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Nursing education helping nuns improve healthcare in Africa

African Sisters Education Collaborative (ASEC)

Catholic nuns with healing hands and valuable nursing skills are improving healthcare in communities across Africa.

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Catholic nuns in Africa receive quality education through ASEC, providing them with valuable nursing skills to improve healthcare in their communities.

ASEC expresses its most sincere appreciation for Catholic Sisters dedicated to improving healthcare for poor and vulnerable communities across Africa.

Nuns who become nurses in Africa are not “just” nurses. They are servant leaders taking on multiple roles within their communities. If a Sister has skills that can help their hospital or clinic, they will offer up those skills gratefully. Providing access to nursing degrees for Catholic Sisters in Africa has proven to be a great enhancement to the level of healthcare available to the communities in sub-Saharan Africa where Sisters are serving.

ASEC’s Higher Education for Sisters in Africa (HESA) program began in 2013, providing religious women in Africa access to undergraduate and master’s level education. The HESA program is delivered via partnerships with colleges and universities in both Africa and the USA. Initially, nursing was not one of degree options available to Sisters through the HESA program.

The need for skilled nurses in Africa and their interest in obtaining nursing degrees was quickly expressed by Catholic nuns via ASEC evaluation surveys. Because HESA’s goal is to ensure that women religious receive credentials to enhance service to their communities, a pilot program was initiated to fund the education of one Sister interested in pursuing a career in nursing.

In 2013, Sr. Esther Wairimu, LSOSF, became the pilot nursing student for the HESA program. She completed her BSN degree at non-partner Aga Khan University, Kenya, in about 2.5 years. As person-in-charge of St. Francis Community Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya. Sr. Esther has accomplished unimaginable success in just one year.

Just a few of her many accomplishments include improving the quality standards of the hospital from a “General Hospital” to an accredited Level 5 “Teaching and Referral” hospital. She oversaw the construction of a new 5-story wing to provide specialized services to patients. The wing also includes four state-of-the-art surgical theatres that are equipped to perform very specialized procedures.

But Sr. Esther has not stopped there. Knowing the importance of education, Sr. Esther is now enrolled in an MBA program through HESA and will be studying for her masters in Healthcare Management. She is hopeful that her graduate education will help her lead the way for St. Francis Hospital to attract and increase partnerships, accelerate growth and achieve its future aspirations.

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Catholic nuns Sr. Sylivia, Sr. Esther and Sr. Catherine are Nursing students of ASEC's HESA program.

Catholic nuns Sr. Sylivia, Sr. Esther and Sr. Catherine are Nursing students of ASEC's HESA program.

The HESA nursing pilot program was clearly a success. In order to improve healthcare across Africa and provide Catholic Sisters with opportunities to access education that will fill community needs, ASEC has since formed partnerships with the following Nursing schools in Africa:

Of the congregation Sisters of the Child Jesus (SCJ), Sr. Catherine Kabwe is finally fulfilling her lifelong dream of becoming a nurse and midwife. She's a current HESA student at Monze Registered Nurse and Midwife Program in Zambia. Sr. Catherine expresses her gratitude to ASEC, especially for the laptop that has made her presentations and internet research much easier. She adds,

"I always wanted to be a nurse thank God, through ASEC, I have been accorded the chance."

Sr. Esther, Sr. Catherine and many others have taken advantage of the opportunity to study nursing through the HESA program. In fact, as of April 2019, nearly 10% (over 100) HESA Sisters study in the Medical Sciences[1] field. Sisters complete their degrees at HESA partner institutions in supportive networks, or cohorts, of 4-20. So far, 7 students have graduated with a degree in nursing through HESA.

Sr. Sylivia Namuleme, Daughters of Mary (DM) is one recent HESA alumna. She received her Diploma in Nursing from St. Francis Hospital Nsambya Training School, Uganda. Sr. Sylivia was a model student, studying diligently for 1.5 years. An inspiration to her teachers and her cohort, Sr. Sylivia graduated in September, 2018 with an Award of Academic Excellency for Best in Class.

Sr. Sylivia proves that not only are nuns taking advantage of nursing opportunities through the HESA program, but they are thriving. Catholic Sisters are often model students in the colleges and universities where they study.

Sr. Jose Maria Nonye Anyawu, HFSN used the skills she learned in ASEC's SLDI program to secure grant funding for an ultrasound machine.

Sr. Jose Maria Nonye Anyawu, HFSN used the skills she learned in ASEC's SLDI program to secure grant funding for an ultrasound machine.

Other African Sisters in the nursing field opt to enhance the delivery of their ministry work through ASEC’s Sisters Leadership Development Initiative (SLDI) program. SLDI is delivered via one-month workshops over three years. In these workshops, nuns enhance their skills in technology, leadership and finance. They also receive a laptop and learn important skills such as grant-writing and project management, which have proven to be extremely beneficial in helping Sisters in Africa seek out funding for equipment and other community needs.

