My dear Sisters, Family and Friends,
I am in the plane on my way back to California. The journey of these past months has come to a conclusion.What a profound journey of grace, of life, of growth for me!
I hadn’t planned on writing this blog, but the experiences of these past weeks have been so rich and diverse, they must be shared!
Santa Sabina, Rome, August 28 – September 6.
Santa Sabina is the international center for the Dominican Order dating back to its very foundation 800 years ago. Staying here in this sacred place was a great privilege and blessing! We joined the approximately 30 friars, who come from all over the world, for morning prayer and Eucharist, shared meals with them and life experiences. We prayed and celebrated a special Eucharist in the cell of St. Dominic and had a very insightful 2+ hour dialogue with our Brother Bruno, the head of the Dominican Order. He talked to us about the parable of communion as the heart of our preaching mission and the call of consecrated life.
International Team at St. Peter’s Basilica
During this time, we had the first meeting of the International Coordinating Team for our GHR global planning project: Futuring Dominican Charism for-Mission, Sisters and Lay Partners Together. Three sisters came from Africa, three from the US and one from Rome—the international Coordinator of Dominican Sisters International. Together we reflected on our Dominican charism, shaped the elements of our year long process and worked on the specific plans for each of our continents. We grew in understanding, deepened bonds; we shared prayer along with outings to the St. Peter’s Scavie, the Santa Sabina Scavie and of course time to enjoy gelato!
Kenya… My final African destination!
A 2 ½ hour airplane flight landed me in Kenya on the evening of August 17th around 6:30 PM. The journey to St. Rose of Lima convent was another hour. Sisters Magdalen and Tabitha welcomed me warmly! That night was my first experience of sleeping under a mosquito net!
With candidates and aspirants
The Dominican Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart’s “delegation” in Kenya is composed of approximately 19 Sisters, some of whom have come from Zambia and Zimbabwe to strengthen their presence and support their mission. They presently have 4 Kenya novices at their International Novitiate in Zambia and three second year candidates who are getting ready to go to the novitiate. They are hoping Kenya will grow into its own region soon.
In 1985 the Congregation sent four sisters to Kenya to initiate a mission. Among them was Sister Luise Kadlmeier, a dynamic, compassionate German Sister who had a phenomenal ability to gather support from near and abroad for the projects she created to serve the children and needy. The initial mission was not successful, but Sister Luise remained in Kenya because of her commitment to teach religious studies at Kenyatta University and at the Catholic University of East Africa, as well as
work in the diocesan pastoral center. Her heart was soon captured by the growing number of young refugees from the Sudenese war. Her compassionate heart impelled her over the next 15 years to get local and international sponsorship to start 3 orphanages, a hospital, a medical dispensary, a primary school, 2 nursery schools, an “old people’s home”, and a technical institute! Definitely a woman of action! The Sisters joined her in 1998 and continue to this day each of these ministry sites!
This past March Sister Luise died in Kenya; the first of their sisters to die here. You can imagine the impact of her loss on the Sisters and people of the area! In my visit to Emmanuel Center, an elder man, who had served the Sisters’ mission from the beginning, immediately led me to a little laptop, where he inserted his travel stick and began showing me Sr. Luise’s funeral! We couldn’t speak but his love for her was so evident!
These missions in Kenya are clustered in three distinct areas in the outskirts of Nairobi, all within driving distance—but not without challenge given the condition of the roads! I had the blessing of spending some time at each of them!
Area One centers around St. Rose of Lima Convent and was my first day’s focus:
St. Monica Orphanage—Sr. Catherine directs this home for 48 boys and girls ages 5 to 15. Some of the children are placed there because of abusive home situations, others are without parents.
St. Augustine Dispensary is right next store and serves the health needs of their 3 orphanages, the parish (also next door), and elders in the area. It provides medical consultation and basic treatment, has a functioning laboratory to support diagnosis, as well as dispenses medication.
Emmanuel Center–a whole villiage
A Pre-School is also part of this compound and serves the children in the orphanage as well as local children. Emmanuel Center— founded in 2003 is now under the direction of Sr. Josephine, who will be making her final vows in October, and Sr. Catherine Wanja, the first Kenyan Sister to make final vows. They are walking in Sr. Luise’s footsteps, guided by her spirit! Emmanuel Center includes an Orphanage, a Bakery, and food dispensary for the poor in the area.
The Orphanage is home for 43 children, 8 years old to young adults. Seventeen older boys, who are enrolled in college, sleep in a compound off site, but come to Emmanuel Center for meals and socialization. Many of the children have spent their entire lives at Emmanuel Center or St. Monica’s—truly the only homes they know. During my visit which landed during the term break most of the children were spending some days with guardians or parents. Eight of the young people have no where else to go so I had the opportunity to connect with them. And we all enjoyed their delicious freshly baked bread which helps feed the children and those in need!
The second mission area is in Juja Farm, an 11 kilometer drive off the paved road on a rocky, dusty, rut filled road, where the Sisters purchased property to establish their Mother Patrick Formation community in 2009. Under Sister Luise’s leadership they quickly responded to the needs of the children and elders of the area through the establishment of three ministries which were officially blessed in 2010:
St. James Pre-School and Primary School is under the leadership of Sr. Martha Chilambo and supported by Sr. Vimbai, teacher, who recently was missioned to this community from Zimbabwe. 730 children, ages 2 ½ years through 8 grade, are educated here!
St. Mary’s Children Home is directed by Sr. Prisca who ensures that the 58 children, 34 boys and 24 girls, from 6 years old to 20 years old are well fed, cared for. educated and prepared for life. Sixteen of the children are in secondary school, the younger ones attend St. James. The majority of the children come from abusive or dysfunctional families. There is great effort to work with the guardians and parents to re-integrate the children back into their families. The children at St. Mary’s live in family settings with 8 – 9 children in a “home.” The goal is to ensure they learn good life skills including self-care and appropriate ways of relating with others. Each home has its own garden for which the children are totally responsible, including determining what they will plant, care for and hopefully harvest and enjoy! There is also a larger farm here which helps to supply food for all three orphanages.
The “Old People’s Home” and Farm are also under the direction of Sr. Prisca. This home provides care for elders who have no family or spouse. There are presently 4 men and 1 woman for whom this is their only home. Here too a farm contributes to the food for all of their children and elder homes. Besides a large garden they have 458 chickens which supply eggs, 4 cows which provide milk, many ducks, 14 rabbits and a bakery which daily bakes bread for the children and elders. Any extra eggs or bread are sold as a source of income. The farm is essential to ensure the ministry sites are sustainable. Again and again I experienced the Sisters shared commitment to and support of all of their ministries in the area, as well as their communities.
The Technical and Agricultural Training Institute (TATI) This amazing site was begun in 2013 through the financial support of Rotary District 1950 in Germany. Sr. Luise at work once again! One hundred plus vulnerable students engage in 2 year programs in their area of interest: organic farming, electronics and joinery, plumbing and welding, dressmaking and tailoring or a 1 year program in hairdressing and beauty therapy. The tuition is very low to enable students who haven’t even completed primary or secondary school to come and find a life skill. Sister Sera, who recently earned her Business and Administration degree, directs the program which she helped support from its inception.
During my visit I missed the students who were on a break, but Sr. Sera provided a thorough tour of their expansive farm which includes cabbage, tomatoes, corn, local green vegetables, beets, okra, mangoes, bananas, guavas, etc.. In addition, they have a fish hatchery which raises 5000 Talapia every 8 months, 3000 chickens which provide lots of eggs and are later sold, 20 cows which are milked 2 times a day, 16 goats which supply highly nutrient milk that boosts the immune system. The manure from the goats and chicken is also sold. All of these support the training of the students as well as provide food for the children and elder homes and income for TATI. The students I encountered in the organic farm program were quite impressive as was the organization of the entire site! And Sister Sara’s breadth of knowledge about all of the areas was amazing! You might guess, their greatest challenge is financial as students can’t afford to pay the low tuition and the cost of keeping all of these areas going is beyond the income raised.
St. James Parish is located right next to the Formation house. We joined thelocal parishioners for 6 AM Eucharist each day. Sunday we attended 8:30 Eucharist which didn’t conclude until 12:10 PM! (I didn’t realize it was the only mass on Sundays!) It was truly both an experience of prayer expressed in enthusiastic song and dance, as well as a community organizing event—announcements took an hour and included a fundraising appeal that wouldn’t let anyone off the hook from contributing! I only wished I had understood some of it! (Since this is out in the rural bush area, the local dialect is used for prayer.)
