Suffer the Little Children

On a pleasant hillside in Oberhausen, Germany, children chat in small groups in a camp-like setting. They speak many languages, and their skin tones are across the palette, as in Disney's "It's a Small World." But this is not Disney World, this is Friedensdorf, or Peace Village, and here the children move about on crutches, canes, and wheelchairs. These 200 children, ages 6 months to 14 years, have come for medical care in hospitals in Germany, Austria, and the Netherlands followed by rehabilitation at Friedensdorf. Every year 1,000 children from 15 countries including Angola, Afghanistan, Romania, Georgia, and Vietnam are cared for in this way.

Established in 1967, Friedensdorf was the creation of a Lutheran pastor, Fritz Berghaus, and the former mayor of Oberhausen, Luise Albertz. "They said [as Germans] they had to do more than pray," said staff member Wolfgang Mertens, who came to the village 20 years ago, "…and face [Germany's] responsibility for all that happened to the Jews and others during World War II."

But the village's beginnings were troubled; the first 100 children who came from Vietnam were made into German citizens. "We were hesitant to return them," Mertens said. "We didn't know if there would be a bloody revolution or not." Today, the children go home after treatment and rehabilitation.

THE NUMBER OF CHILDREN selected for treatment and rehabilitation will equal the number of available hospital beds in Europe. The children must match four criteria: adequate medical treatment is not available in their native land, successful treatment is possible in Europe, the families are financially needy, but they are able to take back the children after treatment.

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Sojourners Magazine March-April 2001
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