1. Catholic Sisters are already addressing the most serious development challenges Africa is facing
Since 1999, African Sisters Education Collaborative (ASEC) has been educating women religious in Sub-Saharan Africa. Upon learning about ASEC’s work, people in the United States sometimes ask, "Why do you support Catholic sisters... in Africa?” We feel that this question presents a unique opportunity for those of us at ASEC to reveal why Catholic sisters in Africa are such powerful agents of change. We often reply with...
“Did you know that unlike the United States, the Catholic population in Africa is growing rapidly? Did you know that Catholic Sisters are addressing many of the serious development challenges in Africa today? Issues like poverty, chronic hunger, disease, ecological degradation, and violence?”
The truth is that while Africa is a continent of vast potential, it currently faces serious obstacles of poverty, chronic hunger, disease, ecological degradation and violence. Catholic sisters are a strong force in harnessing that potential, addressing these issues and offering hope for the future. These women, who are deeply trusted by their societies, are leading and serving where the needs are the greatest - in schools, in healthcare facilities, and in human service, environmental and economic projects across the continent.
Very few people are aware of the significant impact sisters are making in Africa.
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2. Most sisters are under-educated for the work they do
The single biggest hurdle they have is a lack of education and skills needed to make a larger impact. Many African sisters lack higher education credentials or professional preparation; some lack even the secondary school qualifications required for entry to higher education.
In fact, of the 40,000 Catholic Sisters in sub-Saharan Africa, approximately 80% lack higher education credentials.
The education level in Tanzania is particularly low. Of the 11,000 women religious serving in Tanzania approximately 60% lack secondary school education.
But despite their lack of education, they are still addressing a multitude of the most pressing development challenges in Africa today. From improvements in healthcare, education and infrastructure to increasing access to clean water and sanitation and reducing poverty, sisters are affecting change on the local, regional, and even national levels. From the ground up, sisters are moving the needle on nearly all of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals.
For example, Sr. Constancia Nzovwa Lungu, LSOSF, leads a small team of fifteen, providing health screenings, treatment and educational programs to over 1,200 residents in an isolated community in Southern Zambia plagued with HIV cases.
Sr. Gwendoline Bijisang Ngwemetoh, SST, provides nutrition, medical care and legal services to thousands of inmates in Cameroonian prisons. Overcrowded and poorly supplied, the prisons are plagued with disease and malnourishment. But, Sr. Gwendoline sees only hope in these prisons and has been able to secure over $425,000 for Victim Offender Prison Care Support (VOPS).
Sr. Elisabeth Swai, LSOSF is an administrator at Providence Home for physically and mentally disabled, orphans, elderly, deaf and blind. When the center began to struggle financially, she was able to apply the knowledge she gained from her education to help launch an alternative farm projects to support the home.
Finally, Sr. Felistas Chematia Chesire, ASE, walks the streets of Nairobi to form connections with homeless boys as young as eight-years-old who are addicted to drugs and alcohol. Her goal is to encourage them to move to Kwetu Home of Peace Rehabilitation Centre for Street Children where there are substance abuse treatment and educational opportunities.
We find that educating these bright, caring women is a simple and effective solution to improving the conditions for so many of Africa's marginalized living in poverty. Sisters are assigned positions by their congregational Superiors and serve where needs are the greatest. They don't quit their jobs when things are difficult. They don't leave for better pay. They serve where help is needed most. It only makes sense to give them the tools necessary to serve in the best, most effective way they possibly can, so they can make a bigger difference in our world.
Sisters who participate in ASEC’s programs are often able to improve the effectiveness and impact of their ministry work through the skills, confidence and networks they gain through our programs. They also learn how to write grants, organize projects and evaluate their work so they can sustain their communities far into the future. We tend to say that when you educate a Sister, you impact an entire community. Her education spreads like wildfire and so many people around her will benefit from her knowledge.
3. The population of Catholics is growing in Africa and Asia... rapidly
There has been a remarkable global shift of Catholics from the global north to the global south over the last century. The Catholic population in Africa and Asia is growing rapidly. In 1910, less than 1% of Catholics were located in Africa. In 2010, it was found that Africa is home to about 16% of the total Catholic population!
By 2050, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life predicts that 4 out of 10 Christians will live in sub-Saharan Africa.
The changing face of the global Catholic Church also is reflected in the regional numbers of Catholic sisters today. While there was been a rapid increase of Catholic Sisters in Africa and Asia, the number of Catholic Sisters in the United States, Europe and Australia is on a severe decline. From 1965-2014 the number of Catholic Sisters in the United States dropped more than 72% (from 179,954 to 49,883).
4. African congregations are vital and growing, but lack financial support
Sisters have educated many of the presidents, corporate leaders and influential people throughout the continent of Africa. They also run and staff many of the best hospitals and clinics. And they advocate for human rights as they serve children with disabilities and work in many of Africa’s slum areas.
Nevertheless, they face several significant challenges to their vitality. There is an increased demand for leadership and technical expertise in their mission work in African countries and abroad. And the swelling numbers of aspirants wanting to enter formation houses strain resources. In short, they face the opposite challenge of their global north counterparts. Congregations are flooded with more aspirants than they can handle, and they struggle to educate young women who are entering their ranks fresh from secondary school.
Education and leadership skills are key to running the day-to-day mission work of congregations, from financial planning and bookkeeping to fundraising, teaching, counseling and nursing. Local governments are increasing the requirements for teachers, principals, nurses and other occupations that sisters hold. Congregations need to have the resources to respond to these evolving requirements.
This is what ASEC is all about. Because of people like you, we've educated approximately 5,300 sisters in 10 countries in Africa with incredible results.
One cannot underestimate the power of a good education. We often see a ripple effect happen just by giving one single sister the tools to succeed. She goes on to mentor other members of her congregation, members of other congregations, and even lay people. In fact, our alumnae and their mentees have raised over $13.7M to fund projects in their communities!