. After T. came to the center her mother died of AIDS. Her brother now also lives in a closed center. They do not know who their father is.
When T. lived with her mother she was accused of witchcraft and often beaten, sometimes for no reason and once for breaking a porcelain plate while doing the dishes. In the evening her mother would leave her and her brother alone, giving them both medicine to make them sleep so that she could work as a prostitute.
At Home Maman Souzanne, T. helps prepare the food for the girls, and she goes to the market to buy vegetables and fish. She washes clothes and takes care of the young ones. “I want to be a TV journalist,” she says, “so I can report on my country’s living conditions.”
[Christian Science Monitor]