“AIDS orphans often lack modeling, security and love,” Sister Marion says. “It is our aim to help the children to cope with their reality, to live responsibly and without fear. To give the opportunity for the child to be a child.”
With three Tanzanians, Sister Marion began an AIDS orphan project called (in Swahili) Watoto Wapinge Ukimwi in Musoma in 1999. Its goal is to keep AIDS orphans in school at least until they finish their primary grades.
Some of the children who are chosen to continue their education are also helped depending on the family situation and the ability of the child. They have counselors in each section, and they are responsible to be there for the children, teachers and families. They try to engage the school and the villages in identifying the children most in need and ask for their input on possible solutions to problems.
Most of the children in the AIDS project are from rural areas. Most are living with grandparents, aunts or uncles, and a few are being raised by siblings. The ages vary from 7 to 19. The children may lack psychological support or there is no one in the family to praise and challenge them. There also are cases of abuse and lack of care.
In 2005, Sister Marion began Lisa’s Pride, an organization for children in Tanzania who are HIV-positive. The group was founded with funds raised to create a memorial for a girl named Lisa, though people have continued to donate in Lisa’s memory. The program gives nutrition and medical care to local children.
The program also serves as a support group for the children and their caregivers. Advice is shared to help keep children healthy and give them a chance to be like normal kids. There is also a make-a-wish component: children have asked for toys, clothes, and even mattresses.
Sister Marion came to Maryknoll from New Rochelle, NY, in 1959 after earning a Bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Mount St. Vincent College. In 1964, she received her Certificate as a lab technician from St. Joseph’s Hospital in Kansas City, and the same year was assigned to Tanzania.
After language study, she taught at Rosary College, a Maryknoll Sisters secondary school for girls, and St. Mary’s Seminary, both in Mwanza, Tanzania. She also was the business administrator for Nyegezi Social Training Center, and then was in charge of two teams for maternal and child clinics. She also worked on a church leadership training team and helped distribute food sent by Catholic Relief Services in the United States.
All of her experiences have prepared Sister Marion for the crisis of the AIDS pandemic, which continues to be one of the major causes of death in her current mission in Musoma.