What mark are you leaving on the face of Mother Earth?
This was a question posed to me by Sr. Draru Mary Cecilia, LSMIG, ASEC Executive Director, during a discussion about environmentalist work done by Catholic Sisters.
The question really made me think.
Every single thing that we do, positive or negative, leaves a mark on the earth. While we're all aware of ways to reduce our own ecological footprints, the actions that we take say so much more.
Throughout Africa, many Catholic Sisters are dedicated to protecting the environment. They choose to leave positive marks on our Earth. They strive to erase the marks left by others. To heal damage. To leave our world in better condition than when it was given to them.
Using the skills they’ve learned in ASEC’s Sisters Leadership Development Initiative (SLDI) and Higher Education for Sisters in Africa (HESA) programs, Sisters are finding solutions to some of the most serious environmental issues facing Africa today. Through education, they are ensuring that the resources that God has provided are available for the generations that follow.
Below are just a few stories of educated Sisters who are, literally, changing the world.
In Cameroon, the closed loop recycling project of SLDI alumna Sr. Yvette Sam, SUSC increases food production, manages waste and lifts the economic burden from her school. Sr. Yvette feeds the chickens using high-quality organic produce from the congregation's farm. She adds chicken droppings to the pig feed for extra nourishment. Rich in nitrogen and organic material, the pig manure fertilizes the farm's produce. Then, the entire process begins again!
In Ghana, a major cholera outbreak threatened the lives of thousands living in the community of Kumasi. Sr. Mary Lucy Afful, SSL and the Sisters of St. Louis knew something had to be done… fast. Using the skills she learned in ASEC’s SLDI program, Sr. Mary Lucy secured grants to initiate The Louisville Filtered Water Project. There hasn’t been a single cholera outbreak in Kumasi since the project began. The Sisters of St. Louis also encourage the community to return the used bottles for recycling, so they can reduce waste and protect the environment.
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In the forests of Malawi, firewood is in short supply. It is dangerous for women to walk long distances to find dry firewood for cooking and heating their homes. But, HESA alumna Sr. Jane Perpetual Chitete, SCO came up with an innovative solution to this common problem. By teaching women how to make their own firewood briquettes from sawdust and water, they no longer have to put themselves in this dangerous situation every day. This new innovation has also reduced the improper practice of cutting down trees in the forest of Kalulu Hill, Malawi.
Sisters are working hard in Zambia and across sub-Saharan Africa to slow down the rate of deforestation. Sisters educate all people, including the youth, on the dangers of deforestation. They also teach and mentor others in sustainable agriculture, tree-planting and how to raise awareness.
Deforestation is a problem in many African countries. In Zambia, Sisters are addressing deforestation through education and awareness of the importance of forests. ASEC Director in Zambia, Sr. Juilana Zulu, RGS, says,
“Despite the efforts the government is putting in, the destruction of forest is on an alarming stage. Poverty is the major cause and people depend on the same forests for their livelihood and survival.”
When asked how we can all combat deforestation she simply suggests,
“...Cut one tree, plant eight more.”
Upon graduating with a degree in Leadership & Resource Management through ASEC’s HESA program, Sr. Susan Nderi, CPS was focused on creating lasting change in Kenya through her ministry work. Upon reviewing the congregation’s finances, she realized that they were spending a great deal of money to supply electricity to heat the water in the provincial house, where 60 Sisters reside. She then wrote a grant and obtained the funding to convert the provincial house water heater from electricity to solar. She says,
“Solar energy is a truly renewable energy source and is available every day. We cannot run out of solar energy, unlike other sources of energy...it is also an alternative for fossil fuels since it is non-polluting, clean and reliable.” -Sr. Susan
In Tanzania, SLDI alumna Sr. Benedicta Anslem, ESM managed the installation of a solar pumping water station to provide water to the community. This project employed 30 people and will continue to serve the community of nearly 4,000 people.
At Kasina Health Centre, daily blackouts resulting from Malawi’s unstable power grid were a common problem. Staff had to work in the dark throughout the night. Life-saving equipment could not be powered. Expensive vaccinations spoiled with a lack of stable refrigeration. Delivering babies without electricity and running water was not only difficult; it was dangerous.
Sr. Stella Ovientaoba, MMM said that the hospital didn’t have the funding to fix these serious issues. But using the skills she learned in ASEC’s SLDI program, she was able to find a donor to cover the costs of a solar powered system for the health centre.
Now, the health centre is powered by Malawi’s natural resources, providing uninterrupted electricity to carry out their important medical services.
Using the skills she's learned through ASEC's SLDI program, Sr. Eulalia Capdevila Enriquez, CMS secured funding to begin her congregation’s dream project, The Mother Earth Centre, in rural Zambia. The Comboni Missionary Sisters run the centre, which promotes improved nutrition and self sustainability through multiple farming projects in rural Zambia.
One project is the cultivation and processing of moringa, a plant known worldwide for its nutritional and medicinal benefits. The Sisters have planted over 6,000 moringa trees and trained over 100 local farmers in planting and harvesting moringa. To top it off, the centre is sustained by renewable energy such as windmills, solar power, biogas and earth bags.
Across the world, the loss of forest cover is leading to catastrophic soil erosion, drying up rivers and lakes. For many of the African countries that ASEC serves, wood is an extremely important resource. Sisters are diligent about managing deforestation and replanting trees that are cut down in order to protect the precious resources that God has provided.
Sisters also encourage others to join them in healing our home. Throughout Africa, deforestation is a huge concern for many of our Sisters. While wood is an extremely important resource, Sisters understand that the people of Africa need to be diligent about managing deforestation and replanting trees that are cut down.
That’s why SLDI participant Sr. Bertha Chigowani, SSB taught nearly 150 Malawian primary school students how to plant and care for trees to protect our environment.
During a field trip to an agriculture center, SLDI participant Sr. Clementina Phiri, LSMI learned about the importance of growing trees for economic sustainability. This lesson stayed with her. So, when she returned to her ministry at Lwitikila Girls Secondary School in Zambia, she gathered 580 students to assist her staff in planting trees. Together, they planted 1,000 pine trees and 100 moringa trees on the school’s grounds.
Sr. Senorina Lucian, SCB, a HESA student in Tanzania, also knows that caring for the earth will improve life for our future generation.
"Each one of us plants at least two trees per semester and after finishing our studies, wherever we will be every member of our group will continue to do the same and advise others to do it also. No contribution that is little will remain the same forever; it is little by little that fills the measure!" -Sr. Senorina
It may have surprised you that Catholic Sisters are environmental advocates. Many believe that the place of a religious Sister is in the chapel. but ASEC alumnae are breaking down these false perceptions and addressing important environmental issues across Africa. Sisters from ASEC programs invite you to take a serious look at what you can do to better care for our Mother Earth.
Ask yourself what mark you are leaving on the face of Mother Earth. What action can you take to erase that mark?