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Blessed, Empowered and Happy: How Education Has Helped Fuel a Nun’s Life Work

African Sisters Education Collaborative (ASEC)

Sr. Lucy proves that with an education you can achieve absolutely anything you dream of. She's using what she's learned to reach out to those in need. Here, she's leading the "Girls of St. Lucy" on a procession through the local market to gain support in ending the practice of FGM. "The girls have become agents of change," she says.

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For Sr. Lucy, education has been the key to realizing the vision she had and fulling the mission of her community.

Sr. Lucy Kanjira, RGS, had a big vision.

As a sister of the Congregation of Our Lady of Charity the Good Shepherd in Kenya, Sr. Lucy and the sisters have a mission to uplift the dignity of women, children and girls who find themselves at the margins of society.

Sr. Lucy knew creating a sponsorship program for children’s education would help to address a number of needs within her community, including education for kids, empowering parents, improved food accessibility and reducing malnutrition and providing life-altering empowerment for women and young girls. 

“I envisioned working with the community without making them dependent; empowering them and ensuring that they would own the project for sustainability,” she recalls.

But for the program to succeed, she would need active participation, cooperation and support from the children, their parents, the larger community and governmental and non-governmental organizations.

Equipped only with a certificate in social work, Sr. Lucy knew she would need more knowledge and skills to achieve her big vision.

“This gap was filled by ASEC,” she stresses.

Catholic sisters like Sr. Lucy seek out the overlooked and advocate for the underserved, recognizing their needs but often lacking the skills and resources to implement solutions.

ASEC gives sisters the tools and empowerment to make it happen.

Sr. Lucy found that ASEC’s largest program, the Sisters Leadership Development Initiative (SLDI), gave her just what she needed to make her vision come to fruition. SLDI provides leadership and technology training to Catholic sisters in Africa over a three-year period. Equipped with a laptop, sisters complete workshops in technology or web design and administration or finance.

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Sr. Lucy hosted seminars and processions through the local market to bring awareness to the practice of FGM. In time, girls had the courage to wear t-shirts reading,

Sr. Lucy hosted seminars and processions through the local market to bring awareness to the practice of FGM. In time, girls had the courage to wear t-shirts reading, "Alternative Rite of Passage" and they were known as the "Girls of Sr. Lucy." The girls became agents of change in the fight against FGM. They rescued others and reported when their friends were threatened.

Providing emotional and social support to vulnerable children

From project management and leadership, to team building and communication, to bookkeeping and computer skills, Sr. Lucy was able to fill in the pieces missing from her big vision plan. She was able to start the sponsorship program and focus on the priority: the care and protection of vulnerable children. 

“We evaluated and realized that some parents had no idea of the value of education,” she says.

Many parents didn’t prioritize schooling and would keep the children home from school to do casual labor.

The program also put special focus on at-risk children like orphans, those who lived with sick family members or were sick themselves and victims of female genital mutilation (FGM). 

Sr. Lucy knew that FGM had a deep-rooted history as a rite of passage for young girls, despite efforts for decades from both the Church and the government to end the invasive and violent practice. 

“I did my simple research from significant individuals in the community and I realized that it had roots in the culture and that’s why it was difficult to be eradicated,” she notes.

But as a trusted member of the community, Sr. Lucy says

“…I learnt that I could make an impact in fighting the practice.”

She hosted seminars and processions through the local market to bring awareness and a call for an end to the practice. What started as a small gathering has grown to what Sr. Lucy describes as a “vibrant” community event calling for an alternative rite of passage. By the fifth anniversary of the event, Sr. Lucy proudly says the girls had the courage to wear “Alternative Rite of Passage” shirts, becoming known as “Girls of Sr. Lucy.” 

Despite some opposition and the continuous need to educate and provide support within the community, the Alternative Rite of Passage has been life changing for these young girls.

“The girls became agents of change,” Sr. Lucy says. “They rescued others and reported when their friends were threatened.” 

One program participant, Irene Kathure, writes to Sr. Lucy:

Dear Sr. Lucy,

…Through the program of Alternative Rite of Passage for girls through a word of mouth, you helped me escape the ritual of cutting (FGM), which I regret my elder sisters passed through, because there wasn't someone there before you to save them. The program [reached] many ladies and it's rarely practiced in our neighbourhoods.

Thanks so much for the impact you have brought in my life and to the life of my younger sisters. Now I am a grown-up woman, already a graduate aspiring to get a good job and [becoming a] mom very soon. If it wasn't [for] you, I would have become a mother long time ago. God bless you abundantly in all your endeavours. Thank you so much.