On my last afternoon I had the opportunity to join the candidates and aspirants in small Christian community their parish small faith community. We gathered with other women, and a few small children, in a nearby home for about 1 ½ hours to pray the Divine Mercy caplet and share reflection on the scripture of the day.
My first storm in Africa arrived in the midst of our sharing which cut our time a bit short since all of us had walked and needed to get home before the storm got any worse! We laughed as the candidates and I ran home in the rain and truly did make it just in time before the heavens really opened and the thunder and lightning hit! Another African adventure!
My delightful 5 days at Juja Farm with Mother Patrick’s Formation community (Sisters Martha, Grace, Prisca, Sera and Vimbai and second year candidates, Lucia, Lillian and Margaret, and aspirants, Pamela and Juliana) passed too quickly and left me sorry to leave. The quality of the young candidates is a hopeful sign for our Dominican future. I experienced their dedication, prayerful spirit, generosity and sense of fun! The icing on the cake was sharing with them a days’ adventure to Nairobi to visit the giraffes, crocodiles, tortoises and ostriches. My favorite animal was the giraffe!
I treasure the gift of my time together with them and their director, Sister Grace! Before I left they made a video clip for me to send to Kieu to welcome her into the Dominican family! The bridge of love between us is growing!
My lesson in Juja Farm…. I must confess a struggle that plagued me during my visit. Before I left Zambia I worked hard to complete my blog so I could send if prior to my arrival in Kenya. But the WIFI connection did not cooperate; the pictures weren’t able to be downloaded from my phone to the blog. So no blog was sent and I took off for Kenya. My heart sank a bit when I arrived in Kenya and learned that none of the 3 communities here have internet connection. A seed of hope was planted when I discovered that the school had a computer room with both WIFI and hard wiring! Wednesday morning Sister Martha graciously took me to the room and set up the WIFI connection for me. I spent the morning trying to get connected in every way possible, first on the WIFI then on the hard wired system. The bottom line was their security system didn’t allow gmail access, which includes our msjmail! At 11:30 I locked up the room and headed back to the convent with a high level of frustration. I had been patient up to this point but had reached my limit. As I walked across the yard, God’s grace saved me! I became conscious of the singing birds—something for which Kenya is famous. The thought then struck me—here I am frustrated because I can’t connect with people on the other side of the world and accomplish the task I was determined to do…. And yet, HERE I am able to connect with these beautiful birds…. And HERE I am on my way to connect with my Sisters in the community. THIS is where life, where the Divine Presence meets me! Can I let go of my plans and open myself to the reality awaiting me? The energy shifted and I laughed at myself once again! How easily I forget!!
St.Milta Mulumba Mission Hospital, Thika
It is hard to believe this is the last stop on my African journey. Thursday I joined our Sisters Bernadette, Seline, Catherine and Dorcus here at the sight of their first mission in Kenya, begun by Sister Luise in 1998. Sister Bernadette serves as the director of the hospital and has been here since its opening! A unique feature of this community is that each of the four Sisters is engaged in the hospital ministry: Sister Bernadette, director of the hospital, Sister Seline, who gives leadership in the accounting department and assists in administration, Sister Dorcus who oversees the pharmacy and Sister Catherine, nurse, who most recently joined the staff from Zimbabwe.
Over the years the hospital has grown into a quality medical facility. Walking through the departments the spirit and dedication of the staff and the care and beauty of the space was evident. A unique dimension of the staff is the significant number of them, representing diverse faith traditions,
who gather together at 6:30 AM on campus for shared prayer and reflection on scripture or celebration of the Eucharist several times a week. It is truly a vibrant, dedicated community of faith and service!
The Sisters are also involved in the local parish in a variety of ways, supporting the choir, praying in family settings, assisting in faith formation! Their engagement with the people is very evident. And so the preaching continues! I personally experienced their loving spirit. My last blog finally was sent thanks to Sister Bernadette’s patient assistance getting me connected to the hospital administration’s WIFI system… no simple feat!
I must share an experience I had the last day. Sunday after Eucharist we had finished breakfast when Sister Dorcus walked in to the kitchen holding a live chicken. (Yes, they also raise layers!) I soon learned this was to be our lunch meal! Sister Bernadette went with Sister Dorcus to kill the chicken and prepare it. I didn’t have the courage to witness the evident. In fact, I was surprised how quickly Sr. Bernadette returned with a fully plucked bird ready to be cooked! As Sister Bernadette prepared the chicken and potatoes, Sister Dorcus cropped up piles of pumpkin leaves for our vegetables and I worked on cutting up a huge bag of string beans for the week.
That afternoon Sisters drove from the three diverse areas of Kenya to land at St. Augustine parish along with some parishioners for a several hour choir practice for Sister Josephine’s final vows which will be celebrated in October. We returned after 6 PM, shared Evening Prayer together and dinner, which is usually whatever are the leftovers from lunch. Stories and laughter continued for a while! Community happens in many ways in Africa, as in every country!
Monday, August 28th, an Uber driver picked me up at 3:45 AM to get to the Nairobi airport for my flight to Rome. (That sets a new record for my early departures!) On the way we encountered a mother hyena carrying her baby in her mouth as she crossed the road. And when we got to the airport they have a most interesting process. The cars which are all leaving off passengers have to pull over and let out the passengers who walk through a security scan and then get back in the car on the other side and continue on to the terminal. (I had a challenge finding my car; I had no idea what it looked like! Finally, my driver got out and found me!) Of course, there are several more security scans once one gets into the airport. Such a world we live in! The journey to Rome involved a 4 ½ trip to Dubai, a 2 ½ hour layover, and a 6 ½ hour trip to Rome!
Thus ended my 53 day journey in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Kenya. I leave a richer Dominican woman and hopefully better person. I leave knowing how much I don’t know. And I leave with so much to unpack in the coming months: learnings, memories of my new Dominican sisters, and layers upon layers of gratitude for so many blessings, including good health and safety and the loving support of my sisters, family and friends at home!
Concluding Days in Zambia
The journey continues…. this blog has been very slow in coming because limited internet access impacted downloading pictures….and I know the pictures tell the real story! Such is another experience of real life in Africa.
Two weeks ago Sister Rosemarie Keisler accompanied me on an extensive journey into northern Zambia and the 3 most remote missions of the Dominican Sisters here. Once again I found myself inspired by the breadth of outreach and deeply moved by the great need and challenges evident in so many ways.
Our six-hour journey brought us to this village which is home to a diocesan sponsored hospital and school of nursing, parish church and the Sisters’ convent which is adjacent to a government secondary school. By now I suspect you can already imagine the Sisters’ involvement!
Sister Emma serves as a surgical nurse at the hospital which is run under the direction of the Child Jesus Sisters, a diocesan congregation.
80 young women and men are being trained in the current cohort at the diocesan nursing school.
Salvaging remains after the fire
Sister Susan teaches the public health courses. We joined the students for 6:30 AM Eucharist which is a requirement for them on Mondays and Fridays. The singing was wonderfully energetic and the preaching good!
In 2015 the school celebrated the completion of a beautiful new structure that included a fully equipped kitchen, dining hall for students, offices for staff, library, midwifery residence and classrooms. Tragically the building caught fire the following October and completely burnt to the ground. The entire library was lost as was equipment etc. etc.! The midwifery program had to be suspended until a new facility could be built. They salvaged every possible piece of metal, door and window frames, pipes, bed frames, even pots and pans, hoping to somehow reuse them. Such a great loss! And still they continue on. The rebuilding is in process!
Government Secondary School
The sisters have been engaged in the secondary school next door for many years. Presently Sister Juliet is part of the teaching staff. The school serves 642 students, grades 8 – 12th. Students come from as far away as 200 kilometers. The tragedy is that there are no provisions for housing the students. Over 300 of the students just “squat”—find a place to sleep wherever they can and fend for themselves all week, food and all. Some people in the village have little huts that they rent out. Students sleep on the floor, as many as possible in the space. The families don’t have money to pay for housing on top of the uniform and school fee. As you can imagine this impacts their health, academic performance and contributes to a high rate of teenage pregnancies and dropouts. A one-room building is being built to provide beds and, most importantly, a safer environment for about 100 girls.
