“If you cannot feed a hundred people, feed one.” Mother Teresa
Catholic sisters who have participated in ASEC’s programs have made an enormous impact on their communities. Alumnae of ASEC’s Sisters Leadership Development Initiative (SLDI) and Higher Education for Sisters in Africa (HESA) programs, which both provide educational opportunities for women religious in Africa, have served over 2.2M+ people and raised over $19.5M+ for human development projects. These educated sisters have mentored over 35,000+ people and created over 3,800+ jobs, bringing improvement and stability to under-served communities across Africa.
But while the collective statistical data of ASEC alumnae is impressive, it is the individuals who the sisters have helped that tell the true impact of these women. As trusted members of their community, ASEC-educated sisters are providing education, health, economic, social, environmental and spiritual services within their local communities and truly changing the lives of individuals.
Freeing John, an Innocent Man
Sr. Gwendoline Bijisang (Bye-gee-song) Ngwemetoh is an alumnae of 2015 class of SLDI’s finance track. As a member of the congregation The Sisters of St. Therese (SST), she began working with the Victim Offender Prison Care Support (VOPS) in Cameroon, which helps current and former inmates learn the tools needed to reintegrate into society.
The lack of access to legal assistance for inmates is one of the biggest issues in the Cameroon prison system. Sr. Gwendoline helps prisons have a better organization system by transferring records onto computer. VOPS also offers legal assistance for current and former inmates of the New Bell penitentiary, including one man in particular.
One day, Sr. Gwendoline comes in contact with John (name has been changed for privacy), an inmate who has become very sick and is suffering from a fever. He is so ill that he has to lay on the floor because he is too weak to stand. Sr. Gwendoline takes him to an area of the prison where the sisters work, where he is able to shower, eat and feel at ease.
Once he feels comfortable, John tells Sr. Gwendoline that he is accused of stealing from an employer but maintains that he is innocent. Stories like John’s are common in Cameroon, but legal services are not easily accessible or affordable. Those without financial means for a lawyer are frequently easy prey for accusers.
Moved by his story, Sr. Gwendoline contacts one of VOPS’ part-time lawyers who gathers information to prove John’s innocence and ultimately frees him from prison.
Since his release, John has successfully reintegrated into society and now spends his free time volunteering with Sr. Gwendoline. His story has attracted the attention of the Cameroonian government, which in turn brought attention to Sr. Gwendoline’s efforts.
Sr. Gwendoline hopes to eventually expand her work to help more current and former inmates like John. She has already secured $429,000 in funding using the grant-writing skills she learned through SLDI.
“I must say that thanks to the knowledge I got from the ASEC program it has been a challenging yet fulfilling experience attending to the needs of thousands of current and former inmates,” said Sr. Gwendoline.
Mrs. Agu Turns a Profit
SLDI alumna Sr. Veronica Chibuzor Iloh, SJGS, works in Ebonyin State, Nigeria where she educates the public on underlying factors that make them vulnerable to HIV/AIDS. Using skills she’s learned in ASEC’s SLDI program, Sr. Veronica helps hundreds of Nigerians escape poverty through economic empowerment and financial literacy training.
Among those who have participated in Sr. Veronica’s training is Mrs. Agu Elizabeth. Mrs. Agu has started a business selling ogbono (a type of seed used in the popular Nigerian dish, ogbono soup) but is not fully supporting her family. But when her husband unexpectedly dies, her business becomes the family’s only source of income, leaving her household in a state of abject poverty.
Sr. Veronica’s program helps Mrs. Agu get back on her feet with a small donation and financial literacy training. This makes a dramatic difference for Mrs. Agu’s ogbono business, which turns profitable enough to fully support her household. After building four rooms and a parlour for her family, they now live comfortably.
Mrs. Agu is thankful for the program and staff that “assist[ed] the poor in Umuegara Community”.
