For most of us, a favorite teacher was also an important role model in your childhood. Maybe it was your math teacher that helped you conquer fractions and instilled in you the values of perseverance and practice. Or maybe it was your English teacher, who helped you get your writing published for the first time and boosted your confidence and self image. Perhaps it was a special teacher that realized your talent and pushed you towards your current career path?
But what if you didn’t, or worse, couldn’t attend school? For many children in Africa, if it weren’t for the charity of Catholic Sisters, they would not have schools to attend or teachers and books to learn from.
Teachers are some of the most important role models for today’s youth. Responsible for more than just academic enrichment, teachers can shape lives, provide direction and instill confidence in our future generation.
Some rural communities in educational poverty lack access to teachers, educational facilities or common learning supplies like desks, books, paper and pencils. In these marginalized communities across Africa, countless Catholic Sisters dedicate their lives, with love and devotion, to their important role as teacher. They are using skills they’ve learned in ASEC’s Sisters Leadership Development Initiative (SLDI) and Higher Education for Sisters in Africa (HESA) programs to make a difference in the lives of the students they encounter.
Overcoming Educational Poverty
According to The Borgen Project, the degree of extreme educational poverty, defined by under two years of schooling, is much higher among the poor. Unlike the U.S., not everyone in Africa is guaranteed an education—even at the primary school level. If parents cannot pay tuition, their child cannot attend.
To combat educational poverty, many congregations in Africa have founded their own schools, providing educational opportunities for the youth in marginalized communities across Africa. The Sisters teach the students reading, math and science… but it’s so much more than that. They act as role models, confidants and counselors. In many cases they supplement their teachings with additional food and sometimes shelter.
ASEC alumna Sr. Gertrude Daka, Daughters of the Redeemer is one of them.
As headmistress at Lukamatano Basic School in Chilanga, Zambia, she's used skills learned in ASEC's programs to mobilize resources for a lunch feeding program benefiting the children at her school. She says,
“We give children food at lunchtime because many of them walk long distances to come to school. So we have a small field which we cultivate and from that we get food to feed them. We have 551 children at this school currently. Yes we are feeding all of them.”
Tools for Learning
Kaoma, West Province is the most underdeveloped area of the country of Zambia. 75% of the population in this province live below the poverty line of $1 per day. Here, you’ll find many students who cannot afford to attend school. The ones that are fortunate enough to attend Presentation Secondary School, are still suffering from a lack of books and equipment inside the classroom.
Sr. Prema Anthony, PBVM is a science teacher at Presentation Secondary. She said, “Knowing that one cannot learn or teach science properly without a practical lab, I used the knowledge I gained from ASEC [SLDI] to apply to the Conrad N. Hilton Fund for Sisters for a grant to purchase science equipment and books.”
Because of the education she received from ASEC, Sr. Prema’s grant proposal was accepted. The new books and science equipment has greatly enhanced the teaching and learning process. She says,
"For the teacher as well as the students, time at the lab are treasured moments now.” -Sr. Prema
Sr. Mary Mukuha, FMI is a HESA alumna who studied Leadership and Research Management at Tangaza University College in Kenya.
According to Sr. Mary, 90% of the children attending Fr. Anthony Pagani Primary School in Mabera, Kenya, where she ministers, did not have a desk. This was a serious problem as lack of basic facilities, such as desks, contributes to an inability to facilitate effective learning.
Through Sr. Mary’s successful grant she was able to purchase desks for the students which include 100 boys and 200 girls, ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education for all (SDG 4).
“Without proper learning facilities, such as desks, hundreds of children in Mabera area will continue to go without formal education, falling victims to early forced marriages, female genital mutilation, child labor and social vices. In the long run, this will perpetuate the existing cycle of poverty.”
Creating a Safe Space
Providing a quality education isn’t the only positive influence that Sisters have in their schools. In Ghana, Sr. Bernardine Pemii, DC is a teacher that’s also working to keep the children in her school safe from abuse.
Sr. Bernardine supervises 350 schools in her district. She was recommended for her current role for both her excellence as a teacher and for her completion of ASEC's SLDI program.
Using her skills, Sr. Bernardine developed a Child Protection policy for her entire district. Through better relationships and policy implementation, she has seen a reduction in abuse of children in her schools and things are improving. Sr. Bernardine also received a scholarship for a diploma program in Safeguarding of Children and Vulnerable Adults at the Center for Child Protection in Rome. She now has her Masters in Education Management.
Sr. Lucy Chemutai Yego, ASE is a high school teacher in South Sudan and an alumna of ASEC's SLDI program, Finance Track. Her dedication to our youth has helped her to overcome so many obstacles in her understaffed school-- including teaching while filling in as bursar with no finance background.
"I was sent to work in South Sudan as a high school teacher, nothing had prepared me for many tasks I was to meet ahead of my mission in South Sudan…The school was so understaffed that I had to chip in as store keeper and at the same time making sure that my lessons are taught. Then came a time our school bursar fell sick and he was recalled back by his congregation, so automatically I had to fill up his post as a bursar, I had no knowledge of finances, records and many other needs in line with the bursar office but I had to be up the task. An opportunity rose the programme of ASEC/SLDI was being conducted in Juba I submitted my name to be in the group of finance track knowing very well that it will help me a lot in my new role as a school bursar/teacher… I thank our benefactors and programme coordinators for this opportunity given... I am really very grateful."
Teaching with Confidence
Soon after graduating from ASEC's SLDI program, Sr. Elizabeth P. Kasanga, SCSF was promoted to be Assistant Headmistress of the Corradini Pre and Primary School in Morogoro, Tanzania. About 30% of the 525 students are street children and the others are orphans. She says,
"It is through the Sisters Leadership Development Initiative (SLDI) skills and knowledge I acquired during the course that made me more competent, efficient and effective to my ministry. ...I [am eager] and motivated to implement the skills I acquired for the benefit of the children, school community and the whole society."
Sr. Elizabeth also uses the administration skills she' learned to supervise over 35 employees at the school.
Sr. Jane Njeri Watenga studied Early Childhood Education in Kenya from 2012-2016 through ASEC’s HESA program. She says that participating in the HESA program has changed her entire life from a “life of doubts” to a “life of possibilities.”
"[ASEC] has played a very significant role in my life because I now teach with confidence. I am able to create an environment where I can deliver what is needed in the students’ lives. This gives me much peace and joy accompanying the students as they walk along right paths."
“To each and every one who plays a part, whether it is big or small, I ask God’s blessing on you!”
Catholics Sisters across Africa are providing quality education to youth, especially in the poor and rural areas where access to education is limited. They also give the students love, encouragement and a role model they can aspire to become.
Without the Sisters, so many children would be deprived of an education and the chance to break out of the cycle of poverty they were born into by no fault of their own.