Home Economics classroom
The government pays the teachers’ salaries but provides no other support for the expanding enrollment. The environment is sorely lacking desks, textbooks (only the teacher may be lucky to have one), and equipment. Some subjects have 60 – 70 children in a classroom. Three students will sit at one desk; other desks will be moved between classes. Windows are broken. They have a computer room but no computers; the home economics room only has 2 microwave ovens and a few tables. The government 12th grade exit exam includes these subjects so they have to be taught with or without any supplies. And yet, In the midst of all of this, we encountered some excellent art work by the students and signs of a band coming into being!
Student art work
Chilonga left me keenly aware of the challenges facing these young people. Ann, both the guidance staff member and teacher, talked about their continuous efforts to keep the students enrolled. How to have hope in the midst of it all and believe one can make a difference!
The following day we continued our journey further north for another 2 ½ hours. The road was much rougher; ruts and rocks paved the way! The first challenge was finding the convent as there aren’t any street signs or numbers. We had been directed to ask people where St. Ann’s Church was and the convent would be found nearby! It took a few “askings,” but eventually we landed at the convent which is home to four of our Dominican Sisters who are carrying on the their 25+ years’ mission in this area.
Kasama University of Education
Sister Lucy teaches four classes at Kasama University of Education. During the term break the professors conclude their marking and teach the distant learners who come for intensive on-site courses, about 250 students! Here too the students face many challenges. They either walk great distances to school or just find a place to “squat.” Being able to meet the tuition fee is very challenging for many. Sister Lucy spends significant time listening, counseling, encouraging the students to not give up on their education—besides preparation time!
Kasama Secondary School
Sister Chanda teaches chemistry and physics at Kasama Secondary School which is home for 1200 girls who board there! Can you imagine! She also is engaged in Confirmation preparation. The future of the girl-child is strongly supported in these institutions.
Sister Theresa recently began working for Caritas—the Catholic Charity arm of the Church in Africa and Europe. She manages a Caritas project focused on the sustainability of small farmers, the principle occupation in the region. Caritas provides over 600 small farmers sunflower seeds to expand their crops beyond maize. Caritas buys the harvested sunflower seeds from the farmers and finances a plant that creates sunflower oil. The oil is sold to the people; the farmers make money; and a healthy form of cooking oil is available! Talk about a win-win situation! Sister Theresa, a trained social worker, oversees the various elements of the project and works with the farmers.
Sister Lydia directs St. Martin de Porres Pre-School sponsored by the Sisters. The large sign on the wall outside the school reads: “We offer Spiritual Guidance, Study Tours. We provide lunch and afternoon tea; Day Care from 7:30 AM – 4 PM.” It is ideally located next to the parish.
Kasama has a strong, vibrant Catholic population. The people in St. Ann’s Parish have formed 25 small Christian communities, each under the patronage of a saint. They meet weekly to reflect on the scriptures, learn about our faith and receive various assignments for outreach in the community. At the end of the Eucharist on Sunday the groups responsible for the various liturgical ministries the following weekend are announced. These involve the small Christian communities or other committees in the parish. Shared leadership and responsibility for their faith community is clearly evident. The singing is amazing! So many times I have longed to share the beauty of their music with you!
Sunday afternoon we took off for an adventure to the Chishimba Falls, a truly beautiful national park that extends over a distance creating several levels of water falls. We thoroughly enjoyed the beauty and the opportunity to do some walking!
Mansa was our next stop, a very rural area in the far north, another 3 ½ hour drive.
January 5, 2017 the Sisters took a leap of faith and assumed this new ministry at the request of the local Bishop. The task: to establish a community and assume responsibility for Kabula Secondary School, a government boarding school for 450 girls, 9th – 12th grade. The pioneer community is composed of Sisters Mirriam, Sabina and Godfrieda. Three valiant young women!
The school had originally been founded by an Irish Congregation in the 1950s. The government assumed responsibility in the 1970s. Today the challenges are beyond imagining: classrooms need repair and painting, windows are broken, desks and books are needed. The dining hall had to be converted into a classroom so the girls have no where to eat their meals except outside (without any benches or tables). The food is prepared in huge pots over wooden fires in an open kitchen area.
Open kitchen for feeding boarders
There are inadequate beds so some girls sleep 2 to a bed (in bunk beds). A nearby river is a seedbed for mosquitos; windows without screens and beds without netting resulted in rampant cases of malaria among the girls.
Fetched water in the hallway outside of shower and toilet.
To top it off, there is inadequate water! The Sisters are sharing in the girls’ water supply (drilled water from the ground, fed into tanks) which frequently dries up by the afternoon so there any running water in the convent ceases to exist. The Sisters have gotten adept at carrying water to keep an inside barrel filled to provide for cooking, bathing, washing and all other needs!
Working on putting down floor covering
Two days before we arrived the sisters had moved into a newly renovated convent on the property. My heart ached when I saw what a “new home” means in a third world country—on top of the water situation. I worked with them to cover the cement floor with a material resembling thick contact paper, gluing down just the edges. Running water in sinks and showers as well as electricity is still being worked on! Internet is no where to be found, not even in the school.
Crowded classroom with many needs
And yet, little seeds of progress and hope were present. The school has returned to its original name: Trinity Secondary School. The outside of the buildings have been painted. Water pipes have been installed to decrease the open water source. A garden has been planted to provide healthy food, and each of the girls’ dorms has been dedicated to a Dominican saint, clearly identified on the outside. May they intercede for them!
A priest from the diocesan office shared with me that the Bishop and priests are counting on the Sisters to help strengthen the faith of the people and encourage commitment to education. The area has a high level of illiteracy; there is little motivation or encouragement to continue education beyond 9th grade. The catholic population is significant, but active participation is lacking. Let us pray for this new mission, that the Spirit will inspire and sustain our Sisters and their lay partners!
Our two-day stay in Mansa concluded Wednesday morning as we set off at 6 AM to begin a 7 ½ hour journey back to Fatima Community outside of Ndola. On the way home the Sisters treated me to a detour by the water so I could have yet another experience of Africa. The size and beauty of the lake reminded me of Lake Tahoe without the mountains!
And what does my heart hold?
August 17th my time in Zambia came to an end. My heart carries so many rich, tender memories. It has been a continued time of inner and outer movement holding much grace!
I have come to know first-hand the continued invitation to let go, to surrender that which is expected, comfortable, certain, comprehensible, even what might be thought essential! Experiencing that day in and day out in continually diverse settings has awakened me to how much I take for granted and how little I REALLY need, and most especially — how much I have to learn from the life experience of our Sisters who do so much with so little as they stay focused on the call of the Kingdom. May I keep growing in such a stance.
I have come to know a subtle inner movement, an opening up of inner space that has called/challenged me to simply BE in so many places and at so many times when there was little I could DO. True conversion! “Pauses for tea” helps feed this movement from doing to being!
The challenge of God’s Word has taken on new meaning in the experience of vulnerability, of poverty, of the suffering of our sisters and brothers. My heart has felt stretched and broken open. I have found myself drawn again and again to ponder: What is the Kingdom asking of me? What is needing to die within me, within us? What more is waiting to be freed up that the Kingdom may come, within and without! And I have come to know the truth and power of Resurrection in the hope, resilience, determination and love of these beautiful people…even in the midst of darkness.
There is a sadness within me as I leave. My Dominican Sisters here and their realities have found a home in my heart, as they did in Zimbabwe. I am profoundly grateful to Sr.Christine Mwape, Regional Leader, and each of the Sisters in Zambia who welcomed me so warmly and went out of their way time and again to share their life and ministry with me. I leave truly blessed and grateful!
As I move through this new week I am keenly aware of the significant moment this is for our Sisters in the United States as we unite with the Heffernan family and the Cavagnaro family to give thanks for Frank’s and Patty’s lives, mourn their deaths and send them off to heaven. How profoundly blessed we have been by both of their belief in and commitment to our mission, their personal friendship and support. I am united with you in heart and prayer as are our Sisters here! (a message written over a week ago).
I look forward to sharing with you the last leg of my African journey, my 10 days in Kenya, in my next blog! Thank you for continuing this journey with me!
