Sr. Mildness Chinake, of the Carmelite Sisters, is Team Leader at the Tongogara Refugee Camp (JRS Zimbabwe).
When did you join JRS and what do you do in your current role?
I joined JRS in January 2020 and in my current role I implement the mission and vision of JRS in Zimbabwe. In collaboration with the Regional Office, I oversee budget performance and managerial issues and I communicate with stakeholders concerning implementation and development of the projects. I also represent JRS at camp functions and meetings.
JRS cares for children and the vulnerable and I alert authorities about any issues affecting their well-being. Attention is given to psychosocial needs, as many suffer from psychosocial distress associated with their traumatic past. Besides daily management, I sometimes conduct home visits for the elderly and distribute food parcels to the refugee community. I also engage in the identification of persons of concern who meet the criteria for psychosocial support, and I conduct sporting activities for the elderly and staff members to keep them healthy. Sport has a unique power of bringing people together. It also creates room for refreshing the mind.
What brought you to serve refugees? Do you have a “cannonball” moment that led you to dedicate your life to the marginalised?
My personal encounter at St Marcellin Children’s Village in Harare with the orphans, blind, crippled, deaf, and mute prompted me to assist the marginalized. When I was working there, I served disabled people who were not able to feed themselves. I fed them. I had a very close relationship with them. I was touched with their inner joy despite their physical suffering.
St Ignatius says that love is shown more in deeds than in words. That experience, the quotes of St Ignatius, and the writings of the sermons of the Cappodocian Fathers transformed me and I dedicated myself to the marginalized. St Ignatius also notes that, if our life is not marked by caring for the poor, the oppressed, the hungry, we are guilty of apathy.
The vision and mission of St Ignatius is almost the same as the vision and mission of the founder of the Carmelite Sisters, Bishop Donal Lamont. He said: “I wanted you to be special; I wanted you to serve our Lord in his Church, following the example of Our Lady who replied to the Angel “I am the Handmaid of the Lord”. Inspired by the example of Elijah and being the “other Hand of Mary”, we happily reach out in love and compassion to all the people especially the marginalized, poor and the oppressed; being a sign of hope in their lives.
I learned to exercise patience, love, and humility and to be present when serving the people of God.
Is there something from the life of St. Ignatius that inspires you in your work for JRS?
I am inspired by the call of St Ignatius from military to priesthood. St Ignatius cast aside his life as a noble soldier and dressed himself in rough clothes and sandals to take up the life of a poor pilgrim. St Ignatius had a unique experience that made him dedicate his life to service of the marginalized. His personal experience made him realise that somebody transformed his life.
The personal experience that I had at St Marcellin Children’s Home was a pointer to what I was supposed to do at Tongogara Refugee Camp. When I was doing home visits within the camp, I came across an elderly blind woman named Anna. She was staying with her grandchildren. Most of the time, Anna was alone at home. I felt sympathy for her, and I made frequent visits to her house. Anna was a prayerful woman. She was a Catholic and she taught me how to pray our Lord’s Prayer and Hail Mary in Kiswahili. She shared her joys and sorrows. She did not want to miss Sunday Services. She used to call me my friend (rafiki) and she recognised me by voice. Anna was always very happy and grateful; she understood the love that Jesus had for her. She did not want to be a burden to her family and often did not tell them her needs so as not to bother them. Unfortunately, she passed away.
St Ignatius states that, if God allows a person many sufferings, it is a sign that he has great plans for the person and certainly wants to make them a saint. The personal encounter I had with Anna, made me to conclude that she was ordained for greater things.
Pope Francis says, “No one saves himself. We are either saved together or we are not saved.” How does this message speak to you and your experience with forcibly displaced people?
When one has a problem, the problem is for everyone. In Africa we have the concept of Ubuntu: “I am because we are.” There is more strength in community life than in individual life. If one has a problem, we can address the problem as a community.
Allow me to narrate the story of a disabled boy named Mike. When I met him in 2020, he was staying with his mother and his living conditions were not pleasant. I advocated for him, and he became one of our beneficiaries. In 2021, the mother moved away with her other children and Mike was left alone. The neighbors reported the case and one family eventually volunteered to take care of Mike, saying they were called by God to look after him. I was so touched that a stranger was taking care of the child.
St Ignatius notes that rather than asking what we should do, we need to understand how God invites us – and many people of good will – to share in His great work. That is when his prayer is fulfilled. Many people were not willing to take care of Mike because of his condition. St Ignatius highlights that we should all try to bear one another’s burdens by acts of helpfulness when need arises.
St Ignatius states that whatever you are doing, that which makes you feel most alive…that is where God is. At Tongogara Refugee Camp we meet and address issues as partners. It calls us to solidarity particularly with the marginalized. There is a need for positive attitude towards disabled people. One of the disabled people who managed to do Vocational Skills Training with JRS reiterated that, being disabled does not mean you are a useless person, one can do great things.