Comboni Missionary, a Mom to 300, Receives Award

Sister Gabriella Ghidei Hailed for Work Among Eritrean Orphans

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ROME, DEC. 13, 2002 ( Every morning for the past 28 years, Eritrean Sister Gabriella Ghidei has gone to the state orphanage of Asmara, to feed, wash, help and love dozens of orphans. Dec. 6 was different.

On that day, the Comboni missionary was in the Hotel San Vincenzo in Rome to receive an award from the Regional Council of Valle d’Aosta, Italy, as part of its «Woman of the Year» ceremony.

The story began when the Misna missionary agency nominated Sister Gabriella as a candidate for the award, seeing in her a perfect representation of this year’s theme, «Woman and Infancy.»

In the end, Sister Gabriella won the 10,000-euro ($10,157) prize awarded to each of the three finalists; the other two were Italian Giovanna Pezzullo and Swiss Barbara Hofmann, the official designee.

The Comboni sister always wanted to be a religious. «My desire was to work with the sick and with orphans and it came true,» she told Misna. Today, she has some 300 children: 63 below the age of 6, most others 18 and under, and even a handful attending university.

«Some of the little ones were abandoned on the streets,» Sister Gabriella explained; others were left in the clinic after their birth, their mothers giving a «false address, making them impossible to trace.»

The majority are children of teen-age mothers, poorest among the poor in a nation where, despite the end of the war with Ethiopia, there are still some 300,000 young soldiers in circulation, equivalent to a tenth of the population of Eritrea. Some of the orphans might be children of the soldiers, Sister Gabriella noted. But now they are «hers.»

«So many have passed through over the years,» and many of them, are now married and have their own children, yet they «still come back to visit us, because we are their family,» she said.

«With the money, I would like to build a new house for my orphans,» Sister Gabriella said. «The one they are in now is too close to the road, and it is humid and cold. I would like a house with 60 cots, in a safer and dryer place.»

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