Saving Baby Remi
In Malawi, seven-month-old Remi has severe symptoms of vomiting, diarrhea, high fever and dehydration. Refusing to eat, she gets sicker with each passing hour. Concerned for her failing health, Remi’s mom rushes her to St. Kizito Integrated Health Centre. SLDI Alumna, Sr. Grace Akpan, MMM, confirms Remi’s mother’s worst nightmare: Remi has malaria. And sadly, Remi is only one of over 700 confirmed malaria cases that Sr. Grace has seen in the past 3 months. As one of the poorest countries in the world, Malawi suffers from a disproportionate burden of infectious diseases, particularly malaria.
“People come to the clinic when their condition is at its worst and the clinic has no option but to respond immediately,” says Sr. Grace.
Sr. Grace and the hospital staff work quickly to care for Remi, providing her with life-saving treatment. But the treatment is expensive and Remi’s mom, like many in Malawi, cannot afford it. With the skills she learned in ASEC’s SLDI program, Sr. Grace advocates for the poor, increasing access to the clinic which provides this expensive treatment. The following morning, Remi is smiling and playing and her mom cannot not stop thanking the sisters and staff for bringing her baby back to life.
Walking Hand in Hand with Baby Martin
In South Sudan, Martin’s birth had many complications, requiring him to spend his first days in the ICU. Though he recovered to a point that doctors considered miraculous, he still suffers from complications from a spinal cord injury, which has delayed many of his developmental milestones. But as a single parent, Martin’s mother has limited funds for food for the family and the weekly physiotherapy her son needs.
As a silver lining to the COVID-19 lockdown, Sr. Mary Faida, SHS, has had more opportunity to spend some quality time with Martin. Sr. Mary is an SLDI alumna and current HESA student studying for her Bachelor’s degree in nursing at Uganda Martyrs University - Nsambya branch. Every day, she holds Martin’s hands and walks around with him for exercise. She has also been able to use her grant-writing skills to secure funds from Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) for Martin’s physiotherapy at Nsambya hospital and provide some food items for the family.
“The love shown to Martin has created a strong bond between Martin and I, the family and the neighbors,” says Sr. Mary. “The care and love showed to him has changed him: emotionally, socially, mentally and spiritually.”
The Sisters also help Martin’s family to know that the boy has a bright future if he is well cared for. Sr. Mary also sees a change in Martin’s mother.
“She now has positive attitude towards the boy,” she says “…she has changed a lot.”
Bringing Out the Best in Amina
Sr. Virginia Nnadi, SNDdeN, and her congregation, the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, are committed to the ministry of providing good education to underprivileged children. So, it’s not surprising that when the sisters find young Amina (name has been changed for privacy) selling cake in the streets, they wonder why she is not in school.
Only six or seven years old, the sisters learn that Amina is an orphan who had been dismissed by many relatives because they believe she brings bad luck, including the motor accident that killed her parents shortly after she was born. A distant relative, who became her guardian out of pity, requires Amina to complete household chores and responsibilities beyond her age, such as sweeping the house, washing dishes and clothes and selling food items on the street. Amina is not sent to school like any other children of her age.
The sisters approach Amina’s guardian and request that she be sent to school. The guardian insists, “Amina is not going to go to school or have any formal education. She has to grow up doing whatever I can teach her.”
Finally, the sisters were able to convince the woman to allow Amina to go to school, but she is firm in not contributing a dime to Amina’s education. Sr. Virginia and the other sisters are able to secure funding to sponsor Amina’s schooling, allowing her to start primary school at age eight.
Today, Amina has finished basic school and is now in her second year of secondary school.
“She is very intelligent, and she always comes first among her peers,” says Sr. Veronica of Amina.
Though there are some days that she comes to school looking dirty or unhappy, the sisters know she is probably hungry or overworked. They share their lunch with Amina and do all they can to encourage her to continue her education.
Sr. Veronica knows the impact an education will have on Amina.
“Educating a girl-child is a big treasure,” she comments. “When a girl-child is educated in a family, the family is liberated, the society is transformed, and the ripple effect is visible in the world.”