“I got out of the vehicle and this woman with gray hair approached me. I could tell she was a force to be reckoned with,” Dave said.
“Are you the Chaplain? The village is waiting for you to lead worship. I need you to preach on these verses,” she said. That was Dave’s introduction to Sister Donna Frances of the Heartland HIV/AIDS Orphan Girls’ Residence and Vocational Training Center. The center is in a rural area across a lake from Awasa, Ethiopia. It takes about 45 minutes on very rough roads to reach it.
The lake is a drinking place for all sorts of wildlife including hippopotami and crocodiles. “Sister Donna told me baby hippos often came out of the lake near her house,” Dave said. The wetlands by the lake also caused problems with mosquitos, and Sister Donna, who had malaria 17 times, made it a project to fill them in to cut down on the mosquito population and the diseases they carry.
Sister Donna ended up becoming a friend. A nun from the Order of Sacred Hearts of Mary, she grew up in California but devoted most of her life to working with orphans and those less fortunate, first in Japan for 20 years, and then in Ethiopia since 2001.
The orphanage houses girls, many dropped off by parents or taken off the streets. In Ethiopia, if parents cannot take care of their children, they will often abandon daughters to fend for themselves. These girls often turn to prostitution to survive. Sister Donna takes them in, provides them with food, shelter and clothing and teaches them a vocation, such as sewing, so they can make it on their own someday.
As a religious leader, Sister Donna is accorded the respect given to all religious leaders. However, some members of the community were not pleased she put up barriers around her property to protect the children from the wild animals. “Some in the community broke down the barriers because they did not want to go around the property to get to the water source, they wanted to go through it,” Dave said.
But despite the difficulties, her faith never waivers. “She is absolutely dedicated to her children and the desperate need they have for medical, educational and just life resources. She’s trying to give them a chance to live and not become prostitutes, living on the streets,” Dave said. “Amazing dedication.”