Our Dominican Mission in Zambia
I dedicate this blog to Frank Heffernan, a treasured friend who died August 8th, the Feast of St. Dominic. Frank was a very significant person in my life and the life of our Congregation–a trusted friend, a great personal support and source of wisdom, a man of faith, a lover of family and Church. He believed in our mission as Dominican Sisters, challenged us to be all we are called to be and, with Lenore’s support, generously helped our dreams become a reality! I rejoice that he has run the race; I deeply mourn our loss.
The journey continues…
Late in the evening of July 24th I arrived in Lusaka, Zambia. Unfortunately Sister Christine Mwape, the regional prioress, and Sister Emma waited over 2 hours for my delayed flight to arrive! The Dominican Sisters have 2 communities in Lusaka, one a hospitality house and the other the collaborative novitiate.
The International Collaborative Novitiate
I had the joy of spending the following day with the novices from Zimbabwe, Zambia and Kenya: 7 first year novices and 7 second year novices. We reflected on the spirit and call of St. Dominic. They spoke of Dominic’s call for us today to be “energized” by the Word of God, to seek Truth, to preach peace, to listen and contemplate the Word and the world, to bring a compassionate presence and light, to be the good news. They named the importance of our shifting from self-absorption to focus on the oneness of all; to be sources of Joy and Justice.
Together we moved through the process that will be at the heart of our planning grant: Futuring the Dominican Charism for-Mission, Sisters and Lay Partners Together. Their responses were full of energy and hope as they spoke of keeping Christ at the center, reaching out to the poor, open to the creativity of the Spirit, having courage to face injustice, being seekers of Truth, sharing our charism with their families, with the youth and their lay partners. As we concluded our time, they spoke of their hope that together we can create a stronger experience of unity as one Dominican family around the world! They would love to connect with their US sisters in formation!
Chapel at the novitiate
The formators and I met in the afternoon. They shared creative ideas for opening up platforms for conversations across our worlds and ways to deepen an understanding of our Dominican charism, as well as their naming the challenges they face in formation. My time at the collaborative novitiate filled me with hope and confidence in the possibilities the future holds for us! How much we can learn from and be inspired by each other!
Regional House from different views.
Wednesday Sisters Christine, Kabulie and I left at 6 AM for the five hour journey to Ndola, the 3rd largest city in Zambia located in the Copperbelt. This area is home to most of the 10 communities in the region, includ-ing the Regional House. Along the way we stopped to visit the Dominican nuns who came to Zambia 4 years ago to establish a monastery. The 4 nuns greeted us with great joy; together we shared coffee, tea and bread! They have been residing in an old vacant house the Divine Word Fathers made available for their use until their monastery was built. This past week they finally moved into their new home and Father Bruno, the Master of the Order, joined all of us on August 8th to celebrate their new home and the coming of 3 friars to Zambia. The Dominican family is growing here!
The Region of Zambia
Upon my arrival in Ndola, I received a grand tour of the regional house which is home to 22 Sisters, their Dominican Convent Secon-dary School (460 girls) and Dominican Primary School (350 students- 3 years old to 4th graders). The Sisters’ commitment to quality education continues to be evident! And, of course, there is a large garden with vegetables, orange, lemon, banana, papaya and guava trees.
The Sisters first settled here in Ndola in 1936; they became an independent region in 1978. 83 Sisters form the region today; their average age is 44 years old with 15 sisters in temporary profession and 5 novices.
A key challenge they face is providing their Sisters adequate education for their diverse ministries and community needs, especially finance and administration. They are strategically training sisters in fields that will both support their missions and provide a source of income for the community, e.g. bio-medicine, nursing, dentistry, social work, communications.
I could write pages about the ministries of the Sisters! Let me at least highlight a few!
First some important background.
The Sisters have created 3 Community schools to serve children who cannot afford to attend the public government schools which require the parents to buy uniforms for the children and pay a fee. They also serve children whose learning or emotional needs cannot be supported in the government schools. The Sisters provide the uniforms, materials and food for the students; the parents pay a minimal fee. (The Sisters have workers who sew all of the uniforms for their schools as a source of income!)
Years ago in Ndola the British government established “townships” every 10 Kilometers–a designated area where people would create small shelters for homes. Over the years the area of these “townships” have greatly expanded with the population. The people often survive without basic supports of electricity, piped water, sanitary collection or even in some cases sewers. The dirt roads are difficult to navigate. It was in the midst of one of these townships that I experienced a true oasis of life, stability, hope and love–Natwange Village!
Natwange (Let Us Rejoice) Youth Village
Natwange is a school and home the Dominican Sisters created in 1995 to support the children in the local township. Shipping containers served as the first classrooms; buildings slowly emerged as funds were secured. Today 780 children are being educated –primary through grade 9. At the end of 9th grade the students take government exams to determine if a student is allowed to attend secondary school. Families come from far distances to enroll their children here because of its strong academic reputation. Each family and child is interviewed and priority is given to orphans and the most vulnerable.
The government pays the salaries for 3 teachers out of the 27 at Natwange; the Sisters are responsible for the rest. Two Sisters serve in this mission: Sr. Matilda, the director, and Sr. Maria, 7th and 8th grade teacher. The children are fed one meal of sada (corn meal) or a soy protein drink each day; very little food is available at home. Natwange is truly a God send for these children who have so little.
The Youth Village is also home for girls who are orphans or live in unstable environments. As the girls at St. Anthony Home for Children (last blog) grow older they move to this home where they learn life skills and as much education as they can absorb. I had the joy of meeting one of their boarders who just was accepted into nursing school! What a difference education can make!
On Sunday Sisters Maria, Matilda and I walked through the township surrounding Natwange where the children live to visit one of the families. I was deeply impacted by the physical extend of the compound, their efforts to create a “home” and eek out some income. In the picture to the left the children jumped into these poses when they saw I was taking a picture. They are so playful!
Buyantanshi Community School
In the late 1990s in the midst of the Aides pandemic a group of women united to identify the needs of the Buyantanshi township. They found 700 children in the compound without any education; some of them surviving on their own. The women appealed to the Sisters for help and offered them an old tavern. In 2001 the tavern was transformed into a pre-school for 3 – 5 year old. The school has continued to expand to serve 400 1st – 7th graders under the leadership of Sister Regina. Here too the children are fed each day and a home is provided for 11 girls at the Twapia Transient Home which the Sisters also support.
St. Rose of Lima Pre-School is one of the community’s newest private schools, e.g. the parents are able to pay tuition. (As is the case in Mexico, these schools also help support the Sisters through a yearly contribution to the congregation.) The pre-school began a year ago in a small building that was available. The 3 levels of children have quickly outgrown the school. The parents have stepped forward and donated money to build a new pre-school and primary classroms which is well underway. I had the opportunity to attend the parents’ meeting; their acceptance of responsibility for the needs of the school and their professional handling of the meeting were very impressive.
The school, located in Mufulira, is adjacent to a government school that originally was built and run by the Sisters. At the time of Zambia’s independence in the 1970s the government took over the schools and the property without any recompense. Sisters were allowed to apply to teach and direct them, which some of the Dominicans do, wearing their habits. Religion is a required subject introducing the students to diverse religious traditions/beliefs. A unique feature of this school is the special program the hearing impaired.
The government is now offering to give the former religious schools and property back to the Church through the Bishop who will determine which religious congregation will receive the school. The Sisters have been in dialogue with the Bishop and are hoping to assume leadership once again.
Twenty-one kilometers outside of Ndola in the area of Kavu is another treasure: Fatima Compound, home to 19 Sisters, 6 candidates and several diverse ministries under the Sisters’ leadership. I have spent the past week sharing life with our Sisters here and experiencing first hand their phenomenal dedication to the people and the sparse conditions in which they survive. This rural area is home to the under-served, the underprivileged; once again the Sisters are providing support for the people’s present struggles and hope for their future!
Fatima Secondary Boarding School
Originally begun as a school for colored children in 1936, it has become home to 460 energetic girls 7 days a week with a Sister living in/supervising each of the 4 boarding wings! (Of course this is a side occupation!) Fatima is known throughout Zambia for its outstanding reputation. I experienced here a clearly disciplined environment and at the same time happy, normal young ladies. Celebrating Eucharist with the girls is an inspiring and energetic experience–even at 6:30 AM Thursday morning (yes, even they gather at that hour each week) and 8 AM on Sunday. The drumming, dancing, singing and spontaneous engagement of the girls fills the Fatima Church. I wish you could have heard them singing the Dominican Jubilee song!
