06/15/2006, 00.00
AFGHANISTAN
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Nuns in 'civilian' clothes serving Jesus in Kabul

Three nuns from the 'Association for Kabul Children' work with children with mental disabilities, earn respect and help from locals.

Kabul (AsiaNews) – For the past year and half, three Catholic nuns have been working with children with mental disabilities in Kabul. The three sisters, from Pakistan and Poland, are the beating heart of the 'Association for Kabul Children' set up in response to Pope John Paul II's plea to save Afghan children.

"As Catholic nuns we work wearing clothes like local women, head covered without our order's habit, but we always carry Jesus in us," Sister Ela told AsiaNews.

Theirs is a silent witness for "all we do, all our life is for Christ. But here our work is humanitarian and must be so."

Each morning, Sister Ela, a Polish nun from the Franciscan Order of Mary, and Sisters Janila and Erasia, from the Dominican Missionaries of Saint Catherine, wait for their children to arrive.

"We are like a school. Parents bring their children around 7 am and we start our practices," Sister Ela said.

There are seven children with special needs, boys and girls whose age ranges from six to ten, mostly affected by cerebral palsy.

"Each one suffers from a different problem. After some playing we start the actual treatment. The more advanced learn to write—not so much phrases, but a few letters. We teach the others how to go to the bathroom or how to eat on their own," she explained. "Some instead need physiotherapy to learn basic movements." And at 2 pm the parents come and take them home.

"Our task also means being close to the families of the affected children. They don't really know how to cope with their children's afflictions."

The family is a strong institution in Afghanistan so that "despite poverty children are never abandoned," she stressed. "You would be hard pressed to see any in the streets and if you do it is only because they are begging for some money for their sisters and brothers."
The three nuns are not alone. Some locals—a cook, a cleaning lady and a guard—provide help.

"Life with the Afghans is peaceful. Our neighbours know about our religion and they respect and help us. During the latest disturbances in Kabul last month they welcomed us into their homes for a few days," Sister Ela said.

"More importantly, many people have expressed their gratitude for our work. Our centre is the only one in the city that works with mentally-disabled children. This is a huge problem, and more money is needed."

The 'Association for Kabul Children' has a dream and it is to provide more help to needy children, "perhaps by picking up the children directly so that parents don't have to leave home. But for now," Sister Ela said, "we are keeping our feet on the ground, surviving thanks to donations, and cannot make plans that are too ambitious".

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