In 2008, Mrs Domitilla Rota Hyams was presented with one of the highest Papal awards that can be bestowed on a lay person – the Bene Merenti Medal – pictured above.
Instituted by Pope Gregory XVI in 1832, the Bene Merenti (well deserving) Medal is awarded by the Pope in recognition of a parishioner’s dedication, service and work for the Church and the community.
This was the latest in a number of awards received by Domitilla and Danny for their selfless work for children and adults with intellectual disability.
In 2006, Domitilla received the Lifetime Recognition Award from the Italian-South African Chamber of Trade and Industry at the annual Business Person of the Year Awards.
The Lifetime Recognition Award is presented annually to a person who, in addition to having been involved in business, has distinguished him/herself for exceptional, selfless contribution to the community at large, for which no material gain is expected or received.
Domitilla Rota Hyams - founder of LITTLE EDEN
Domitilla was born and raised in a small village called Albenza in the province of Bergamo in Italy.
Although there was a lot of suffering in her younger days, owing to the War, she believed that it was all part of a Divine plan which brought LITTLE EDEN into being ... the same Divine Providence that has guided, protected and sustained, for over 40 years, this special place of love for children and adults with profound intellectual disability.
It was the War that brought Danny Hyams into her life. A South African escaped prisoner of war, he was sheltered by the Rota family. After the war, he returned to Johannesburg, saved enough money to begin married life, and went back to Italy in 1947 to claim Domitilla as his bride.
The couple had six children - most of whom have served LITTLE EDEN themselves. Daughter Lucy Slaviero is the current CEO, while Mary Hyams is Manager, Care Services and Elizabeth Toldo is Head of Nursing.
Domitilla remained involved in the daily running of the home until well into her eighties, when failing health prevented her from continuing. She was the longest serving volunteer at LITTLE EDEN and, right up until her death on 18 January 2011, she continued to pray daily for her special 'angels'.
Danny walked beside Domitilla every step of the way in the establishment of LITTLE EDEN. From the very beginning, it has always been a place where each individual is not only cared for physically, but also emotionally and spiritually.
'I have often wondered why God chose me to start a place like this,' Domitilla said.
'There is one thing I know: that people with intellectual disability have great value and that God gave them to us to touch our hearts and make us better people.
'We are all the hands of Jesus in caring for our neighbours - regardless of race, colour or intellectual ability. Whether you feed a child, make a donation, or give of your time and attention in some way, the important thing is that you make a difference in your lifetime.
'My greatest wish is that more will be done to ensure the comfort and safety of persons with intellectual disability. And that more communities, families and individuals will come to understand the value of these special people and reach out to them instead of choosing to look the other way.'