The skills Sisters’ are learning in the SLDI program are incredibly valuable in supplementing their nursing degrees

One example is Sr. Constancia Nzovwa Lungu, Little Sisters of St. Francis (LSOSF). She is a nurse by profession and the Facilitator-In-Charge at the Makunka Rural Health Centre in Zambia, which is owned by the Catholic Diocese of Livingstone and managed by LSOSF. The hospital offers HIV/AIDS outreach, malaria treatment, home-based care services, general medical screening, health education and school health services. Sr. Constancia says that the SLDI program improved her work, productivity and computer skills. The program also helped her plan and gain competence in her work, especially in business and financial reporting. Sr. Constancia attributes SLDI to her ability to successfully pass three audits by the hospital's funders, stating,

“I was able to audit my reports before they even audit me.” -Sr. Constancia

Additionally, the SLDI program instruction on grant-writing helped her acquire grant funds for both the clinic vehicle and the staff house. She has also been able to more effectively supervise her 15 direct reports and mentor her staff.

A another great example is Practical Nurse Sr. Jose Maria Nonye Anyawu, Holy Family Sisters of the Needy (HFSN), Nigeria.

A problem that plagues many hospitals and clinics in Africa is the lack of proper testing and diagnostic equipment. To address this healthcare need, Sr. Jose Maria used the skills she learned in ASEC’s SLDI program to write a successful grant proposal for an ultrasound machine at the hospital where she serves. She comments,

“The machine has improved healthcare in this hospital… it has been serving us well and has really improved the quality of our work as well raised the standard of our hospital.”

Receiving nursing degrees through HESA and learning project management and grant writing skills in SLDI is a winning combination. HESA & SLDI alumnae have secured over 50%[2] of the total funding reported for either (1) education or (2) health needs in their communities. This breaks down to over $3.5 million[3] in funding raised by Sisters for projects addressing Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) #3: Good Health and Well Being. In the ASEC countries of Kenya, Zambia and Ghana, health-related projects initiated by ASEC alumnae[4] are the top funded area.

Alumnae of ASEC programs are taking on multiple roles and are achieving success in multiple areas of human development and sustainability. They are using their education through both HESA and SLDI to improve healthcare in the communities where they serve.

But, the need is great. While ASEC has made significant strides, over 80% of Catholic Sisters in Africa still lack higher education credentials. Through the generous support of funders and donors just like you, ASEC hopes to change this staggering statistic and provide hope for the future of Africa, one Sister at a time.

The term 'Sister' was used to designate a nurse (originally Catholic nuns) who was in charge of a ward or an operation theater. Now, Catholic nuns are also called Sisters because of their helping tendency toward poor and marginalized.

The term 'Sister' was used to designate a nurse (originally Catholic nuns) who was in charge of a ward or an operation theater. Now, Catholic nuns are also called Sisters because of their helping tendency toward poor and marginalized.

The History of Catholic Nuns in Nursing

Catholic women played large roles in health and healing in medieval and early modern Europe. Most hospitals at this time were run by charitable organizations under Christian missionary Roman Catholic churches. At this time, married women did not work; their job was to take care of their family. So, Catholic nuns were staffed in hospitals as nurses and caretakers.[5]

During this time, diseases were often fatal and medicines were primitive. Nursing was primarily a religious role for the nurse and Catholic nuns had the moral fiber to risk their lives and expose themselves to contagion in order to protect the sick.[6]

The term 'Sister' was used to designate a nurse (originally Catholic Nuns) who was in charge of a ward or an operation theater. Now, Catholic nuns are also called Sisters because of their helping tendency toward poor and marginalized.[7]

You can sponsor a Sister’s education through ASEC today

While ASEC has made significant strides, over 80% of Catholic Sisters in Africa still lack higher education credentials. You can sponsor the education of an Africa Sister dreaming of being a nurse and helping others. Your gift will continue to provide hope for the future of Africa, one Sister at a time.

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

Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning Build resilient infrastructure, promote sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
Sr. Jose Maria Nonye Anyawu, HFSN


Profiled in article
SLDI Alumna - Nigeria  

Sr. Sylivia Namuleme, DM


Profiled in article
HESA Alumna, 2018 - Uganda  

Sr. Catherine Kabwe, SCJ


Profiled in article
HESA Participant - Zambia  

Sr. Esther Wairimu, LSOSF


Profiled in article
HESA Alumna - Kenya  

Sr. Constancia Nzovwa Lungu, LSOSF


Profiled in article
SLDI Alumna, Finance Track (2012) - Zambia  

Amy Fedele


Author
Media and Communications Manager  

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Nursing education helping nuns improve healthcare in Africa