MUTOKO – After being employed in Mutoko as a matron of Mother of Peace orphanage home in 1994, Jean Cornneck received her “first baby”, an infant that had been dumped in a village latrine pit.
Cornneck recalls that a young girl, gave birth in a toilet and dumped it into the pit, then disappeared into thin air.
A passer-by who wanted to relieve himself in the same toilet heard noises and called other villagers, who at first thought it was a cat that had been trapped.
The villagers later discovered that the sounds were actually that of a baby and they had to dig beside the pit latrine until the infant was retrieved.
“The villagers took her to hospital and the social welfare in turn brought her to our newly established orphanage home,” recounted Cornneck.
“The baby was severely disabled and doctors said she could last only for only three months. But with the grace and power of God, it survived for 22 months.”
The second baby also arrived in 1994 and she was said to be HIV positive.
“The girl’s parents had both died of the disease and she had no known relatives at the time. The social welfare department brought her here and she had all the symptoms of an Aids patient.
“But some magical moments were to manifest in that girl’s life. In three years, all the symptoms disappeared and everyone was surprised. Doctors checked on her and reported her to be HIV negative.
“It was miraculous and even the doctors were left with no medical explanation to the sudden transformation in the girl’s HIV/Aids status. That girl is still alive and is a living testimony of the hand of God. She is now reunited with her relatives and is doing well,” smiles Cornneck.
At 80 years, Cornneck has seen it all and currently Mother of Peace orphanage has 189 children who were seconded there through the social welfare department.
“Most of the children’s parents died of HIV/Aids and some of the children have the disease. Some of the children are just dumped by their mothers at hospitals while others are picked up from the bushes.”
But Cornneck is happy with her ministry and work thus far.
“Through this institution, I have learnt that even the poor can enjoy life. I love it when I am able to give joy to someone suffering.”
She is however, concerned that some of the children who are now above 18 have to leave the home.
“The social welfare department says all those above 18 years should go away. But I have been fighting with them because after this child was abandoned, we looked after him or her and at 18 years they want us to abandon them again. Throw my children on the streets as adults? I am worried about this law.”
Cornneck has instead bought housing stands for those who leave the institution.
“I have acquired five housing stands so far and gave them to those who are above 18 years. Some are already constructing houses and I am using my pension money to do that.”
She said an Indian company is partnering her home and builds two bedroom cottages for those children reunited with their families.
“So far they have built nine beautiful cottages in different villages for those united with their families.
“But the problem with us blacks is that once the cottages are built, those staying with the children want them out so they can have the houses to themselves. Girls are quickly married off so they leave the cottages.”
Since 1994, the orphanage has buried about 128 children.
“There was a time when children were dying everyday because of HIV/Aids and you could bury one, two or three a day. It was painful but things started to improve when Dr Robert Scott introduced ARVs.
“Then, HIV/Aids was still talked about in private. When Dr Scott introduced ARVs, thousands of people used to visit our clinic to access drugs.”
Cornneck works hard to be able to feed the children. The home farms beans, potatoes, vegetables and rears cattle for dairy and meat.
Currently, they have 500 chickens that lay eggs and another batch for meat. They also rear pigs.
For Cornneck, social work has dominated her working life.
After training as a nurse at Silveira Mission Hospital in Bikita in 1957, she moved to Gutu’s Chinyika Mission before finally joining Regina Coeli Mission as the nurse in charge for orphans.
Cornneck was born in a Christian family comprising three sisters.
Her other sister, Stella returned from UK and is now working with her at the centre.