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Catholic nuns building businesses across Africa

African Sisters Education Collaborative (ASEC)

Executive Director, Sr. Draru Mary Cecilia, tries her hand at baking bread during a staff site visit to Cabana Sisters' Bread Bakery in Uganda. The Cabana Bakery is run by SLDI and HESA alumna Sr. Maria Teopista Namigga and the Immaculate Heart of Mary Reparatrix (IHMR) Sisters.

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Entrepreneurial Catholic sisters are building businesses across Africa to meet the needs of the poor and marginalized.

When you think of entrepreneurs and building business, Catholic nuns in Africa may not be your first thought. But sisters from ASEC’s programs are taking their training and education to become business leaders in their local communities and bolster their local economies. 

In ASEC’s Sisters Leadership Development Initiative (SLDI) program, sisters in Africa complete workshops in leadership and technology over a three-year period. After training in Basic Technology or Web Design and Administration or Finance, graduating sisters receive a laptop to assist them in their work at home and mentor other sisters. 

Through partnerships with higher education institutions in Africa and online in the USA, ASEC’s Higher Education for Sisters in Africa (HESA) program allows Catholic women religious in Africa to access undergraduate and master’s level education. Upon completion of their degree, HESA Alumnae either continue on to higher levels of education or return to their community to serve as congregational leaders.

Both of these ASEC programs aim to prepare sisters to meet the needs present in their local communities through education, social service, pastoral and other ministries. Despite the limited resources available to these sisters post-graduation, the creativity, resourcefulness and determination acquired through their ASEC programs bring an entrepreneurial spirit and desire to bring economic opportunity to their local areas.

Bread bakery brings employment, skill building and food supply to Ugandan community

Sr. Maria Teopista Namigga, IMHR, a sister of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Reparatrix (IHMR), is a graduate of both SLDI and HESA programs. Through HESA, she received her Diploma in Leadership and Resource Management. 

Sr. Teopista and her community of sisters run Cabana Sisters’ Bread Bakery, located in the same compound as the congregation’s motherhouse in Uganda. ASEC staff conducted a site visit at the bakery in mid 2019.

Sr. Teopista supervises 30 employees from her local community, including orphans and school dropouts who need to support themselves. The bakery, which supplies 70-80 loaves of bread per day to schools, hotels, supermarkets and the local community, is able to run on its own since implementing a savings scheme Sr. Teopista learned through ASEC’s programs.

Savings and profits from the bakery have also enabled Sr. Teopista to purchase a bike and two vans to support the business, as well as incentivize her employees by paying some of their school tuition.

The education Sr. Teopista gained through both SLDI and HESA has allowed this bakery to thrive and provide both literal and economic nourishment to her Ugandan community. 

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A solar power system was installed at Kasina Health Centre to prevent the constant power outages and improve patient services. The centre serves people in 72 surrounding Malawian villages.

A solar power system was installed at Kasina Health Centre to prevent the constant power outages and improve patient services. The centre serves people in 72 surrounding Malawian villages.

Solar powers sheds light on health center serving dozens of villages in Malawi

Kasina Health Centre is a mission health facility in Dedza District in the Center Region of Malawi managed by the Medical Missionaries of Mary (MMM) Sisters.

Among deep-rooted systemic challenges like high poverty and infection rates and an unstable banking system, Malawi’s inconsistent power grid is especially difficult for health care centers like Kasina. Poor maintenance of the power supply and lack of hydroelectric power from low water levels result in relentless blackouts, leaving health care providers in the dark. 

But solar and wind power, both in abundance in Malawi, provide an opportunity to keep the center running with a reliable power source. A grant was written to create a solar power system to stop the constant power outages. The grant was approved by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation and the Kasina Health Centre has since installed their solar energy system, significantly improving their services.

The Kasina Health Centre now serves 72 villages, including outpatient and inpatient curative services, laboratory services, nutrition supplementation and rehabilitative services, epilepsy and hypertensive clinics and more.  

Sr. Stella Ovientaoba, MMM, an alumna of the SLDI program, writes that with the addition of solar power, among other improvements to administrative operations, the staff no longer has to work without running water or worry about spoiled vaccines now that the refrigerators constantly run. 

The grant monies awarded as a result of Sisters’ SLDI training have enabled Kasina Health Centre to not only provide life-saving health services, but also to run an efficient and successful business. 

Sr. Catherine, an SLDI mentee, raised funds to establish the Ukweli Oasis Drinking Water bottling project which also provides employment opportunities and a chance for orphaned boys to gain experience running a business.

Sr. Catherine, an SLDI mentee, raised funds to establish the Ukweli Oasis Drinking Water bottling project which also provides employment opportunities and a chance for orphaned boys to gain experience running a business.

