· Vatican City ·

Sub-Saharan Africa, the ‘Sr Claire’ Center provides help and hope to children with intellectual disabilities

A curse or a good luck charm

 A curse or a good luck charm  ING-017
26 April 2024

“In some ethnic groups of Sub-Saharan Africa, people with intellectual disabilities are often marginalized”, says Sr Claudia Samba ( fcsm ) who has worked with children with intellectual disabilities in both Senegal and Mauritania for eight years, at the “Sr Claire” Center in Rosso.

“The category of children with intellectual disabilities is seen, on one hand, as a curse, and on the other, as a good luck charm”, says Sr Claudia Samba. The “Sr Claire” Center’s programme begins with home visits, a basic activity that helps the sisters understand and experience the reality of the people they serve in the name of the Catholic mission. Twice a week, the sisters travel to villages around Rosso (Mauritania) where Sr Claudia’s community, the Daughters of the Sacred Heart of Mary ( fcsm ), have had a mission since 2014. Rosso is separated from its twin city, Rosso, Senegal, by the Senegal River.

“During our visits, we noticed that the way in which children with intellectual disabilities were treated varied from one ethnic group to another. On the one hand, they were welcomed and seen as fortunate because they could make money and acquire other goods through begging. On the other hand, they were seen as a curse, the evil spirit of the family, which explained their marginalization”, the sister explains.

Hope and trust through raising awareness

In order to meet the demands of caregiving, the “Sr Claire” Center is committed to raising awareness in all aspects: parental, social, religious, governmental and international. “We traveled for kilometres, at times on sand dykes, and had tears in our eyes when we saw the way children with cerebral paralysis were treated. It was difficult for us to accept these behaviours — both those that treated them as good luck charms and those that saw them as heralds of misfortune”, says Sr Claudia.

Hope came from a project of The Papal Foundation, founded by North American Catholics to bring Christ’s love to the world in need and to be intimately linked to the work of the Church and the Holy Father. The Papal Foundation donated a 16-seat minibus for the daily transportation of children from their homes to the “Sr Claire” Center. Through the Ministry of Social Affairs, other bodies and ngo s also made gestures towards the parents. But there is still a long way to go to eliminate these ethnic-based beliefs [regarding disability] in Sub-Saharan Africa”, she adds.

Finding joy in one’s own work is a gift from God

All children with intellectual disabilities, from birth to 14 years of age, are welcome at the center. “Finding joy in one’s work is a gift from God”, Sr Claudia says, adding that “what the Bible (Eccl 5:18) says is true: these children fill us with joy when they learn to draw, to sing, to write, to mould and to play according to their capabilities”. She describes the things the center’s children create as extraordinary and surprising. “Their intelligent way of being and acting shows us that their world sometimes has surprises for us! As a wise man once said, ‘The secret to life is to love what you do, not do what you love’. This is my secret”, Sr Claudia concludes.


Sr Marie Pépyne Matendakama, fscm