: Community News
August 7, 2014
Last updated: Thursday, August 7, 2014, 12:31 AM

Teaneck woman visits orphanage in Ghana, delivers hope

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Megan Burrow/staff photo

Lorna Hines-Cunningham, of Teaneck, took a trip to Ghana in July to visit an orphanage with 40 children who were born with birth defects. She hopes to continue to help these children.

By Megan Burrow
Teaneck Suburbanite

TEANECK - When Lorna Hines-Cunningham saw "Spirit Children" a short documentary shown at the Teaneck International Film Festival last fall, she knew she wanted to do something to help the children depicted in the film.
It was made by her friends Zelda and Ralph Patterson, about an orphanage in northern Ghana run by Sister Stan Terese Mario Mumuni. In the rural area, some believe that children born with birth defects or disabilities are omens of bad fortune. These "spirit children" are rejected or ritually killed for the sake of the remaining family and community. To save these children, Sister Stan and her staff take them in and help get them proper healthcare and education.
Hines-Cunningham, a Teaneck resident since 1986, had encouraged her filmmaker friends to submit their work to the local festival, but did not see the film, which depicts a day in the life of these children, until last November. After watching it, she was deeply moved and committed to taking action.
"When I saw it, something about the children in it just spoke to me. I was in tears looking at it and I said to myself then that I would like to do something to help these children and help this effort," she said.
She sent the orphanage a donation in memory of a relative that had recently passed away, and the staff wrote back thanking her for her help. Then in February, fate intervened when Hines-Cunningham received an email from her undergraduate alma mater, Drew University, informing her of an alumni trip being developed to go to Ghana.
"I really took that as God saying you’re going in the right direction," she said. "I didn’t know how I was going to get the money, but I just made it my intention that I was going to try and make this happen."
Hines-Cunningham spoke with the leaders and congregations of two churches she is involved with, Christ Episcopal Church in Teaneck and The Journey Within Spiritualist Church in Pompton Lakes, and eventually collected nearly $3,000 for the orphanage.
She said she was overwhelmed by people’s generosity. "It might not sound like a lot, but I think it’s significant, especially in the financial times that we’re living in. People gave from a place in their hearts and souls. I got as little as $2 from people who are disabled themselves, retired or elderly, to as much as $1,000. On checks and small pieces of paper people wrote beautiful notes to the children about how much they cared about them and supported them."
Although the July 13-26 trip was planned to visit different parts of Ghana, the trip coordinator enabled her to go to the orphanage, deliver the donations and spend time with the children. She visited the small village on her own, but many others on the trip were interested in doing their part to help after they returned to the United States, said Hines-Cunningham.
In all, she was at the orphanage for about a day and a half, an experience she called "life changing."
The children range in age from infants to 16 years old, and regardless of their own challenges, they seemed more concerned about her comfort as a visitor.
"In spite of their circumstances, which in my way of thinking were far less then adequate, far less than comfortable, these children emanated towards me a sense of hope, a sense of love and a sense of community," she said.
The 40 children who live there share one bathroom and one water spigot, with water pressure so low it takes a long time just to fill a bucket. The roof leaks and the rooms are small, but Sister Stan and her staff plan to move to a new facility this month, where hopefully some of these problems will be addressed.
While there, Hines-Cunningham played with the children, talked with them and listened as they sang her songs. "There are not a lot of resources there. The walls were crumbling, the roof leaked and the stove was small. I wondered how they could cook for all 40 people," she said. "But I think there is more to be hopeful about after being there. There was not a sense of despair, but a sense of hope."
In addition to money and resources, the orphanage is in need of volunteers to help the staff with the children. Many have medical needs, and while Hines-Cunningham was visiting, two children were in the hospital. Because the hospital does not feed its patients, in addition to paying for medical care, Sister Stan must send a staff member and rent a room near the hospital with a kitchen so they can cook and bring meals to the children.
She said she was struck by the dedication of Sister Stan, who is everything at the orphanage, "from chief cook to bottle washer," and the sense of community among the children. "I had arrived before her, when she came in she was driving a flat bed truck full of supplies," she recalled. "When she pulled up, all of the children, without being asked, started grabbing stuff and taking it in the house. It’s clear that they feel this is their home and that they are a part of it. There was such a strong sense of community and taking care of one another."
Now that she is back, Hines-Cunningham is committed to continuing to help. She is currently raising $7,000 to pay to ship supplies to the orphanage in a large container and is working on creating a group, Friends of Sister Stan’s Children, to help with the efforts.
A licensed clinical social worker, Hines-Cunningham has a private psychotherapy practice in Teaneck, but retired from her job in Trenton working for the state in April. As members of her generation reach retirement age, she said there’s a tremendous opportunity for them to positively impact the world.
"Often people think of retirement as a time to rest and kind of exhale," she said. "My generation, the baby boomers, are a generation that focused on activism, and focused on finding solutions to problems. Many of us may get overwhelmed about the enormity of the ills our society faces, but there’s an opportunity for people in my age group to take smaller steps. I think this is a small step that I’m taking that is doable and that will hopefully positively impact the lives of these children. For me, this was a calling I felt that I needed to respond to."
For more information, visit or email Lorna Hines-Cunningham at

Lorna is available for in-person, telephone, and Skype readings.