On November 11 2010, Sr Beatrice Chipeta co-sharred the seventh World US $1million Opus Award, a faith-based humanitarian prize which recognises unsung heroes who are guided by faith and an entrepreneurial spirit, at Fordham Jesuit University in United States of America. The kind-hearted Rosaria Sister in the Karonga Catholic Diocese explains to ALBERT SHARRA the motivation behind her 9 000-beneficiary Lusubilo Community Based Orphan Care project, for which she was recognised.
You won a very prestigious award, yet so many donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t know who you areÃ¢â‚¬Â¦
I am Sister Beatrice Chipeta. I come from Ekwendeni in Mzimba but I was born and grew up in Livingstonia where my parents worked. I was born in mid October, 1943. I did my primary school at Ekwendeni, Mzuzu and Katete primary schools before being selected to Stella Maris Secondary School in Blantyre. From there I went to Katete Teachers Training College where I trained as a primary school teacher. I was then posted to Karonga Primary School before moving to Katete and Kasiya girlsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ primary schools. I have taught in these schools for about 30 years. Most importantly, I am a Rosarian Sister in the Karonga Catholic Diocese and I am based here at Lusubilo Community Based Orphan Care in Karonga.
Did you always want to be a nun?
Not really! Because I was born into and grew up in a Presbyterian family, I never expected to be a Catholic Sister one day. I realised it was my calling after I had already grown into an adult. I followed the path and here I am.
Getting Ã¢â‚¬ËœhereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ as you call it, must have been interesting?
I became a nun in 1962, after my secondary school, I went to Rumphi Reformatory House where I trained as a sister. Because of my commitment to church activities, I started concentrating on prayers and charity work. I therefore became a nun before I retired from teaching. A little before I retired, I joined the Mzuzu Diocese Home Based Care project which was ran by the Catholic nuns. After I retired from teaching, I focused all my energies on assisting the needy through the project. Unfortunately, I was not there for long and left Mzuzu for Karonga a few months later. In Karonga, there were a lot of children on the streets. I felt sympathetic towards them and decided to start a relief project with the community to assist the disadvantaged children in the surrounding communities. In the beginning, my idea faced a lot of resistance from the authorities in the district but at last, I managed to convince them. Thus, Lusubilo Community Based Orphan Care was formed.
As a Rosarian Sister, what do you do?
I hold prayers with people every day and carry out church activities at the parish.Most nuns hold prayers. Some pray for 24 hours while others pray for a few hours each day. Others just carry out other spiritual activities such as helping in church, facilitating choirs, Mass and any other church activity. They are usually charity-oriented and are eager to assist others.
What does the path to becoming a nun involve?
In the first place, you need to have a heart set on assisting the needy and you need to have loyalty towards spiritual matters. Most nuns have to train as sisters for two years.
Where did you get the money to fund your project?
That is where I can testify to how wonderful God is. I can honestly say that I started this project without a single coin and all my hope was on team work. I just met people in the community and convinced them that if we worked as a team, we could assist the needy people in our communities. Fortunately, they listened and agreed. Within a few months, we had raised some money to run the project.
Tell us a little more Lusubilo Orphan Care
It is a community-based orphan care project with over 9 000 beneficiaries. These include orphans, elderly and refugees; the vulnerable. I founded the project in 1997 after witnessing the tough conditions children and other vulnerable people were living in. Beneficiaries at this orphan care come from all traditional authorities in Karonga and a few communities in Chitipa. There are over 66 villages benefiting from the project. We provide services such as infant care, home-based care, community feeding, orphan-headed households support, village nutrition centres, food production techniques, vocational training and a school bursary programme. We take care of the children, child headed families and the vulnerable. We cook food for all the beneficiaries and give support to beneficiaries living in their homes. We only have 180 orphans at the care centre but the rest get support in their homes. Everything is done by the community and it is the community members who do all the cooking. We only employed few staff who do technical issues such as the nutrition and agriculture management projects. We have less than seven core members of staff.
What duties do you carry out at the centre?
I overlook the activities taking place at the care and source funds for the project. I meet with the community to strategise on what can be done. I also hold prayers with orphans to improve their spiritual life.
Why do you think you were awarded?
The Opus people travel the world, looking for people who are successful in assisting the needy in their communities. When they visited Malawi mid-2010, they were impressed with what we are doing at the orphan care. So, they enlisted us among the best seven projects to compete at world level and we succeeded. However, this year, for the first time in the history of the Opus, the award will be split between two recipients. The other recipient is Fr. John Halligan of Working BoyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Centre project in Quito, Ecuador. What impressed the judges most, I think, was the fact that everything at the orphan care is done by the community members. A lot of projects have failed to survive based on this principle. Also, I think the impact that it has had on the community amazed them.
How do you feel about gaining international recognition?
To be honest with you, it does not mean anything to me because I am not doing it for recognition. I am working on this project to assist the needy and to make their lives colourful. It is not a one-man-show, either. I just came up with the idea and the rest is done by the community. So, this is not my award; it belongs to the community. For this reason, we have arranged a number of reflection ceremonies in all communities so that everyone feels the honour of receiving the award and then celebrate the success together.
Half a million dollars is a lot of money, how are you going to use it?
I have already pointed out where the award belongs, which means the money belongs there also. All of it will be invested in the activities of the project. We havenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t decided on the exact figures, but it will be used on infrstructure development and the implementation of new projects at the centre.
What keeps the project going?
God reveals Himself to us through the project. We only depend on active participation by the community members and we have a number of activities that we do to raise some money, but we rely much on donors. Most of these donors come through of their own accord, when they hear of us and are impressed by our activities. We have survived in this manner since we started out.
What are your future plans?
The one thing that puzzles me everyday is the condition in which most children in the country are living. My dream is to reach out to all of them. I am happy that many donors have promised to assist us and we will use the money to reach to the remaining areas and go out to other dioceses.
Apart from community participation, what else motivates you about the project?
The only thing that brings a smile on my face is when I see a happy child. I am also happy to see people taking it upon themselves to help out the vulnerable. We have about 10 University of Malawi graduates who come through to help us out and every time I see them working on various projects, my heart is filled with joy.