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The Unlikely Women Creating Jobs and Reducing Poverty in Africa

African Sisters Education Collaborative (ASEC)

Catholic nuns who have graduated from ASEC's programs have created over 3,800+ jobs in underserved African communities. Here, members of a women's group created by Sr. Stephany learn the skill of soap-making, which will give them the ability to create income for their families.

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ASEC program participants are applying their education and skills to create and sustain jobs across Africa.

At first glance, the African economy appears to have improved dramatically in recent years. “Africa is the world’s second-fastest-growing region. Poverty is falling, and around 90 million of its households have joined the world’s consuming classes- an increase of 31 million in just over a decade.”  And yet, despite having one of the world’s lowest unemployment rates at less than 3%, more than 1/3 of Africans are still living in poverty.

With a projected population growth of close to 70% between 2015 and 2035, the real challenge facing Africa is not just creating jobs, but to create better jobs that will be able to support this growth long-term and allow more of the population to break out of poverty (p xiv).Too many Africans who are considered “employed” are working hard and yet not earning enough to support a decent quality of life. A recent report from the African Development Bank suggests this growth needs to come from local communities where business owners can employ people and build the economy from within.

“The main focus is really economic transformation, and allowing the private sector to emerge, to grow, provide for citizens to create their own jobs, be very good entrepreneurs, and improve infrastructure,” said Dr Abebe Shimeles, one of the report’s authors. A business that starts small can grow and create more and more quality jobs.

One group doing this successfully and yet may be surprising? Catholic nuns. The programs of the African Sisters Education Collaborative (ASEC) facilitate access to education and training for sisters in Africa. In turn, projects initiated by ASEC alumni sisters have created 3,800+ jobs in under-served, rural African communities. The businesses founded and run by these entrepreneurial and educated sisters have generated jobs that reduce poverty right in their own communities.

Decent work and economic growth mean reduction of poverty in Ghana

Sr. Stephany Ayomah, SMI, SLDI Alumna (2009), Project Directors Track

  • Serving rural Ordorme, Northern Ghana
    • 100 Women's Group Members
    • 455-700 (Rainy) 105-180 (Dry) in Health Clinic
  • Project Areas
    • Economic Empowerment for Women
    • Reducing Malnutrition
    • Livelihoods for Youth

Sr. Stephany Ayomah, a Sister of Mary Immaculate (SMI), is improving nutrition, reducing poverty and creating jobs in her local community through multiple human development projects focused on economic empowerment, gender equality and healthcare. A graduate of ASEC’s Sisters Leadership Development Initiative (SLDI) program, which provides leadership and technology training, Sr. Stephany works in the rural area of Ordorme in the Nanumba North district of Ghana, an area that is overlooked by government assistance and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

Poverty rates are high and the diet is poor in Ordome, but Sr. Stephany has committed to improving the lives of her neighbors through the Ordorme Rural Women’s Empowerment Project. The project began with meetings under a mango tree and has since grown to a 200-capacity meeting hall funded through a grant secured by Sr. Stephany. Through the group, local women can learn a variety of income-generating skills like soap-making and farming.

Sr. Stephany also acquired grant money to construct a building and purchase an oven for the Ordome Bakery, which not only serves as a source of income for her congregation, but also provides jobs for the youth, who use their earnings to further their education

Now, Sr. Stephany has plans for a nutritional unit at the clinic which will serve severely malnourished mothers and children and also create more jobs in her community.

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When sisters are educated, they are able to start businesses, manage staff and create jobs in the communities where they serve. This has a ripple effect of stimulating the economy and reducing poverty for many individuals who are unable to escape the grips of poverty. Sr. Teopista employs many orphans and school dropouts at Cabana Sisters' Bread Bakery in Uganda. She also incentives her employees by paying school tuition and has partnered with a local tech school to provide real on-the-job experiences for its students.

When sisters are educated, they are able to start businesses, manage staff and create jobs in the communities where they serve. This has a ripple effect of stimulating the economy and reducing poverty for many individuals who are unable to escape the grips of poverty. Sr. Teopista employs many orphans and school dropouts at Cabana Sisters' Bread Bakery in Uganda. She also incentives her employees by paying school tuition and has partnered with a local tech school to provide real on-the-job experiences for its students.

The Importance of Education in Employment in Uganda

Sr. Maria Teopista Namigga, IHMR, HESA (2016) & SLDI (2013) Alumna, Leadership And Resource Management

  • Serving as Director of Cabana Bakery in Gogonya, Uganda
    • Manages 30 employees
    • Bakery produces 70-80 loaves of bread per day for the local community.
  • Project Areas
    • Livelihoods for Youth
    • Reducing Malnutrition

Another sister-led bakery is providing much-need jobs and economic support in Uganda. Cabana Sisters’ Bread Bakery, run by the Immaculate Heart of Mary Reparatrix (IHMR) sisters is managed by Sr. Maria Teopista Namigga, IHMR, a participant in two of ASEC’s programs; SLDI and the Higher Education for Sisters in Africa (HESA) program. The HESA program offers sisters opportunities to study for their diploma, undergraduate and masters degrees in Africa or online in the USA in fields relevant to their ministries. Through HESA, Sr. Teopista attended Tangaza University to pursue a diploma in Leadership and Resource Management.

