Mathilde Nkwirikiye Ntahoturi from Burundi shared the story of her work with orphaned and abandoned babies informally at the Spouses’ Conference.
Mathilde, who is a lawyer and is married to the Archbishop of Burundi, the Most Revd Bernard Ntahoturi, said that her heart was touched by the plight of the many motherless children aged 0-5. Many have been orphaned through HIV/AIDS, while others have been abandoned in tragic circumstances.
Mathilde had become involved through her work as a lawyer trying to trace the families for children displaced as a result of the civil war.
She said that she had been called to this particular field of work through her experience of finding a foster mother for a little girl she called Bela (which means beautiful). When Bela’s foster mother subsequently died from HIV/AIDS Mathilde went on to find adoptive parents for her - because she couldn’t bear Bela to be abandoned yet again.
“My heart was touched,” she said. “I told this to my Bible Study group and we were all in tears. We brought this problem to God in prayer. We felt we needed to do something for these babies.”
Today Mathilde runs the “Arms of Love Baby Home” where abandoned babies can be cared for while foster families are found for them. “I like making this connection between these babies who need loves and the foster mothers who have love to give,” she says.
She also runs the Twizere (‘Let’s Have Hope’) Community Project to resource the grandparents and aunts caring for orphaned children. She points out that the babies of HIV positive mothers are often HIV negative themselves, provided that they are not breastfed. She sees the role of the Church here as vital: “We are the only organisation working with children telling HIV positive mothers not to breastfeed,” she says. She is campaigning for the Burundian government to subsidise milk formula for HIV positive mothers.
Another project - the Second Chance Class - is about educating young girls and teaching them practical skills so that they feel valued.
Now, whenever Mathilde travels around the diocese with her husband, people bring abandoned babies to her. She has become widely recognised as a woman who knows how to get things done.
“I feel that God is around and in control,” she says, with a broad smile. “We will keep praying for these babies.”