Excellent Education: Celebrating HESA Graduation Ceremonies in 2023

African Sisters Education Collaborative (ASEC)

HESA students pose for a photograph together.

The Higher Education for Sisters in Africa (HESA) program has helped education for women religious in Africa make strides, despite education for women in Africa facing significant barriers. In 2023, over 200 sisters graduated from HESA programs, overcoming challenges like the COVID-19 pandemic and contributing to their communities’ development and gender equality.

Education is the bedrock upon which the improvement of society is built, but in the modern world, access to education isn’t inclusive; women around the world, especially in developing countries like Africa, struggle to receive the rights to education they are due. Globally, women make up more than two-thirds of the world’s 796 million illiterate people1. Africa suffers from many of the problems associated with low access to education for females. While the literacy rate of adult females has increased, it is still unacceptably low. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the rate was 46.8% in 2000, whereas it increased to only 58.8% by 20192. In African countries, over 32 million girls of primary and lower secondary school age are out of school3. Barriers such as poverty, societal expectations, lack of access, and violence prohibit women from achieving higher standards. UNESCO estimates that over nine million girls between the ages of six and eleven don’t have the opportunity to go to school at all.

Women’s education, and by extension, gender equality, is a matter of justice. Equality is intrinsically valuable. Additionally, it is a condition that betters society as a whole. Education leads to improved decision-making and leadership skills for individuals. The flourishing of education manifests a thriving community devoid of poverty, crime, and unhealthy risk factors. 

A vital aspect of spreading education is the ability to celebrate it when success occurs. The African Sisters Education Collaborative’s (ASEC) Higher Education for Sisters in Africa (HESA) program, provides opportunities for sisters to access higher education and work towards undergraduate and master's degrees. HESA is delivered through partnerships with higher education institutions in Africa and online in the U.S. In 2023, HESA had eighteen graduation ceremonies held in nine different African countries, celebrations which shone the spotlight on the outstanding accomplishments and merits of many graduates. 2023 saw an exceptionally large number of graduates: over 200 in total. This batch of graduates was an especially hard-working and tenacious bunch, having to overcome the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic that caused a hiatus on in-person education. Celebrating the hard work of these graduates by profiling their graduation ceremonies is an important step in the cycle of enhancing education, as awareness is a key ally in the fight against gender inequality. 

Rays of Hope ebook

Read Rays of Hope

Learn more about Catholic Sisters transforming poor, rural communities across Africa in our FREE Rays of Hope ebook.

Read It Now »
Tanzania ASEC Programs Coordinator (Sr. Maria Telesphora, COLU), thanking the staff and graduates after a reflective learning workshop on the graduation from Mwenge Catholic University.

Tanzania ASEC Programs Coordinator (Sr. Maria Telesphora, COLU), thanking the staff and graduates after a reflective learning workshop on the graduation from Mwenge Catholic University.

Mwenge Catholic University, Tanzania

On November 25th, 2023, HESA celebrated the graduation of thirteen outstanding women at Mwenge Catholic University (MWECAU) in Tanzania. MWECAU is an institution determined to fulfill the goals and aspirations of HESA itself. The university’s motto, “lux mundi”, or “light of the world”, encapsulates the university’s mission to “produce professionally competent, innovative, and committed graduates who are grounded on professional excellence and moral integrity for provision of quality services to Tanzanian and global communities4.”

At the opening of the graduation ceremony, Rev. Dr. Fr. Rogatus Mavumilia, a lecturer at MWECAU and the main guest of honor, had the following to say, “You nuns should be examples to the people you are serving through your lives, and utilize the education you were given to gather the people of God and lead them towards the kingdom of God.”

HESA graduates have strong faith in the utility of their education, and that they are vital instruments in the advancement of their communities.

Thirteen HESA students graduated at the university's 16th graduation ceremony, three of whom obtained first class: Sr. Justina E. Makaranga, Sr. Marietha K. Heladius, Sr. Jenifa F. Ndeskai. Graduates received various degrees, including Bachelor of Sciences, Arts, and Business.

A total of seven sisters received certificates of recognition, while most sisters got upper second honors, allowing them to proceed with master's degrees and to find work in universities and colleges. The graduation ceremony was also the first event to coincide with ASEC’s 25th Silver Jubilee Anniversary, which celebrates the founding of ASEC. The motto of the graduation, “research and sustainability for the benefit of the nation”, helped to guide the ceremony, and steer the message that filled the hearts of the graduating students.

CUNIMA graduates and ASEC staff cut a cake at their graduation celebration (top). JUCO graduates pose for a commencement photo (bottom).

CUNIMA graduates and ASEC staff cut a cake at their graduation celebration (top). JUCO graduates pose for a commencement photo (bottom).