Her education has provided her with the ability to create jobs for her community and effectively manage a staff of 30 employees, many of whom are orphans and school dropouts who need to support themselves. The staff of Cabana Sisters’ Bread Bakery bakes about 70-80 loaves of bread per day for the local community. About half of the daily bread feeds children at local schools.

Sr. Teopista’s management skills have allowed the bakery to profitably run on its own and provide additional income for her congregation. Just as importantly, the bakery serves as the local technical school‘s training ground, where students can get practical on-the-job experience. She also has savings put aside to pay some of the school tuition for her employees, which encourages them to stay and work hard.

Projects like Sr. Stephany's women's group and Sr. Justina's sewing center empower women with the skills they need to make a living and break the cycle of poverty.

Projects like Sr. Stephany's women's group and Sr. Justina's sewing center empower women with the skills they need to make a living and break the cycle of poverty.

Evan Small Job Opportunities Mean Big Impact in Nigeria

Sr. Justina Ijeoma Elom, SJGS, SLDI Alumna (2009), Project Directors Track

  • Established a St. Helen’s Sewing Center to employ the poor in
    • Manages 8 employees
  • Project Areas
    • Livelihoods for the Poor
    • Reducing Poverty
    • Economic Empowerment

While the St. Helen’s Sewing Centre in Nigeria only employs eight people, they have already doubled their initial employment. Sr. Justina Ijeoma Elom, a member of the Sisters of Jesus the Good Shepherd (SJGS) and an SLDI alumna, established the center specifically to employ the poor in her area. She says,  

“With the budgeting skills I acquired in SLDI program, I was able to monitor and use our resources very judiciously. Other skills that helped me include leadership, facilitation, team building and personality type and need assessment.” She adds, "I should mention that I don't know how to sew!"

With their profits, the Center has been able to purchase additional equipment and establish savings accounts for employees to plan for the future. Personal successes of employees of the center range from paying off medical debts, to completing home improvements and reenrolling their children in school.

Sr. Benedicta is another example of one sister serving so many people. She's created jobs by hosting skills seminars for women (21 jobs), building a solar pumping water station (30 jobs) and constructing classrooms for children (24 jobs).

Sr. Benedicta is another example of one sister serving so many people. She's created jobs by hosting skills seminars for women (21 jobs), building a solar pumping water station (30 jobs) and constructing classrooms for children (24 jobs).

Boosting Job Creation in Tanzania Through Education and Infrastructure

Sr. Benedicta Anslem, ESM, SLDI Alumna (2009), Project Directors Track

  • Serving rural areas across Tanzania
    • 300 women via a home management seminar
    • 4,000 with solar pumping water station
    • 600 children with classroom construction
  • Project Areas
    • Infrastructure Development 
    • Economic Empowerment for Women
    • Clean Water
    • Quality Education
    • Evangelization

SLDI program participant Sr. Benedicta Anslem and her congregation, the Evangelizing Sisters of Mary (ESM) are also boosting employment. After graduating from SLDI, Sr. Benedicta used her newly acquired administration and project management skills to take on major projects to improve infrastructure in Tanzania. Within a year, her congregation:

  • Hosted a seminar that employed 21 people and educated 300 women on home management and self-reliance skills.
  • Built a solar pumping water station that employed 30 people and continues to serve close to 4,000 people.
  • Constructed three classrooms, which employed 24 people and has educated 600 children.

Not only did these projects provide immediate construction jobs, but once completed, the projects have continued to provide meaningful employment to dozens of people across Tanzania.

ASEC program participants have applied their education and skills to creating and sustaining jobs. SLDI and HESA alumni projects have created thousands of jobs in under-served rural African communities. Your support provides education to these Catholic sisters, who are building the economy from within their own communities by providing quality employment, one job at a time.

Support Sisters Creating Jobs in Africa

On average, every ASEC alumna mentors 4 other people and creates one job (Source). By donating to ASEC, you’re providing an education to a sister who will also share her knowledge with others and stimulate the economy in the community she serves. Consider making a donation today.

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

End poverty in all its forms everywhere End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls Promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work for all Build resilient infrastructure, promote sustainable industrialization and foster innovation Reduce inequality within and among countries Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
Sr. Stephany Ayomah, SMI

Sr. Stephany Ayomah, SMI
Profiled in article
SLDI Alumna, Ghana - Ghana  

Sr. Maria Teopista Namigga, IHMR

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

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

Sr. Benedicta Anslem, ESM

Sr. Benedicta Anslem, ESM
Profiled in article
SLDI Alumna, Administration (2007-2009) - Tanzania  

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