Bottling factory provides safe drinking water and employment opportunity in Kenya

Sr. Catherine Wanza, LSOSF, a mentee of SLDI graduates, is Director of the Ukweli Home of Hope, which provides shelter and care for former street boys in Nairobi, Kenya. Sr. Catherine raised funds to establish the Ukweli Oasis Drinking Water bottling project. The income-generating project sells water locally and helps to support school fees for more than 100 boys a year. 

Lucas Maina, a 21-year-old university student who lived at Ukweli Home for a decade, along with five other Ukweli home graduates, plans to run the bottling factory upon graduation from university. Sr. Catherine hopes the bottling project will help Ukweli Home to be financially independent as well as provide employment opportunities and a chance for the boys to gain experience running a business. It will also help Ukweli Home to move to a larger location that can house up to 70 boys.

Through her mentorship with SLDI alumna Sr. Anisia Kitaka, LSOSF, Sr. Catherine learned skills in management, reporting, project writing and curriculum, all of which have helped build the successful bottling business. 

Clean water also provides safety, educational opportunities and jobs in Ghana

Sr. Mary Lucy Afful, SSL, a Sister of St. Louis, is another graduate of SLDI who was able to turn her training into clean water and business opportunity for her local community. Through Sr. Mary Lucy, the Sisters were able secure grants to initiate the Louisville Filtered Water Project

Judiciously using the grant funds, Sr. Mary Lucy formed a committee of experts on water filtration and business practices and engaged a consultant to advise her on water filtration. After obtaining the proper licenses and certifications, the project began filtering and chlorinating water making it safe to drink.  

The Louisville Filtered Water Project provides bottles and gallons of water to area schools, hospitals and households at a reasonable price, solving both a practical and economic hardship. Plus, many girls are now able to attend school, rather than spending hours collecting water and there has been a drastic reduction or complete elimination of diseases stemming from untreated water. 

Sr. Mary Lucy’s SLDI education provided the knowledge and confidence she needed to start the Louisville Filtered Water Project. It has developed into a successful business and has created four jobs and become a source of income for local women living in poverty, in addition to far reaching benefits like improving educational opportunities and the state of health. 

Following her participation in the SLDI program, Sr. Justina established St. Helen’s Sewing Centre to employ the poor.

Following her participation in the SLDI program, Sr. Justina established St. Helen’s Sewing Centre to employ the poor.

Sewing center in Nigeria builds business skills and brighter futures

Sr. Justina Ijeoma Elom, SJGS is a member of the Sisters of Jesus the Good Shepherd (SJGS), Abakaliki congregation in Nigeria. After she participated in her first SLDI program in 2007, she set out to employ the poor in her community by establishing a small sewing center. As she said,

“I planned to teach them to harness their resources, work together and make their future brighter.”

Despite not knowing how to sew, Sr. Justina used the budgeting skills she learned in her SLDI program to shrewdly use materials resources provided by her community to start the St. Helen’s Sewing Centre.

The Centre has turned into a profitable venture, allowing Sr. Justina to reinvest in the business by purchasing additional sewing, weaving and specialty machines for taping and sportswear sewing, as well as a generator for a consistent source of power. She has also been able to use profits from The Centre to aid in the drilling of two motorized boreholes to bring clean water to communities

Small Businesses Making Big Differences

As alumnae of ASEC-sponsored programs, these Sisters have taken their knowledge, creativity, confidence and practical management skills to become entrepreneurs, building businesses in their local communities. These businesses not only bring critical services and an improved quality of life, but they also provide jobs, training and a solid foundation for future economic growth.

Support Entrepreneurial Sisters in Africa

You can invest in building the businesses of a Sister who is solving big problems in her community by donating to her ASEC-sponsored education now.

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This article is addressing the following UN Sustainable Development Goal(s):

End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture Ensure access to water and sanitation for all Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all Promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work for all Sustainable Cities and Communities Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
Sr. Maria Teopista Namigga, IHMR

Sr. Maria Teopista Namigga, IHMR
Profiled in article
SLDI/HESA Alumna - Uganda  

Sr. Stella Ovientaoba, MMM
Profiled in article
SLDI Alumna - Malawi  

Sr. Catherine Wanza, LSOSF

Sr. Catherine Wanza, LSOSF
Profiled in article
SLDI Mentee - Kenya  

Sr. Anisia Kitaka, LSOSF

Sr. Anisia Kitaka, LSOSF
Profiled in article
SLDI and HESA Alumna - Kenya  

Sr. Mary Lucy Afful, SSL

Sr. Mary Lucy Afful, SSL
Profiled in article
SLDI Alumna, 2009 - Ghana  

Sr. Justina Elom, SJGS
Profiled in article
2009 SLDI Alumna - Nigeria  

Amy Fedele

Amy Fedele
Editor
Media and Communications Manager  

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