Barefoot Community School came to birth in 1991 to provide education for the most vulnerable and poor. Children come with or without shoes; all are welcomed and all are served! The 150 students are divided into 4 levels according to their learning needs, not their age. It may take a student 2 or 3 years to get through 1 level or one could move on in a year. The students manage the garden that provides their food and there is effort to teach some basic life skills.
Message on board: Poverty is not a hindrance to success.
The most important gift of Barefoot School is the confidence that they CAN succeed in spite of all the obstacles they face! This past week the whole village celebrated the ordination of one of the graduates! You can imagine the pride of all!
–A Dominican Pre-school full to overflowing with little beautiful children full of life!
–The Formation Community is home to 6 first and second year candidates joined by their director, Sister Martha, and Sister Margaret. It is a great place for them to grow into community both within their own house and in the larger context as well as be engaged in formation classes with the other Sisters on campus and participate in the diverse ministry experiences.
Just adjacent to the property are 2 more significant ministries:
Yengwe Primary School (1st – 9th grade) serves 1400 children– yes really that many–grades 1-9th with a staff of 24 teachers! The Ministry of Education is responsible for providing the teachers and paying them. Because of the shortage of teachers, the 5th – 7th grade levels have been combined creating 50 – 60 students in a class! The Sisters manage this government school which began in 199l.
The first four grades are taught in the local dialect, Bimba. The 8-9th grades include classes in Business (bookkeeping, office management and commerce), Home Economics (Kitchen management, cooking, health, sewing), and Technology. Unfortunately many of the students have no education beyond the 9th grade in the rural areas.
Dominican Hospital — Begun as a health clinic in 1993, Dominican Hospital now provides complete medical service to 30,000 patients a year with a staff of 14 nurses. The Director and 2 of the nursers are Dominican Sisters. Two days a week an outreach team travels into the bush areas to provide support services to mother and their little children in the various compounds. A great support to the hospital is the numerous medical students who come from the US and Europe who come to volunteer for a week to a month.
Is not Fatima compound a haven of life and hope and service!
One last message…
I realize this blog has gone on way too long…but I must end with one story. If I had to name one image that continues to speak to me of the endurance and determination of the African brothers and Sisters I have encountered, it would be the women and children along the roadside working in the hot sun amid piles of rocks. They were engaged in the strenuous, meticulous tasks of gathering, breaking up and sorting the rocks to sell for construction.
Their tools were simply their hands and other rocks used as hammers. There they were working away, not waiting for someone to come to their rescue, simply doing what they needed to do to survive. I can’t imagine what it must be like to eek out a living in such a way, day after day. What fuels their determination and perseverance in the face of this back-breaking, tedious work? Another lesson is waiting for me here.
I apologize for the length of this blog. Thanks to those who persevered to the end! It will most likely be another week before you hear from me again.
I leave early tomorrow, Thursday, for a journey into the far north of Zambia. Sister Rosemarie is accompanying me on a 7 hour trip to Chilonga where we will spend the night and visit the Sister’s ministry site in the morning.. Friday afternoon we will continue on a 3 hour trip to Kasama.where we will stay until Sunday afternoon when we leave for Mansa, another 4 hour journey. Tuesday we will embark on an 8 hour trip back home to the Copperbelt. Thursday I will conclude my time in Zambia and fly to Kenya.
Thank you for your continued prayer and loving support that it great blessing for me! Be assured you are close in my heart and prayer with grateful love!
Encountering My Suffering Sisters and Brothers
Dear Sisters, Family and Friends,
My sharing with you today will take a different turn.
There is much I want to share with you about Zambia, but that will wait for the next blog.
Today, I find myself moved to share with you 2 experiences these past days which have touched my heart in a very profound way and broken it open. These two encounters were with very vulnerable children and elders. My sharing will be more with pictures than with words….words keep failing me.
ORPHANAGE FOR CHILDREN
The first happened in the context of my visit to St. Anthony Home in Ndola, an orphanage for children who not only have been abandoned by their parents but many who also suffer from extreme physical, mental and/or emotional handicaps/vulnerabilities/deformities. The Dominican Sisters support this ministry by overseeing the functioning of the orphanage, ensuring there is food for the children and that the physical environment is adequate. (They are just completing the addition of a room to provide space for the disabled children to get exercise.)
When we arrived some of the children came running to us and just clung to us. One little boy stole my heart. Others had empty, blank faces.
Some are totally incapable of moving by themselves because of their physical conditions. Others had beautiful bright smiles in spite of their state. The women attending to them did so with loving care and tender attention.
Many of the children were under the age of 8 but a few were older. The few who are able attend a nearby school under the direction of the Sisters. What future awaits these children? What does happiness mean, what does it look like to them?
THE FRAIL ELDERLY
The second experience that moved me even more deeply was my visit in Mufulira to a place (I can’t call it a home) where 28 abandoned elder men and women reside. These very precious, vulnerable men and women have found themselves here because when they were in the hospital their family members disappeared or
moved on leaving them with no one and no place to go.
They share a very small, dark room with another person, no space for any furniture besides their 2 beds. There is no other living space for them to use so they simply sit or lie on the cement walkway outside their rooms (no chairs) or in the dirt. I can’t imagine what they do in inclement weather.
Many of them cannot move by themselves. Some are blind; others are struggling with missing limbs due to diabetes. Flies and bugs are their constant companions.
Many of them are in obvious pain, longing for help, seeking medication that doesn’t come. One man died this week. His body will be kept in the morgue at the hospital for 3 months in case someone comes looking for him during this time.
The Sisters ensure they have a soy protein drink to strengthen them; they help with food and provide clothing. One of their younger Sisters comes one day a week to be with them and do the little she can as part of her volunteer ministry. Some of these dear people were actually able to smile at our presence; others looked longingly at us. Two shared their experience of being pushed around, physically abused by a worker.
There is little attention to their physical needs or checking in on them. One man missing a leg had a makeshift cart he could pull himself into and using his hands he turned the wheel which made the cart move so he could go to get some water.
I thought of the care our elders in the states receive and wanted to weep at the condition to which these dear people are subjected. And then I was reminded by Sister Agatha that these people are lucky—they have a roof over their head while others are simply living in the streets. What a life to endure day after day. What enables them to face a new day?
I know our God of tender mercy and compassion is suffering with them, meeting them in their agony. May they somehow be sustained in this agony and soon come to know the fullness of peace and life and Love that await them! Of such is the Kingdom of God.
What is it these precious people have to teach me? I feel so helpless in the face of their realities. All I can do is hold them in God’s Love and Mercy and Light and Peace….and pray that somehow these gifts breakthrough in the midst of their darkness and suffering. I ask you to join me in this prayer. May they help us all realize the blessings that are ours.
Concluding Blessings in Zimbabwe
During the past week Sister Rudo, the Zimbabwe Regional Prioress, and I have been itinerant pilgrims across the country! Last Sunday a 4 hour bus ride took us from Harare to Gweru where the Sisters have a Dominican Nursery School which they are hoping to expand to a primary school in the near future. Once again the beauty and care they put into the creation of their schools is very impressive. The small children are so much fun! We spent the night in Gweru in order to continue our journey into the rural country.
The following day Sister Doreen arrived early in the morning to accompany me on a 2 hour trip to their Loretto Mission. I continue to be amazed by the fact that we can travel for more than an hour on a dirt road surrounded by flat arid terrain void of signs of habitation and then, seemingly out of the blue, we come upon a compound full of life!
I wonder at how the Sisters happened to land there and find the resources to create so many supports for the people who come from such distances. Such is the wonder of Loretto Mission!
The Sisters began the mission in 1947 with the creation of a home for deaf children and a school. Today the mission includes an elementary school, a high school, an orphanage and a hospital along with a parish Church
The high school, originally started by the Dominican Sisters and now run by the Sacred Heart Brothers, is home to 800 high school boys and girls, 700 of whom board there 7 days a week. Can you imagine feeding all of those children and managing their laundry in an isolated area! Here in the far out mission these students wear formal uniforms with blazers each day!
At Loretto Mission the Dominican Sisters provide a loving home for 28 orphaned children—3 to 20+ years old. This is the only home they know for life. Sister Julia, a German Sister in her late 70s, is at the heart of the mission, some-how managing to find the financial support to keep it all going. As you might guess by now, a large farm with all kinds of vegetables, potatoes, corn, fruit, layers (chickens who provide eggs) and broilers (those eaten), rabbits, pigs and cows keep everyone well nourished. The Sisters also ensure there is a daily hot lunch for 100 of the elementary school children who suffer from malnutrition. The hospital, started by the Sisters and now run by the government, has one of the Dominican Sister nurses on the staff.