Catholic University of Malawi

On September 30, 2023, thirteen graduates celebrated at the Catholic University of Malawi (CUNIMA). CUNIMA was first established by the Episcopal Conference of Malawi on October 16, 2004. The mission of the university is to “contribute to the integral development of the nation through vocational training, academic courses, and research activities that are tailored to meet critical needs of the nation and the Church. The institution is built on the bedrock Catholic education tradition that has shaped the academic landscape across the globe.” The graduates mostly received degrees in nursing, accountancy, and business administration.

Five sisters graduated with extra credits; Sr. Mariana Billiati, Sr. Martha Mwaluka, Sr. Violet Matiki, Sr. Martha Mwaluka, and Sr. Violet Matiki.

Jordan University College, Tanzania

On November 11, 2023, during the Thanksgiving season, at Jordan University College (JUCO) in Tanzania, 17 HESA students graduated out of a class of over 1,300. JUCO is committed to the preparation and formation of the upcoming priestly and religious life of graduates by offering programs that support the mission of the Church in the 21st century. Their motto “offering high quality academic programmes aiming at solving problems of the society and contributing to the development of the country,” is central to the education experience. The sisters received diplomas in Law, Religious Studies, and Library/Records Management.

The ceremony was intimately tied to the messages of Thanksgiving, and the festivities emphasized the importance of sharing good fortune. The celebration was led by Rev. Fr. Thomas Kiangio5, a bishop of the Tango Catholic Diocese. The Bishop insisted on “thanking God for what we receive since without him we can do nothing.” The Bishop implored the graduates to honor the themes of Thanksgiving by offering prayers to the parents, guardians, teachers, and religious leaders who had supported them on their journey through higher education.

HESA students celebrate their graduation while posing for a photograph.

HESA students celebrate their graduation while posing for a photograph.

Catholic University of Health and Allied Sciences, Tanzania

On November 11, 2023, there were 24 HESA participants included in the graduation ceremonies at the Catholic University of Health and Allied Sciences (CUHAS) in Tanzania. The institution’s 16th graduation ceremonies went hand in hand with the 20th anniversary of the founding of CUHAS, as well as the 25th anniversary of ASEC.

CUHAS, a constituent university college founded in 2003, specializes in the fostering of health professionals and provides education in the fields of medicine, pharmacy, lab sciences, and nursing. Its mission is “to provide skilled and competent human resources that is vested with moral and ethical values.”

The opening Holy Mass was led by Rev. Archbishop Gervas J. Nyaisonga-Archbishop of Mbeya Diocese. When congratulating the graduates, he preached; “You are here to thank God and all the people who touched your lives. It is a day of joyfulness and praises the greater deeds that God granted to you, particularly towards your health and the education you acquired at this university. Congratulations!”

Sr. Mariana Ignace Kavishe especially stands out with esteem, as she was the first student to graduate as a medical doctor from HESA Tanzania in 2016. As chairperson of the student organization in Tanzania, she embodies the aspects of a strong leader and is a talented individual. She is also the regional superior of her congregation: the Holy Cross Sisters of Tanzania.

“I find myself not deserving of such an education. It is through God’s providence and the ASEC assistance that I’m currently called Doctor Mariana. Thus, I keep on praying to ASEC leaders and the development of the ASEC programs in Tanzania and elsewhere.”

HESA is on the frontlines of the battle for female education, fighting against barriers such as poverty, poor infrastructure, violence, and stigma. It’s vital to comprehend the enormous amount of benefits that come as a consequence of access to education. For women in Africa, education is the key to unlocking healthy and productive lives. Every additional year of primary school increases girls' eventual wages by 10-20 percent6. Higher incomes enable women to support families and sustain their communities. They become able to fund businesses and drive economic growth, directly affecting poverty rates. The creation of mass opportunity stunts the unwanted problems caused by long-rooted inequalities. Additionally, education doesn’t just benefit females as individuals, but families and entire communities as well. Child and maternal mortality rates are lower in areas where girls and women are educated as they are able to make the right decisions regarding their own health and that of their children.

While it is important to outline upcoming obstacles, it is also imperative to acknowledge occurrences of achievement. Celebrations are crucial components in the act of spreading awareness for a cause. 2023 was a good year for ASEC and a good year for HESA. The graduation ceremonies that were held are just a few of the numerous victories for female education in Africa. These events were, and are, valuable because success is always something worth celebrating.


Be a Ray of Hope

Communities across Africa are counting on Catholic Sisters, but 71% lack the education needed to carry out their important mission work. You can be a Ray of Hope for a Sister who needs you by donating to her education today.

Donate Now »

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

Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all

Liam Clune
Writing Intern, Monitoring & Evaluation  

Jake Danna Stevens
Media & Communications Manager, Mission Advancement  

Tara Lopatofsky, PhD, CCLS

Tara Lopatofsky, PhD, CCLS
Senior Program Manager, Monitoring & Evaluation  

Sr. Nhung Duong, FMSR

Sr. Nhung Duong, FMSR
Writing Intern, Mission Advancement  

Leave a comment »

Back to news »