From the moment we wake up (likely to an alarm set on our smartphones), to navigating our day (both literally through GPS and figuratively through collaborative calendars and video conferencing), to socializing with loved ones (through social networking, email and texting) and relaxing at the end of our day (while streaming the latest binge-worthy release), technology infiltrates every aspect of our lives.
In the span of just a couple short decades, technology has moved so rapidly we now carry in our pockets the computing power that used to take up a room’s worth of hard drive space. Small but mighty pocket computers and blazing-fast internet certainly increase our own productivity and capabilities.
But it's not the same in every country.
Only 41% of sub-Saharan Africans use the internet or an internet-capable smartphone, compared to 90% of Americans. Although numbers in Africa seem low, especially when compared to the U.S., it still reflects a major increase in Africa’s internet usage over recent years. As usage increases, the majority of Africans consider the internet and technology to be a positive influence in their countries.
One (perhaps unexpected) group that has seen first-hand the dramatic positive effect that technology can play in their communities? Catholic nuns.
Catholic sisters in sub-Saharan Africa are integral and trusted members of their communities. Sisters run schools, hospitals and large charitable organizations, often without proper training in technology, accounting or finance. Through ASEC’s programs, sisters learn these skills and are provided opportunities to pursue higher education degrees to enhance their ministry work.
The Importance of Computers and Technology Training for African Sisters
Sisters who participate in ASEC’s Sisters Leadership Development Initiative (SLDI) and Higher Education for Sisters in Africa (HESA) programs receive laptops, which are provided by a grant from Conrad N. Hilton Foundation. The laptops enable sisters to practice their skills, study for degrees and enhance their ministry work.
Empowering sisters to learn and use technology and providing sisters with access to computers are very important steps in achieving ASEC’s mission. That’s why sisters receiving education through ASEC’s Scholarship Program also receive computers that are donated by friends and supporters of ASEC.
ASEC’s 2020 Giving Tuesday campaign raised over $13,000 specifically for scholarship recipient laptops. In addition, desktop computers were recently donated to upgrade the computer lab at Bigwa residential high school in recognition of it being named one of Tanzania’s “Most Improved Schools.” The award was largely due to the academic performance of ASEC's scholarship recipients studying there.
Before entering ASEC’s programs, many African sisters have never used or even touched a computer. But once they attend a training, they quickly recognize the crucial role technology plays and eagerly implement their new skills to improve and enhance their service work.
Here just a few tech-savvy sisters who share first-hand how computers have enabled them to efficiently run their ministries and be more accountable to donors.
Gaining Computer Confidence in Malawi
Sr. Jacqueline Mollen, TS, never thought in her life that she would have a computer. But once she became a participant in SLDI’s administration track, she quickly gained confidence with this valuable tool that would prepare her to take on any challenge presented to her.
“...Technology is changing fast and it is affecting the sisters in Malawi. Now, because of SLDI, I am able to use the computer and Internet without any challenge. I am able to teach others how to operate the computer. Our sisters are becoming more advanced in technology.”
Pairing Computer Technology with Midwifery in Zambia
Sr. Champo Grace, SOM is a registered midwife in Zambia who felt limited by her inability to use a computer in her work. Through the SLDI technology track, she learned some basic computer skills that improved her work as a midwife.
“Now I’m able to present with Powerpoint and … able to hand in the typed assignments when I need to,” she says. In relation to her midwifery work, she adds, “I’m very grateful to have been accorded this opportunity because it has helped me so much to advance in how to type with a computer.”
From Computer Illiterate to Empowered Accounts Manager in Uganda
Sr. Faustina Khaoya, SCSC, knew the importance of good bookkeeping for her congregation, the Sisters of Mercy of the Holy Cross, but felt limited in her ability to improve her financial skills.
“I was computer illiterate,” said Sr. Faustina. “Book work was breaking my spirit.”
After participating in SLDI computer training, her confidence soared and she took on even more responsibility.
“I am now managing accounts by use of a computer… my work looks smart, neat, accurate and presentable,” said Sr. Faustina. “I have gone to the extent of helping my fellow sisters with the accounts in their respective departments and am even teaching them how to do accounts using computer program of QuickBooks.”
She even admits that the financial tasks she used to dread have now become a hobby she enjoys!
Sharing Computer Knowledge to Improve Tanzanian Ministry Work
Sr. Roselyne Wambani Wafula, FSP, was also intimidated by computers and spreadsheets. She found herself frequently relying on others to carry out these tasks. But once enrolled in SLDI, she and her classmates set a modest goal: even the mostly computer illiterate would leave better than she came.
Sr. Roselyne started with learning the basics, including the parts of a computer and their uses, hardware, software and using the internet. Bit by bit, she gained knowledge and confidence not only for herself, but to share with others.
“Carrying out basic computer trouble-shooting and system maintenance is something I can now do without much stress,” she says. “As I continue putting into practice what we learned, I find myself working in a more comfortable way and always excited to pass on this knowledge to my sisters who are interested in broadening their understanding and performance.”
Improving Congregational Operations and Archives in Malawi
Sr. Hellen Chiriro Rumbidzai, LCBL, is using the computer skills she gained through SLDI to create a digital archive of records for her congregation, the Little Children of Our Blessed Mary (LCBL). She has obtained electronic equipment like a scanner and laminating machine and is working to digitize and protect important congregational documents.
“It's a project long overdue. The records of the congregation are scattered in different communities. There's a risk of losing important documents,” remarked Sr. Hellen.
She has also started writing a historical record of her congregation, including information from the Archdiocese and the various places where the sisters have worked.
Sr. Hellen credits SLDI with helping her to develop the computer skills she needed for this project.
“ASEC has helped me to be systematic and organized and to be concerned about our resources. I have improved in record keeping and I share the passion with others. I am happy and thankful that ASEC has enabled me to make this important contribution to my congregation.”
Teaching Children in Cameroon to Use a Computer for the First Time
After participating in SLDI, Sr. Doris Kiven, SSA, wanted to share the excitement and power of using a computer. Using the laptop she received through SLDI training, she presented a lesson at the primary school in Mokunda, Cameroon, to an eager 13 students, most of whom had never seen a computer. She demonstrated the various parts of the computer, including the space bar, enter, delete and caps lock buttons. Students took turns writing sentences on the laptop.
“They were amazed to realize that they could write like in a text book,” she recalls. “They all collaborated to show each other the different letters, and they felt fulfilled at the end of the lesson…I equally felt fulfilled, because I realized that this lesson was actually a magic tool for the pupils.”
Sr. Doris also learned the value of her laptop and computer training in her own professional development. While attending training for mathematics teachers aimed at incorporating science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) into the curriculum, she noted a laptop was required to participate in the workshop.
“While some colleagues were running up and down in search of laptops, I was well equipped for the course.”
She noticed that other workshop participants grew frustrated with their lack of technology skills, but she was well-prepared and able to fully participate in the workshop. She quickly saw the value of her training and having a laptop available while in her ministry.
“I saw how indispensable it was to my apostolate.”