Loretto Mission is a living testimony to what can happen with so little when people work together for the good of others. Life is not easy but there is meaning and hope, love and generosity that shape and sustain the mission. Is that not what the Kingdom of God is all about!
Dominican Convent Schools in Bulawayo
Tuesday, Sister Rudo and I took a 4 hour bus ride to Bulawayo, the second largest city in Zimbabwe. We continued to traverse the rural, undeveloped landscape, with occasional small rivers. Mother Earth has its own resilience and beauty in Zimbabwe, as do the people.
Primary children in the special music room
The Sisters landed in Bulawayo in 1894 and once again addressed the educational needs of the young girl child. They continue to this day educating over 900 young girls from 3 years old through high school (approximately 460 in the elementary level and 465 in high school)
The schools are noted for their strong academic curriculum and for nurturing well rounded young women. The expansive campus reflects the same beauty and quality of their other schools, with generous space for hockey fields, tennis and basketball courts and a swimming pool.
Dominican Convent High School
Six sisters are engaged in the educational mission in Bulawayo. Thanks to the Sisters’ initiative, a number of the teachers have become “Dominican associates” meeting regularly to deepen their commitment to the charism; they proudly claim their Dominican identity! Being the only Dominicans in the region they are strongly motivated to share and build the charism.
Regina Coeli Mission, Nyanga
My final journey to the Sisters’ missions in Zimbabwe began Friday morning at 7:30 AM.
Sister Hilda drove me to one of their most remote missions.
We travel through farm land which I learned had been taken away from the white people and returned to the black people around 2006 in the land reform movement. The problem is that the new owners don’t have the resources to run the farms. They are dependent on rain for crops to grow, don’t have the machinery to harvest the crops nor a wider market for selling them. All of this adds to the economic challenges of the people.
As we drove beyond the farmland I discovered a very different Zimbabwe: an environment with beautiful pine covered mountains, rich verdant valleys and occasional lakes!
Regina Coeli Hospital
Our five hour drive brought us to another mission hospital, Regina Coeli, located very close to the Mozambique border.
Around 1997 the Sisters were asked by the Bishop to assume responsibility for the hospital here that had been staffed by a religious congregation that needed to withdraw. The Dominicans generously accepted the invitation. Four sisters are presently engaged in the roles of Director, nurse and nurses aide with a fifth Sister working on outreach to orphaned children.
The hospital manages on such meager resources to respond to the ever present needs of the people in an area where malaria, HIV+, and complications in childbirth are constants.
While I was there I witnessed 4 premature babies being warmed under a heat lamp with little else to support their survival and another 8 month old baby very seriously ill showing up in the evening needing unexpected attention. Here too the people have scarce resources to pay for the medical help needed.
Another very large boarding school is part of the compound , this one run by the a men’s religious community. I had the opportunity to join the students in their daily practice of gathering in the church for Evening Prayer. I wish you could have witnessed their beautiful harmonious song and heartfelt prayer!
St. Joseph Hospital, Mutare
The following morning, Sister Hilde and I continued our journey as we drove another 2 hours to St. Joseph Hospital in Mutare. Here too the Bishop asked the Sisters in 1990 to assume responsibility for this hospital that had been started by the same religious congregation from Holland as Regina Coeli.
This hospital, tucked away in a very rural area, had been a Tuberculosis hospital until just about 5 years ago when the government determined that it should become a general hospital. The transition has been challenging in view of adequate space, equipment and trained staff. Here too three Sisters are giving leadership to creating a viable and supportive medical facility. 1400 clients are registered as HIV+ and receive regular medical support. Malaria here too is rampant. I was touched by the site of so many parents waiting patiently with their sick children to have them evaluated and receive the needed help! And I witnessed a staff member sitting outside on a step to eat because there is no staff room available! I have come to realize how much we take for granted!
In the midst of all of this, and in spite of it, the spirit of Sisters and staff is gracious, compassionate and positive! Truly grace at work! We concluded our visit in the early afternoon and began the 4 hour trip back to Harare.
My Dominican connections were expanded by the opportunity to connect with 2 of our Maryknoll Dominican Sisters who reside in Zimbabwe. I had a delightful lunch with Sister Janice McLaughlin who has spent a good 30+ years ministering in Zimbabwe. During the war for independence in the late 1970s she was taken as a political prisoner and put in solitary confinement for 3 years. The Word of God was literally her salvation during that time as she spent her days focused on memorizing the Bible. She never did find out why she was arrested. Janice took me to Arrupe College where she works in the Jesuit Social Justice and Development Center. Her commitment to preaching and living the Just Word continues!
In Gweru, I had the opportunity to meet Sister Mary Frances Kobets, another amazing Maryknoll sister who created an Orphans Education and Agriculture Support program to “give orphans and vulnerable youth in the Midlands Province of Zimbabwe a chance.” The staff of four provides educational supports to ensure the children make it in school, nutritional supports, agricultural education to help them be more self-reliant and counseling and motivation for their spiritual life and personal maturity. They personally keep connected with each of the orphan children several times a month to monitor their schooling and needs. Not only do they take care of the children, they also manage to raise the money to keep the program afloat! Our Vision of Hope program came to my mind and heart!
Surviving the War
I cannot leave Zimbabwe without talking about the War for Independence. The impact of this war continues to be deeply embedded in the psyche of the people, including the Sisters. It was a time of great violence, fear and uncertainty. Communication and travel was aborted by mined roads and cut phone-lines. The Dominicans, mostly German Sisters at the time, stayed through it all ministering to the sick and injured, even at the risk of their lives. As a consequence, 4 of them were killed on February 6, 1977 at Musami Mission together with 3 Jesuits. Praying, they faced the firing squad and gave up their lives. Two weeks later at the same Mission, four young Zimbabweans took their first vows as Dominican Sisters. And only a few months before the end of the turbulence on November 2, 1979, another one of their Sisters was murdered at the Driefontein Mission where she served as matron of the mission hospital. Such are the shoulders on which these Sisters stand.
Deepening Dominican Connection
My “home base” these past weeks when I wasn’t on the road has been the Sisters’ Adoration Community, the senior Sisters’ community where they have daily adoration and take very seriously their call to the ministry of prayer. It has been a special joy and inspiration to be among these women, to listen to their stories and catch their passion for their mission as well as be one with them in prayer.
During these weeks I have been struck by how much at home I have felt with my Dominican Sisters here and in the various missions, praying together the Liturgy of the Hours, celebrating Eucharist together, sometimes singing familiar songs/psalm tones, as well as delighting in the beautiful African melodies and rhythms. Community life has its familiar rhythm and human challenges in all of our worlds! Tea time has taken on new meaning for me!
I end my time in Zimbabwe conscious that the heart of our Dominican life transcends culture and unites us even in the midst of very diverse life experiences and worlds. My heart is truly grateful for the journey behind me and hopeful as I anticipate the journey ahead which will take me to Zambia July 24 – August 16th and then Kenya August 17th – 28th!
With continued loving gratitude for your prayer and support!
Your sister, Gloria Marie
PS. Sister Vimbai surprised me on my last day with a visit to the Lion Park outside of town. I end with sharing some of the sites!
Diverse Expressions of our Preaching Mission
My adventures into life in Zimbabwe and the mission of the Missionary Dominicans of the Sacred Heart has continued this week.
Let me highlight 4 of the ministry sites and share more learnings about the world of Zimbabwe.
St. Dominic’s All Girls’ High School in Chishawasha
The Sisters arrived in the bush country of Chishawasha in 1898 and initiated the first school for African girls in the country. Today 420 enthusiastic young women are 7 day boarders! The curriculum is diverse, including life skills of sewing, cooking, technology and business as well as a full academic program. The Dominican charism is clearly evident throughout the school! I had the opportunity to speak to the Juniors about Flintridge Sacred Heart. They would love to connect with our girls there! They are eager to hear about life in California. One of their first questions was: Do they have a brothers’ school. These ladies are connected with a Jesuit all boys’ school.