Clockwise, from L-R
1-3. Local fundraising has become a hobby for Sr. Lucy, who actively seeks out those in need and organizes events to support them. 
4. One of Sr. Lucy's programs provides support for young married women in need of family counseling. 
5. Sr. Lucy mentors her staff on basic computer technology so they can create reports and workplans.
6. Some girls have to go into seclusion to hide from threats of FGM. So, Sr. Lucy organized the distribution of maize, beans and cooking oil to feed them.

Clockwise, from L-R 1-3. Local fundraising has become a hobby for Sr. Lucy, who actively seeks out those in need and organizes events to support them. 4. One of Sr. Lucy's programs provides support for young married women in need of family counseling. 5. Sr. Lucy mentors her staff on basic computer technology so they can create reports and workplans. 6. Some girls have to go into seclusion to hide from threats of FGM. So, Sr. Lucy organized the distribution of maize, beans and cooking oil to feed them.

Empowerment through economic and social support

Sr. Lucy’s program also empowers parents, caregivers and families, both economically and socially. They provide adult education opportunities about micro-finance, mother and childcare, food and nutrition, parenting and child protection.

For the elderly, the program provides group counseling, especially for those who have lost children or grandchildren. The support group has grown from 18 to over 50 people, providing an outlet for discussion of shared experiences and much needed emotional support

Meeting physical needs

Aside from addressing educational and emotional needs, Sr. Lucy’s program also recognized the hardship her community faced meeting basic physical needs. 

“Through home visits, we came across many children with malnutrition," she says.

They were most concerned with families suffering from lack of water, firewood and food. After securing donor funding, the program brought in a nutritionist and started a campaign to create awareness of malnutrition.

An agriculture manager helped educate the community on food production, animal keeping and the effects of climate change on seasonal crops. The program was also able to create a borehole for clean water with the funding.  

“I was able to mobilize such resources with the help of the ASEC training…” she says. “…The skills helped me to work with staff, train parents and networking to get resources from the government and other organizations.”

Clockwise, from L-R:
1. Sr. Lucy made efforts to engage men in her empowerment campaign, offering them seminars in parenting, microfinance and anger & stress management.
2. Empowering parents through microfinance and agriculture activities.
3. Sr. Lucy also has a passion for Mother Earth. She mobilizes children and their parents to plant trees in the community every rainy season.
4-6. Sr. Lucy organized a support group for the elderly and sick. At first the group was for emotional support, but expanded to include microfinance activities as well.

Clockwise, from L-R: 1. Sr. Lucy made efforts to engage men in her empowerment campaign, offering them seminars in parenting, microfinance and anger & stress management. 2. Empowering parents through microfinance and agriculture activities. 3. Sr. Lucy also has a passion for Mother Earth. She mobilizes children and their parents to plant trees in the community every rainy season. 4-6. Sr. Lucy organized a support group for the elderly and sick. At first the group was for emotional support, but expanded to include microfinance activities as well.

Building a life of sustainability

Meeting the immediate emotional and physical needs of her neighbors is just one part of what Sr. Lucy’s ASEC training prepared her for. She has learned how to raise funds for these needs and the importance of transparency and record keeping for her projects. She has learned the importance of using a computer in this record-keeping and for staff planning and reporting. 

“To make this work, I account for every coin,” she notes. “I keep records and update the local donors [on] the progress of the children.”

But perhaps most importantly, Sr. Lucy has empowered the parents and families in her program.

“The attitudes of the parents who had children in the project were to be helped, rather than to be helped to help themselves,” she says of the past.

Now, the community works together to sponsor the education of children and support their neighbors. They realize the collective power they have as a community. 

During one seminar, Sr. Lucy borrowed a video projector to teach about gender violence.

“[The participants] were very excited to see their images on the screen,” she recalls.

While the audience hoped Sr. Lucy would use the projector for future programs, she explained to them that it was only on loan. But by that point, the community was so enthused by the program, they pooled their resources to purchase a projector and screen

“To me, it was a sign of ownership and sustainability,” said Sr. Lucy. 

With her SLDI training, Sr. Lucy has started more than 30 groups supporting the most vulnerable of her neighbors, including children, adults and the elderly. As a trusted member of her community, she identified the needs of her neighbors, envisioned a solution and used the tools and confidence she gained through SLDI to make it happen.

“I am so grateful to ASEC training ... I am so grateful for the laptop which helps me to work, learn and practice without difficulties. I feel blessed, empowered, and happy whenever I remember the lives I have touched through this support.”

Support a sister’s efforts to empower her community and build for sustainability

You can help sisters like Sr. Lucy gain leadership, technology and financial training to run successful programs in Africa when you support her education through ASEC.

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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 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

Sr. Lucy Kanjira, RGS
Profiled in article
SLDI Alumna, Project Director Track - Kenya  

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