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Saving Africa through African Women Religious
by Sister Mary Salvaterra, CSJ
All of us walk down different paths during our lifetime, and the path that has taken me to teach in three East African countries during the past two summers has been most rewarding. By November 2009, about 300 African women religious in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Ghana and Nigeria will have graduated with certificates in Leadership through the African Sisters Education Collaborative (ASEC).
The decline of Catholic missionaries spurred the founding of indigenous African congregations with missions to serve the marginalized. To expand their work among destitute people, African religious congregations are presently seeking to develop large-scale projects such as shelters for girls who are potential victims of human trafficking, dispensaries for the sick, refugee camps for those fleeing political strife in Sudan, Somalia and other countries, schools for girls and boys, vocational institutions for the persons with disabilities, as well as homes for the elderly.
The skills the participants have acquired in their five two-week sessions over the past three years in the Sisters Leadership Development Initiatives (SLDI) have given them a sense of self-efficacy and a network system to do what they never thought they were capable of undertaking. Women religious of Africa have a way of reaching out to their communities and the people they serve. They have the experience of women being marginalized and the skills to energize communities for change. They view power and knowledge as interchangeable and expandable, and they are willing to involve the community to explore viable opportunities together.
I am convinced that conditions in African countries will improve through the efforts of these and other African women religious. We reflect on the work of the American women religious since the first sisters arrived on American soil from Europe, and we recognize how the sisters then and now have initiated and transformed education, health care and social services. The transformation of the American continent is being repeated on African soil through the efforts and determination of African women religious. Those of us from Marywood University, Chestnut Hill College and colleagues in the African countries are proud to have contributed to the first phase of educating women religious of Africa.
Sister Judith Athieno, Provincial Superior of the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Moyo,
Gulu Province, Uganda, visits with Sister Mary Salvaterra. Sister Judith is rebuilding her convent
that was bombed by the Lord's Resistance Army who mistook the convent for an army installation.
At the same time, Sister Judith hopes to build a school for traumatized young boys and girls
who were kidnapped and raped byt the LRA. The children managed to escape but are suffering
from unwanted pregnancies, HIV/AIDS and deep psychological problems.
Four of the Sisters prepare lessons for their certificates in leadership.