Our trip to Sun of Hope
There are 43 girls and boys at the Sun of Hope orphanage in Tanzania’s north. But when you meet them, it feels like there’s a lot, lot more of them because the children swarm all over you. As we discovered, they want to hold your hand. Or high-five you (though for them the goal is to hit your hand as hard as they can). They want to know why you’re wearing that ring (a wedding band), what are those things in your ears (hearing aids), why is your white skin red (Father Mike’s sunburn). They’re fascinated by your hair—or, in Rosemarie’s case, her bun—and even the prominent veins on your hands. They’ll eagerly pose for photographs (and then proceed to ham it up). The kids dived into a new game that we showed them (tic-tac-toe). They’re just plain cute and sweet.
Five of us visited with the kids in early December: Father Mike, Linda Stewart, Cindy Addington (Linda’s sister-in-law), and Rosemarie and Mario Milletti. Sister Martina, who resides in our parish, happened to be at the orphanage. Sister Martina was our guide and returned with us.
We brought extra suitcases that had been filled by the sisters with books and supplies. We also brought a large, awkward-to-carry box of mats that the kids could sit on in class, donated by Bernadette Moss. On an earlier month-long trip to the orphanage, Bernadette had observed that, while some desks were available, often many of the children had to sit on cold floors.
Remarkable place, remarkable sisters
We discovered that Sun of Hope is a remarkable place. The grounds boast beautifully manicured landscaping in addition to cropland and animals, including chickens, rabbits, and cows. The orphanage has been built over the past decade or so with financing from an Italian charity known as “Voci e Volti” (“voices and faces”). Contributions from ABVM parishioners have flowed in over the past few years to fund a variety of needs, including two cows and a barn to house them. Currently, facilities continue to be improved and a huge bread-making machine has been donated.
Most remarkable of all are the Holy Spirit Sisters, who lovingly operate the orphanage. We met many more of them at the motherhouse, both residents and others who came to celebrate two sisters’ 25th anniversary, or jubilee. (The previous day, we attended another celebration for nine sisters who made their first vows.) In addition to the sisters at the orphanage and motherhouse, you can find the Holy Spirit Sisters around the U.S., Africa, and the world, such as the sisters we met from India. No matter where they are from, the sisters exude a remarkable amount of warmth, friendliness, and love.
Shaking the roof timbers
Song and rhythm pervaded our experience, starting when the Holy Spirit Sisters sang us a blessing as we were ready to depart from the ABVM parking lot. When we arrived at Sun of Hope, the orphans—well past their bedtimes—greeted us with a cheerful welcoming song. During our visit to the motherhouse, we were escorted into a meeting room full of sisters and to a surprise welcoming song, after which we were asked to introduce ourselves.
Given how the ABVM sisters sing at our masses, imagine the sound when you add 30 more sisters (at the first-vows mass), supplemented by an additional 30 from the parishioner choir (for the jubilee mass). The choirs seemed to shake the roof timbers. Overwhelming. Gorgeous. Uplifting.
At celebrations after both masses, the sisters continued the excitement of the music and danced. The jubilee mass and celebration included members of the community and family members, who dressed up formally—some men in tuxes, many of the women’s dresses strikingly fashionable. The two jubilee celebrants were given a variety of gifts by the community, including live goats. Another goat, this one cooked and decorated, was marched in by the cooks and then shared with everyone. Both the jubilee and party included three, maybe four, still and video photographers—and even a camera-mounted drone.
Books and kids, and a two-day safari
We had two long visits with the young girls and boys. On one of them, the kids got a chance to handle the books we had brought. They marveled at the illustrations as they rapidly turned pages. We were able to read to some kids, and some read to us. We also visited the Archbishop of Arusha, a Mt. Kilimanjaro waterfall, and Arusha, where we did some shopping and experienced the hustle and bustle of a Tanzanian city. And we spent two days on safari: Lake Manyara, with its elephants and giraffes, and the ancient and breathtaking Ngorongoro Crater, now a savanna about 10 miles wide teeming with animals grazing peacefully side-by-side (until the lions wake up from their afternoon nap).
As we were getting ready to depart Sun of Hope for the nearby Kilimanjaro airport, the sisters and the children sang us a blessing and departure song, and then we left for the airport accompanied by two of the sisters and four children. The flight back to Philadelphia airport was relatively uneventful. It was just long—three planes, eight hours of layovers, de-icing in Boston, 18 hours in the air.
But the experience was worth it!