Feeding 420 young women far out in the bush is no easy feat. A major source of food comes from their vegetable gardens and the chickens which grow so quickly that just after 6 weeks they are able to be slaughtered and eaten. Rabbits and turkeys also provide for daily fare. A beautiful park is part of the campus where I encountered my first monkeys face to face!
The school struggles economically because not only are the parents dealing with economic challenges but the government has frozen tuition rates so it is impossible to charge what is necessary to maintain the school. Catholic business men have stepped forward to strengthen the Board and find ways to strengthen viability.
St. Martin School This elementary school serves as a haven in the midst of the high density area of Harare where poverty is so evident. It is a single classroom school 1st – 7th grades along 2 other classes for 3-4 year olds and 5 year olds. In spite of the economic challenges, Mr. Guese, the lay director, enthusiastically shared with me plans to expand to a double classroom school and in the future build a high school! They have the property; they just need the money! The school has an excellent reputation with very successful alumnae. Mr. Guese is reaching out to the alumnae asking them to give back to the school and help build its future. He is a natural development director as well as administrator. His vision and confidence are quite remarkable!
Here too the curriculum includes agricultural education; a swimming pool and tennis courts add to the sports activities! To supplement income the school recently began raising chickens. The day I visited there were 200 6 week old chicks ready to be sold at $6 a piece. An additional 150 chickens were called the “layers” which provide eggs sold at $3.50 a crate. The rabbits are multiplying quickly. They are most valuable for their high quality manure which provides a high income. In fact, companies are giving them rabbits so they will create manure for them. The school also grows corn, dries it and grinds it for sale. You can tell my agricultural education is growing my leaps and bounds!
The children were full of energy and joy and obviously learning a great deal!
Mother Patrick School
The Bishop invited the Sisters in 2009 to create this double school which is located on the other side of Harare in a developing area. The Sisters recruited students from 83 schools, expanding year by year until they graduated their first students in 2012. The school boosts the amazing accomplishment of 100% pass rate in all of the classes for the state exams. There are 504 enthusiastic students with 3 Sisters engaged in the teaching and administration. This site has an interesting addition to the cultural education program. On the grounds is built a full scale traditional village as well as a “modern” center.
This past year all of the classrooms were equipped with electronic white boards! And of course agriculture was part of their curriculum here too….but no chickens for sale!
Education is highly valued in Zimbabwe. The spirit of the students and their appreciation and pride in their schools and teachers were truly impressive and sincere!
As I visited each school I was conscious of our own affiliate and sponsored schools with similar challenges! It was inspiring to witness in each of the schools the focused attention on the Dominican charism often publicly displayed in various places within the school grounds.
St. Theresa Hospital
Thursday, July 13, Sisters Claudina and Masura picked me up at 5 AM and we began a 4 hour trip to St. Theresa Hospital in Hama. The last hour of the journey is on a rocky, dirt road taking us across 3 rivers. Here, deep in the bush country, the Sisters began a hospital in 1957. Through the years it has grown into so much more in response to the people’s needs.
The hospital includes male, female and pediatric wards, a surgery room, x-ray room, and a laboratory for specimen analysis. In addition they provide services for physical rehabilitation, post delivery and care of babies born at home, a dental clinic, outpatient care, an HIV AIDES center, counseling, as well as a home based outreach to the people in the outlying areas. Conditions and equipment are simple and basic providing essential services no where else within reach.
Forty-nine trained nurses and 2 doctors serve at the hospital with a total staff of 126 people. Finances are challenging. Anyone 65 or over is not charged for services, but there is no source of income to pay for these expenses. Many people don’t have money to pay for their care. Some will pay in maize. The vegetable garden helps provide food for the hospital, along with local chickens. The government doesn’t provide an adequate supply of drugs; the private companies which have the drugs are very expensive.
When pregnant women’s birthing time nears, they come and stay in some units on site
because it would be impossible to travel to the hospital when labor finally begins. Cars are not part of most people’s lives; walking is the mode of travel.
The Sisters also sponsor a School of Nursing here! It involves a 3 year training program, with 12 – 18 students in each year’s cohort. The students live on campus–more mouths to feed!
Political and Social Reality
I continue to learn about the unfolding history of Zimbabwe which was originally Southern Rhodesia before the people achieved independence April 18, 1980. President Mugabe was a revolutionary and politician who led Zimbabwe as Prime Minister from 1980 – 1987 and has served as President since 1987. He is presently 93 years old. There is real tension and unrest as the election looms in 2018 as President Mugabe plans on running for another 5 year term. The African Bishops Conference has published an excellent pastoral letter in preparation for the elections. The pastoral strongly affirms the importance of a free and just election. It calls all people to seriously study the situation and the values of the Constitutions, to respect diverse opinion and to resist any show of violence. Their past history of elections have been marred by manipulation, fraud and violence.
The economic crisis continues as cash simply is not available in the country. People are standing in line for 4 or 5 hours in order to withdraw money from their bank accounts. The bank will give nothing more than $50.00 so after a few days they are forced once again to wait for another opportunity to secure cash. People are found in so many places trying to sell things or beg for money. Frustration is evident and yet there is resilience and determination evident in the spirit of the people. I encounter the people’s goodness and beauty again and again.
Connecting with the Dominican Candidates
Over the past year the candidates have planted, cared for and harvested the corn which has been drying in preparation for rubbing it off the cob. Today I got to join them in this final process. From here it is bagged and stored for cooking during the year! Adventures abound wherever I turn!
Tomorrow we are going to join the children in the orphanage and home for the deaf for Eucharist. Sunday afternoon Sr. Rudo, the regional prioress,and I will begin a journey to some of the outlying missions. We will travel by bus to Gweru and then on to Bulawayo on Tuesday, returning to Harare on Wednesday before leaving on another journey on Thursday. We’ll see what learnings and experiences await me!
The interior journey continues as I come to have glimpses of what it means and feels like to find myself stretched by sounds and food and customs outside of my world. There is a certain unsettling dis-orientation on the physical and emotional levels even in the midst of a welcoming environment. All of this creates ripe ground for growth in self knowledge and new perspectives. I have a sense of God meeting me in the midst of all of it and leading me to some unknown new life. It is a graced journey for sure! I count on and give thanks for your continued prayer and love!
Be assured mine is with you as well!
My heart is full of gratitude for your loving response to my first blog and your promise of prayer!
I landed in Zimbabwe and my first accomplishment was to successfully achieve a visa (You have to get it at the airport after you land!).
My days have brought me face to face with the complexities and contradictions of this land. On the way from the airport my first night there were cars stopped on the side of the road. When I inquired what was happening the Sisters reported that it was just the police trying to make money. They were pulling over cars and fabricating offenses to raise money, a practice that started in January. Two days later the headline in the newspaper reported that the police department had taken in 14 million dollars (US) over the 6 months. (There was a call to audit the police department!)
In the midst of this and many other abuses of power, the people are struggling under economic distress on every level. Violence and unrest continues to rise. I was struck by a huge sign in front of the court house someone had posted: “You can’t buy justice. Don’t pay.” Resistance is evident in many diverse ways. And life goes on.
The municipality does not provide water nor electricity so everyone is dependent on securing these necessities wherever/however they can. The infrastructure of the country has collapsed. Roads have not been fixed. A common experience was to see someone in the street trying to fix a pot hole with a sign standing next to him– “help please.” He was seeking some recompense for his efforts.
In the midst of this political unrest and social unraveling, there is a high rise in pentecostal individuals/groups who are promising the sky and enticing Christians to leave their faith and follow them. It is another form of oppression and abuse.
Perhaps the scarcity the people experience on a daily basis has created a heightened sense of care for Mother Earth. Water is scarce and greatly valued. Solar energy is depended on. Vegetable gardens are evident wherever some small patch of land is available. It is all a way of survival.
AND in the midst of all of this there is the experience of the Dominican Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus–the amazing women I am living with these days– a congregation having a very similar history to our own. It began in 1891 when a small group of sisters came from Augsburg, Germany. (Actually the foundress was Irish!) An Irish man donated his entire farm to them and they began single handedly creating the social structures to serve the poor and outcast; the Church in Germany provided the funds. This is the primary religious community in Harare.
In the late 1800s they began a Children’s Home which continues to this day with close to 200 orphan children from early childhood through 18 years old. (The boys leave after age 12). Social workers keep bring them children but no money is provided for their care by the government. They presently have $1000 in the bank, a garden and a great deal of faith. We spent time visiting the site. Great care is taken to create a sense of home and provide the skills needed to navigate in the world.
