An African proverb says, “With a little seed of imagination, you can grow a field of hope.”
Catholic sisters in Africa are often the source of such seeds, but even with the potential to grow a field, a seed still needs nurturing. Through ASEC’s programs, sisters have been able to tap into their creativity to help their imagination seeds flourish and bring hope to their local communities.
ASEC’s mission is to facilitate access to education for women religious in Africa, which leads to enhancement and expansion of the education, health, economic, social, environmental and spiritual services they provide. Through our largest program, the Sisters Leadership Development Initiative (SLDI), sisters receive leadership and technology training, with special focus on administration and finance. Each sister receives a laptop, participates in workshops, takes field trips and receives mentoring over a three-year period.
The Higher Education for Sisters in Africa (HESA) provides opportunities for Catholic women religious in African countries to access undergraduate and master’s level education. We ensure that women religious receive credentials to enhance service to their communities. HESA is delivered through partnerships with higher education institutions in Africa and online in the USA.
Catholic sisters in our programs are trusted members of their local communities and can easily identify the challenges facing their neighbors, but often lack the education, resources and confidence to find solutions. ASEC’s programs broaden the worldview for sisters and encourage creativity and problem-solving by learning from one another and gaining skills and confidence.
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Learning Creative Ways to “Fish” in Cameroon
While participating in SLDI, Sr. Leul Teklay, SCMR, went on a field trip to Shumas Centre, which trains peasant farmers and out of school unemployed youths in sustainable agriculture practices. While visiting, Sr. Leul learned practical ways to use renewable energy sources like electricity generated from a dam, biogas, solar power and wind turbines.
Following the field trip, Sr. Leul knew there were several ways to generate income through self-reliant projects – she just had to use her creativity to find the best solution for her community. The field trip experience, combined with the finance skills and grant proposal writing she learned through the workshops, inspired Sr. Leul to implement what she learned in her own project in her Cameroon community.
Sr. Leul presented a plan to her General Superior based on what she observed at Shumas Center. She knew a cow would provide fresh milk for drinking, preparing yogurt and making cheese, plus they could sell the oversupply. The cow dung could also be used for cooking fuel (biogas) and fertilizer for the garden. The congregation purchased a pregnant cow and hired a contractor to build a biogas digester tank.
The sisters are now learning how to milk the cow and have purchased and transported about 60 wheelbarrows of cow dung to get the digester working. The project has had its challenges, but Sr. Leul’s problem solving has provided an innovative solution to reduce the cost of living of her community while also providing funds to pay school teachers. She adds,
“Thanks to ASEC and Hilton Foundation, my dream has finally come true. They did not give me fish but they taught me how to fish.”
Multiplying Creativity in Zambia
Sr. Perpetual Namasiku Mutonga, LSSF, is an SLDI alumna serving as the Director of Radio MosTuny in Zambia and the Bursar General for the Little Sisters of Sr. Francis. Thanks to her training in the finance track of SLDI workshops, she is now able to help the radio staff put their books and accounts in order. She's also trained a number of other sisters in her congregation in finance and accounting, including her Mother General. Shortly after sharing her knowledge, Sr. Perpetual was appointed by her Mother General to the role of Bursar General in her congregation. She says,
"I never had such a job! I was happy because even when I took that job as a Bursar General I knew that I have skills which I can use [to succeed]."
Sr. Perpetual also encouraged creativity in others when she started a radio program to promote culture and local artists in Livingstone and the surrounding area. The response was overwhelming! Over 100 young people have registered and community performances are held every Thursday on the radio. They have produced a lot of original music from local artists that they can now share.
This new program needed funding, so Sr. Perpetual used the skills she learned in SLDI to write a project proposal and successfully secure a sponsor. Now they have the funding to travel to surrounding villages and record the local singers. She says that the program provides opportunities for talented local youth who otherwise would not have access to such recording facilities. They also use some of the funding to train about 60 promising artists on the topics of culture, music and poetry.
A Garage-Turned-Physical Therapy Suite in Uganda
Mapeera Bakateyamba Home in Kampala, Uganda is run by the Good Samaritan Sisters (GSS) of Nalukolongo. The home’s mission is to be the leading provider for hope, help and friendly services to the elderly, poor, destitute, disabled and neglected people of God without discrimination, following the example of the Good Samaritan. The home has 65 residents and 13 staff.
Sr. Lawerence Nakiwu Nakyeyune Regina, GSS, is the Administrator of Mapeera Home and Sr. Elizabeth (Betty) Namagama, GSS, runs the St. Francis Clinic, which is on the same grounds and provides treatment to those living in the home and in the community. The clinic saves the home from having to spend money on outside medical care. In addition, the patients at the home can be treated by medical personnel right on the property.
Both Sr. Regina and Sr. Betty are alumnae of SLDI and have used their skills to find innovative ways to support the home and the residents and patients. The sisters have a small nearby farm with banana crops, pigs, etc. that the sisters use to generate income and support the needs of the home and its residents. The farm helps the home to be self-sustainable.
The sisters also wanted to implement physical therapy services at the home, but hiring a professional physical therapist was very costly. So the sisters got creative and have turned a nearby garage into a physical therapy suite. Since they can only afford to pay a professional physical therapist to come to the home once a week, the physical therapist also holds training sessions for the sisters so they can learn some skills to help their patients throughout the week.
Creativity Amidst the Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has also necessitated some creative thinking and problem solving for the sisters.
Sr. Judith Atukwatse, OLGC, a member of Sisters of Our Lady of Good Counsel congregation in Uganda, was fresh off a series of Zoom meetings, having just completed her SLDI finance training, in June 2021, when the president of Uganda declared a second country-wide lockdown. Since a part of the sisters’ mission is to catechize and help spread the Gospel, she immediately suggested to the parish priest to use Zoom and Facebook Live to broadcast Mass. She knew she could handle the technology and fulfill the sisters’ mission by using her new skills.
The priest quickly approved the idea. With her ASEC technology skills, Sr. Judith was able to train him on using the technology, enabling parishioners to attend Mass virtually and stay connected despite the pandemic lockdown.
Sr. Esther Koros, OSF, also used the pandemic as an opportunity to reach a new audience in Kenya. An English teacher at St. George’s Girls Eldoret, a public Catholic sponsored school, Sr. Esther is also a part time Masters of Education student at Mount Kenya University, Thika.
During the pandemic lockdown and using her ASEC computer skills, an internet connection and her compilation of poems dating back to 2008, Sr. Esther started a poetry blog.
“I got some very positive reviews in my blog which encouraged me to publish the poems,” she says. “I express myself best in writing therefore I keep a daily personal journal and also read widely.”
She has also started a poetry club at school and is helping her students publish their work in English and Swahili to the school’s blog. Sr. Esther also recently published her first book, The Child is Black, thanks to a sponsor who read her blog. Her congregation has been very supportive of her writing endeavors and the proceeds from her book will support the congregation.
“Writing is my way of thinking, imagining, praying, speaking and healing. Writing is my way of thinking out loud. Writing is my life. I thank ASEC immensely for enabling me to truly live my dream. And I thank God for sending ASEC my way.”
Whether using creativity as a means of personal expression or as a means of problem solving, Catholic sisters are using their ASEC skills and education to spread hope and fulfill their missions across Africa.