Discover how Sister Isabelle Digvidaï, a Daughter of Jesus in Cameroon, has come to earn this nickname. Share in her joy as she serves the Lord by working for the reintegration of street children in Ngaoundéré.
In addition to my mission in the formation community of Bini, now a postulancy, I worked initially as a coordinator of Caritas. Today, I am responsible for CEDER, a diocesan centre that accompanies street children. On Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, I take the road to the city with the strength that animates me and the support of the whole community to meet the children “on the street” or “in the street”.
Most people are sensitive to the situation of street children. However, they do not really grasp this the complexity of the phenomenon. It creates confusion and can be difficult to fully understand. Sometimes, emotion takes over: people do not understand how and why a little boy under the age of 10 can end up on the street.
Fighting against misconceptions
This astonishment is widespread and I have experienced since I began my mission at CEDER in 2015. Many people do not understand how I manage to coordinate such a difficult, turbulent and “dangerous” children’s centre. Many people believe that I condone the bad acts of these children. Far from it, it is simply a matter of devising appropriate strategies to maintain their education. Take a tour of the centre and you will see!
The population of Ngagoundéré have officially given me the nickname “Mother of the bandits”. They consider the street children to be bandits: those who steal, rape, kill, and end up in prison. According to those who look at them from the outside, all the wrongdoing is down to them.
I also have the nickname because I have no fixed place of work. I go down to the train station, to bars, to restaurants, to travel agencies, to markets. In short, I really do go out on to the street to meet them. Large numbers of them know me and call out to me even when others fail to see or notice me.
As I have lived with these people, so I have got to know them. I have discovered that they carry in them the potential for a “Life full of hope and a future full of success”. The biggest secret for those who work for the recovery of these children is in learning to simply love them.
Living out our charisùm
This is what animates me every day. Our charism of honouring the Sacred Humanity of the Son of God (Rule of life no 3) lives in me and drives me on as I try every day to light the fire of that love which Jesus came to kindle on earth (Rule of Life nà 2). For me, these children are first and foremost beloved creatures, created in the image of God like every one of us. They too have the right to feel loved.
As a Daughter of Jesus, I am called to act as Jesus did, to imitate his virtues. This enables me to enter into the feelings of Jesus as he was faced with those who are marginalised, and considered as impure, immoral or unworthy.
As a Daughter of Jesus animated by the desire to raise up mankind, I commit myself to them, with a certain quality of heart. I dot necessarily express this through my diplomas, or my know-how, but with a sense of reality, of welcome, respect, and listening.
Helping to restore their dignity
With these children, I never cease to ask the Lord for the grace to multiply within me His gestures of mercy so that my presence with them may a presence of love. These children need a love that will protect them from the dangers that “normal” people in society can inflict on them, often without proof. The contempt and hostility shown to them by society pushes them out of social life and accentuates their own reaction of breaking away. Without a voice and with no consideration shown towards them they cannot escape their situation on their own. Being a “mother” to these bandits means holding high a torch of humanity so that dignity can be restored to these well beloved of God.
I find great joy in the mutual encounter with these children because when I arrive, they run towards me, all dirty, and kiss me. They don’t care if I am clean or well dressed. All they want is to take turns to touch me; for them there are no barriers.
Everyone has a right to be fulfilled
My work with these “little ones” has added value and has helped me personally. It has allowed me to learn to love myself with my fragilities. It has given me the desire to read, to collaborate and to enter into relationships with rejected people, especially those who have suffered sexual violence. This in turn has pushed me to work more with prostitutes, and victims of initiation and excision. I do all of this to safeguard human dignity by aiming at the fulfilment of every person created in the image and likeness of God.
Sr Isabelle Digvidaï dj
Bini Dang, Cameroon