The rhythm of life at Kasisi is ruled by the sun. When it sets, playgrounds become empty and the schoolyard quiet. The gentle sound of drums can be heard from afar. It’s sister Jolanta, who, at 94, still leads evening drumming sessions with a group of teenage boys every day. The group gather to talk about how their day went, the ups and downs, and, most importantly, to pray together and thank God for the gift of life. These meetings are always accompanied by song and dance.
For 70 years, Sister Jolanta Bajak has been helping successive generations of Zambian children rejected by their families and communities. She arrived in Kasisi, a village located on the edge of the bush, 25km from Zambia’s capital, Lusaka, in 1945 as a young girl, just twenty years of age, with a dream of becoming a Catholic missionary.
She jokes about how she owes the discovery of her calling to… Stalin. As a young girl, she was deported by railway along with her family to Siberia. When talking about her experience in the Soviet labor camps, there is not a hint of pain or resentment in her voice. Instead, she gets teary-eyed when reminiscing how the people of Poland came together, uniting against the face of evil. Following years of exile in Siberia, with a group of other repatriates she finally managed to travel via the Middle East to Tangerum, in today’s Tanzania. Once there, she became fascinated by the work of missionaries in the refugee camp. She quickly changed her plans of returning to Poland with her mother, and decided to stay and become a missionary in order to fully dedicate her life to God. She joined Polish nuns from the Congregation of the Servant Sisters of Mary Immaculate Conception in Northern Rhodesia (today Zambia) and eventually wound up in the Kasisi orphanage.
Despite the fact that she had no prior experience working with children, knowledge of the local dialects or even English, she got straight to work. “At first I spoke to them in Polish, and I was able to make a connection through a common prayer that every child was familiar with,” she recalls. She adds, however, that God helped and enabled her to carry out her calling as a missionary. In a short time, she mastered 5 local languages as well as English.
In the 1940s, Kasisi was a far cry from the facility it is today. At the time, it made up just one small building with three tiny rooms for children and two huts used by the sisters as a community space and kitchen. The nuns were forced to sleep on cardboard. The poverty was enormous; there was a shortage of almost everything. The situation was so dire that sisters were forced to give children drops of sugar water to ease their suffering. One thing the home never lacked, however, was the abundant love showered upon every child taken in.
During the 70 years sister Jolanta has been at Kasisi, it has changed beyond recognition. Today, it consists of a complex of small buildings where children are housed according to their age, with many amenities and comprehensive care. It is considered the most functional orphanage in the entire country. We are often reminded of this when we take in children who’ve been through the worst – abandoned in bushes, on the side of the road or even latrines. Many come to us severely undernourished, with chronic, fatal illnesses, and physical and mental disabilities. We also take in many victims of domestic violence or human trafficking. There are more than 240 children at Kasisi, from newborns through university students. We know each of their names and personal stories. At Kasisi, they get a second chance at life. We provide shelter, medical care, education, and nourishment. We teach them life skills to prepare them for adulthood. Many of them transform from withdrawn, timid and resentful into confident, secure individuals hopeful about the future.
Sister Jolanta has been taking care of the oldest boys in Kasisi for many years. Nearly three generations separate them but the love they have for each other transcends age. Wherever she goes, she is always accompanied by the watchful boys who want to make sure she is safe. Everyday she thanks God that she is still able to work. She does not ask Him for anything, she simply says: “You decide, because I am yours.” She is overcome with joy when talking about how, despite all the hardships, life is beautiful when placed in God’s hands. Everything she gave up, was returned twofold. The evenings in her native Podolia, spent with her mother admiring the starry sky, dancing and singing… Today, she gazes into the same sky with the group of children under her care, tapping out the rhythm of their songs with her cane.
On the occasion of Missionary Week, we would like to say THANK YOU to all missionaries for their dedication and work in the most remote corners of the world ❤️
Santa Claus never had it easy in Kasisi 😉 Over 230 children live here. Sister Mariola has already rushed to his aid and is quietly preparing presents!
Many of us still leave a free seat at the Christmas Eve table. Let one of our children sit at it this year (at a distance, but very much for real) and invite them to the table today!