Across the world life is beginning. A child is being born. Newlyweds are buying their first home. Recent college graduates are starting their careers. Life is beginning. However, in Africa, these milestones are often overshadowed by fear of the unknown. Many are afraid to begin life anew due to disease, poverty and lack of resources. To combat these fears, the African Sisters Education Collaborative (ASEC) educates religious women through two core programs:
- The Sisters Leadership Development Initiative (SLDI) - provides technology, administration and finance training over 3 years to give Sisters the skills and confidence to build strong networks and take up leadership roles in their congregations and communities.
- Higher Education for Sisters in Africa (HESA) - facilities access to college education for Sisters in Africa so they can pursue Bachelor's and Master's degrees.
ASEC’s educational programs are designed to improve Catholic Sisters’ skills so they can be more effective in their service work. In turn, educated Sisters bring renewed hope to poor and marginalized communities across Africa.
For expectant mothers, the anticipation of welcoming a child into the world is joyful and exciting. But many women in sub-Saharan Africa don’t have access to prenatal care. For them, pregnancy is filled with worry and shame. This is especially true in Ghana, where resources for expectant mothers are scarce. Sr. Mary Owusu Frimpong, Sisters of St. Louis (SSL), is changing this reality. Using the skills she learned in ASEC’s SLDI program, Sr. Mary secured funding to build The Midwives at Yapesa clinic, a facility for midwives to care for pregnant women. As a result of Sr. Mary’s work, more women in Ghana can experience the joy of childbirth without fear.
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Many women in sub-Saharan Africa also struggle to get enough food to keep themselves and their babies healthy. That’s why Sr. Hellen Matchado, Sacramine Sisters (SS), is using what she learned in ASEC’s SLDI program to provide resources to pregnant mothers and their young children Through her programs, pregnant and lactating mothers learn positive parenting skills. In addition, their children (ages 0-5) receive supplementary nutrition. Sr. Hellen’s programs have been effective in reducing malnutrition levels from 10% to 6% in the rural Ulongwe district of Malawi. She is giving hope to new mothers and a chance for malnourished children to escape the cycle of poverty they were born into.
The wide eyes of a young child sparkle with big dreams and hopes of a bright future. But in African countries like Uganda and South Sudan, disease and illness can put a child’s life on hold. Sr. Florence Drijaru, Sisters of Sacred Heart of Jesus (SSH), wants to ensure that African children are as unstoppable as their dreams. A three-month old baby with a 103°F fever put her skills to the ultimate test. Sr. Florence diagnosed her with malaria. She had to act quickly, but the baby’s mother was very worried about the treatment.
“The knowledge I got from ASEC is what helped me to counsel the mother and encourage her to finish the child’s treatment,” said Sr. Florence. “Therefore, I was able to educate the mother on health in a more efficient way.”
Sr. Florence’s work is ensuring that the growth of Uganda’s children is not halted by illness. So, when a child walks into the health clinic, they are not leaving their dreams behind.
In Nairobi, Kenya orphaned boys as young as eight years old are trapped in a cycle of poverty, homelessness and drug addiction. But Sr. Felistas Chematia Chesire, Assumption Sisters of Eldoret (ASE), offers these boys a second chance at Kwetu Home of Peace; a substance abuse treatment center and school for homeless boys. After two years at Kwetu Home, the boys “graduate” drug-free with a chance to start over. Unfortunately, only about ⅓ of the boys succeed. Sr. Felistas is using the skills she acquired through ASEC’s SLDI and HESA programs to combat this problem through income-generating projects that will provide jobs to the boys upon graduation. Sr. Felistas continues to use her resource mobilization and financial planning skills to support the boys so they can stay clean.
Individuals with disabilities have a new lease on life because of Providence Home in Nkokonjeru, Uganda. On the walls of the center reads the slogan “Disability is not inability” as a way to welcome those who feel as if they don't belong in society. The home comprises of the physical and psychologically handicapped, orphans, the elderly, the deaf and the blind. ASEC alumna Sr. Elisabeth Swai, Little Sisters of St. Francis (LSOSF), is an administrator and a social worker at the center. She used what she learned in ASEC’s SLDI and HESA programs to launch an alternative farm project that provides fresh fruits and vegetables for residents. The excess is sold and the proceeds support the home’s operations. Because of her education, Sr. Elisabeth is able to face challenges head on and provide a renewed sense of purpose for individuals with disabilities.
One of the most devastating illness in Africa is HIV/AIDS. This illness is preventing the people of Africa from living life to the fullest and reaching their goals. However, Sr. Eunice Okobia, Medical Missionaries of Mary (MMM), Nigeria, is one Sister striving to ensure that HIV/AIDS never stops a person from reaching their goal. Sr. Eunice studied Finance in ASEC's SLDI program and is one of the beneficiaries of the SLDI Alumnae Signature Grant, which she used to purchase a Cervical Screening machine in June 2015. She also leads educational activities at the clinic twice per week and include patient screenings and information on prenatal care, baby delivery, HIV/AIDS and cancer awareness. Sr. Eunice said “ASEC is a life-saving organization.” The tools given to her through ASEC enabled her to bring a new appreciation of life to people across Africa.
Inmates are often marginalized in society, especially in countries like Cameroon where accused detainees often have issues acquiring legal assistance and adequate healthcare. Many people consider the lives of these inmates to be essentially over. This makes it difficult for inmates to re-enter society and raises their chances of being sent back to prison. However, Sr. Gwendoline Bijisang Ngwemetoh, Sisters of St. Therese (SST), has made it her mission in life to ensure that inmates are given a second chance at life. Over the past few years Sr. Gwendoline has used the grant writing skills she acquired through ASEC’s SLDI program to secure funding to help current and former inmates in four of Cameroon’s seventy-nine prisons through the Victim Offender Prison Care Support (VOPS) program. She hopes to eventually expand her work to help more current and former inmates. As a result of Sr. Gwendoline’s work inmates are being shown that even in the face of adversity there is always a second chance at life.
In Africa, renewing hope is a challenge with many bumps. ASEC is working to smooth out these bumps. The education and training Catholic Sisters receive through ASEC has a profound impact; in their own lives and the lives of the people they serve. To receive the gift of higher education means the world to them. It shows them that no matter how hard life can be there’s always light at the end of the tunnel. There’s always a way to rejuvenate one’s life. These religious women take this new found lease on life as an inspiration to help others find new meaning in their own lives.