As we come to the close of 2016, I am filled with gratitude for our achievements together and hopeful for a future full of new possibilities. In retrospect, 2016 has been an incredible year, your continued support and solidarity with sisters in Africa has touched my heart and soul and given profound meaning to my life.
Catholic Sisters: Champions of Sustainable Development Convening
(Nairobi, October 2016)
In particular, a life giving convening was held in Nairobi, Kenya under the auspices of the Catholic Sisters Initiative at the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation and ASEC. The October 2016 convening brought together 189 attendees from 21 countries; including 123 Superiors Generals, Provincial and Regional leaders who represent over 6,658 sisters across ten countries served by the African Sisters Education Collaborative (ASEC). The sisters represented live in 1,283 convents, and provide services in 653 schools, 283 healthcare institutions, 243 pastoral and social service programs and 184 other varied ministries. These numbers illustrate a significant growth and change since 1822 when the Sisters of Saint Josephs of Cluny established a mission in the Gambia.
Working with a very committed and dedicated team; the Catholic Sisters Initiative at the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, the Center for Religion and Civic Culture and the Africa Sisters Education Collaborative staff, the convening was a time for listening, learning and living true collaboration. Having participated in planning the convening, witnessing it unfold I had an aha moment, a paradigm shift in my perception. Silently I watched as attendees made connections, hugged each other, took pictures, listened to speakers, they were enthusiastic and a positive energy flowed and remained in the entire space through the convening. It was momentous to execute something bigger than ourselves for the benefit of women religious in Africa in honor of the work they do and the people they so willingly serve. It was a moment to elevate, appreciate and recognize their work as well as learn about United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs) and how we can contribute in attaining these goals.
Although attendees represented various bodies including, government, philanthropy, church, religious institutes, nongovernmental organization and civic organizations, there was one message that cut across all these entities – a desire to connect, to take action, to make sustainable difference in society towards achieving the 2030 transformative agenda. There was a shared understanding that all were contributing to make a difference in the society, but there was deeper call to be more intentional and search for meaningful ways to collaborate and to measure our success together.
In speaking to several attendees, I recognized a deep sense of shift in our perception of the work sisters do and an understanding that they are truly full members of global partnership as described in one of the goals and demonstrated in the posters presented and displayed at the convening. The following were some of my observations and conclusions:
- there was a consensus that our strength is our imagination and paying attention to what sustains life was more important than what destroys it.
- I felt we shared a quiet sense of community, we were a learning community, and a community that felt more empowered and wanted to continue contributing significantly to empower others and to create positive change we desired to see.
- I felt there was willful resolve demonstrating a quiet effect to change our society.
During a poster session that depicted projects and ministries operated by sisters in remote, rural and urban regions of their countries, I felt a river of dialogue was starting to flow, and a desire to work together enmeshed conversations leading to a creative energy in search for ways to collaborate. What remained was not what the next steps to take are, but connections were made and pathways of continued connection were charted including ways to share ideas. In the end, the desire to create a center to study consecrated life in Africa remained an essential dream that will continue to unfold in hope to continue enlivening religious life, studying essential trajectories, and nurturing the growth that is already evident in Africa.
I am most grateful to ASEC staff in the United States and Africa for embodying the mission of ASEC and giving their full attention to attain it. Thanks to the planning and coordinating teams in Nairobi. I am indebted to the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation for providing an opportunity for sisters in Africa to experience the convening in their own soil and to the Center for Religion and Civic Culture for your timeless dedication and working with us to make the convening a success - indeed it takes a village to raise a child – we all did it and so well. It will take several months to unpack convening experiences.
This spirit filled gathering had a momentous positive energy emanating from a shared understanding that together Catholic sisters, foundations, non-profit organizations, and other sectors, will make significant strides in the realization of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs). Attendees left the convening with a commitment to work together to further the UNSDGs.
Our Programs and Impact
Since its founding in 1999, ASEC has served nearly 4,500 sisters in 10 countries in Africa. In 2016 alone, ASEC received two major grants from the Conrad N Hilton Foundation which will support over 2000 sisters to participate in its major programs by 2020;
- 1300 in Phase 4 of the Sisters Leadership Development Initiative (SLDI), and
- 850 in the Higher Education for Sisters in Africa (HESA) project which expanded to include support for sisters to pursue undergraduate and master’s degrees at 23 colleges in 10 countries in Africa partially online in the US.
ASEC continues to develop its programs, including the Scholarship Program, Service Learning Program, and Research Initiative. Already, over 200 sisters are being served by the Scholarship Program, enrolling to complete high school and two-year college diplomas in Tanzania, Malawi, and Zambia; a new class of students from Marywood University and Chestnut Hill College in the US are preparing to travel to Tanzania in May 2017 for Service Learning; and over 50 sisters and scholars participated in a research training held in East and West Africa. Furthermore, a new component of ASEC’s programming is providing training to superior generals and councilors, over 500 participated to date.
Through ASEC programs, sister beneficiaries continue to improve lives for the disadvantaged in healthcare, education, social welfare and pastoral ministries. ASEC continues to witness the impact of its alumnae and their mentees. Reporting from 2016 found that alumnae and their mentees raised over 10 million dollars to support their projects, serving nearly 1.7 million individuals and creating 2,000 jobs. SLDI Alumnae are mentoring over 20,000 individuals in one-on-one sessions, in groups, and through trainings, sharing knowledge gained by ASEC facilitators.
ASEC’s talented and dedicated board directors, staff, and partners are moving forward ASEC’s mission each day by reaching out to women religious in Africa and the people they so willingly serve in their ministries and communities. I am deeply grateful to ASEC staff in the USA and Africa and partners for coming together to contribute significantly in making meaningful and a positive difference in the lives of Catholic sisters in Africa. I am also pleased for your continued commitment and journeying with me to realize the mission of ASEC. I am confident you will continue to partner with us in important and meaningful ways to realize the mission of ASEC in support of Catholic sisters and their ministries in Africa.
Thank you, as always, for your gracious support, together we look forward to a new year and a future with hope and optimism.