They also began a home for deaf children which today cares for 145 boarding children. An additional 200 day children attend the school for the deaf which they also sponsor. An audiology center at the school provides all of the supports for testing and appropriate reme-diation where possible, The joy and beauty of the children, 4 years through 22 years old, deeply moved me! The school provides inclusive education which integrates a limited number of hearing students into the student body as a support for the children who have some potential for speaking. The teacher accompanying us talked about their commitment to “no one left behind.” For some students it takes 7 years to complete the primary level. The present faculty includes 7 alumnae who have returned to serve as deaf teachers. The art of the students is phenomenal. Each of the sites had gardens the children are engaged in as well as lots of chicken that keep them well fed!
The third institution we visited was St. John’s High School. The school was originally started in the early 1900s to serve colored children since they were the rejected ones–neither white nor black. In the 1980s it transitioned into a coed school serving 700 students, engaged in a 6 year program. The curriculum includes training in the fields of agriculture, technology, cooking, fabric and design, the arts. All of these institutions are within a mile radius of each other.
As you can imagine the economic situation in the country is significantly impacting their ability to sustain these ministries. St. John’s and their other schools have no other source of income apart from tuition. And, in fact, the congregation is dependent on income from the schools for its survival! The constant challenges are matched by the Sisters’ ingenuity, determination and faith!
Today I will visit an all girls’ boarding high school in the country. More to come!
Besides these institutions, early on the sisters began hospitals and established clinics in the rural areas to address health needs. They served as midwives and trainers of nurses. In the coming weeks I will be visiting some of these sites as well.
Futuring the Dominican Charism Project
Yes, this too has been part of my days… in fact the major focus this week! Sister Rudo Shungu Matsika, the Regional Prioress of Zimbabwe, invited 15 of their sisters from different parts of the country to gather with me on Saturday, July 8th, at their Motherhouse for an all day workshop.
Through art and storytelling I invited the sisters to give expression to their experience of the Dominican charism and to identify the critical gift it has to offer our world in this current reality. The reflection was inspiring! The afternoon focused on the GHR planning grant, preparing them to give leadership to its process in the fall. Their input and insights were invaluable to ensure the process be mutually appropriate and respectful, manageable and supportive for both worlds. Sisters Rudo and Vimbai helped organize the sisters for the task ahead! The day concluded by their dawning me in their native garb and dancing a blessing song around me. The day left me deeply inspired AND exhausted as I personally experienced in new ways the challenge of engaging with a whole new culture. Just being tuned in to diverse pronunciations, the use of language and diverse modes of communication was a stretch! Happily I can report we all seemed to survive the day well.
Sharing Life with the Sisters
During these days I have stayed with 20 elder Dominicans who form the “Adoration Community,” situated in a larger compound that also has the candidates house. We begin the day with 6:30 Eucharist followed by morning prayer and exposition of the Blessed Sacrament which extends until midday prayer at noon. It has been a joy to be among these prayerful women, many of whom came from Germany and have given their lives in service to the people of Africa. The leadership and support of most of their ministry sites are now in the hands of the African Sisters. They too are facing serious questions regarding the sustainability of their institutions, shrinking local communities, living and working in many large, older buildings with significant upkeep needs, feeling stretched and in need of strong administrators for the institutions. How much we share! The significant difference is the critical level of need and the resources available to meet those needs!
Here too solar power and large gardens prevail. Walk-ing around I feel very much at home! The Sisters could not be more welcoming and supportive. They are determined to keep me warm in the midst of the cold nights and days.
The Journey Ahead
During the coming weeks I will be joining Sister Rudo in visiting the communities and ministry sites in the more rural areas. I’ll also spend some time at their Motherhouse in downtown Harare where they sponsor 2 more large schools. July 24th I will leave for Lusaka, Zambia where I will join the Dominicans in various parts of Zambia for about 3 weeks and then on to Kenya.
In the midst of all of this the inner journey continues as well. I treasure the familiar rhythm of prayer that grounds me in the midst of the unknown. My days have been very full and a bit unpredictable. In the midst of it all I find myself longing to be open and attentive to the Mystery of Love and Life that meets me here….wherever here is and whatever it holds! My lifelong lesson continues!
Know of my continued gratitude and heart connection along the way. May you be and remain blessed in all ways!
Beginning of the Journey!
Today I left on an adventure of a lifetime!
I will spend 2 months in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Kenya with another 2 weeks in Italy and Germany.
My heart tells me, this will be a significant journey in so many ways.
I hope to use this blog to try to capture some of my experiences, learnings and adventures! I invite you to join me through this blog if you feel so inclined to. I welcome your prayer along the way.
How did this journey come about?
This past winter I was named the project director of a planning grant provided through the generosity of the GHR Foundation . The participants are the US and East African Dominican congregations that belong to Dominican Sisters International (DSI). Our project is entitled:
Futuring Dominican Charism for-Mission, Sisters and Lay Partners Together
This 18 month planning grant provides a unique and much needed opportunity for all of us sisters with our lay partners to engage in an in depth analysis of our present reality– what is in place and the challenges and opportunities we face in light of our call to live, share and pass on the Dominican charism (our unique spirit and life inspired by St. Dominic) to the next generation. Our analysis will lead to an implementation plan which will be the focus of the next grant.
As director of the project I will work with an International Coordinating Team composed of Sister Marie Therese Clement, the DSI coordinator, the continental DSI coordinators for North America and Africa, and a few sister representatives from the US and East Africa. The US and East Africa will also have Planning Teams to direct the work in each world. We are profoundly grateful to the Dominican Sisters of Peace who have assumed responsibility for holding the grant and managing the finances and reporting, as well as staff assistance in a number of areas.
In March I had the blessed opportunity to meet with some Dominican sisters from East Africa who were temporarily in the US. They strongly encouraged me to come and visit their countries, to learn of their experience first hand, to experience their Dominican life and preaching. Thus was born my journey to East Africa.
Outline of my journey:
Monday afternoon I left for Dubai–a very long 15 hour flight. I am writing to you from Dubai where I am spending the night with my sister Maria’s former student and her family. We stayed with them a few days last December. It was the farthest from my imagination that I would be back so soon! (The first surprise was discovering my luggage was checked through to Zimbabwe so I didn’t have any clothes etc. for tonight!)
Tomorrow morning, Wednesday (I lost a day!), I leave for Zimbabwe– an 11 hour flight!
For the month of July and August I will be with the Dominican Sisters in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Kenya. The focus of this time is to learn from the sisters, to share the planning project with them and to get their input in shaping the process and elements of the project.
August 28 I will fly to Rome and stay at the Dominican headquarters in Santa Sabina.
August 31 – September 5th will be the first meeting of the International Coordinating Committee. There will be 7 of us gathered from the US and East Africa.
September 6th I will join my sister Maria and we will spend a day in Rome and then travel by train to Turin and Fosana to spend time with our relatives in northern Italy.
September 12th we will journey to Munich to visit our Sister Ludovika. We will also have the opportunity to stay at Altenhohenau. The journey will conclude on September 16th when I return to our Motherhouse to prepare for my move to St. Elizabeth Community in Oakland which will become my new home.
What is my heart holding?
I have to admit this journey feels like a profound leap of faith! I have never engaged in a trip where I had no idea what to expect nor any specific information about the itinerary for my time in East Africa.
In spite of that, I am deeply convinced that this project, this opportunity to engage within the US and with some of our Sisters in East Africa, to have our hearts stretched by this global connection, is a critical step for us Dominicans. Hopefully our work together will create the space for the Spirit to lead us into our future!
This journey is proving to be good for my spiritual life as well! I have been praying over God’s message to Abram to leave his home and go where God would take him. And God’s promise to send the Spirit and give us the words we need! It definitely feels like a spiritual journey for me, one that continues the inner movement of my sabbatical. And in truth, it is a journey stretching my comfort zone and capacity for dealing with uncertainty and fear. Hum….all of this leaves me with more wonderings about what is ahead!
I am praying for the grace to be fully present, to be open to whatever the moment holds, to trust I will have all I need and to live my Indian lesson of namaste (the Sacred in me greets/honors the Sacred in you.). I look forward to learning from our African Sisters and to experience how our Dominican charism in that cultural context.
I count on your prayer and send you my love and gratitude!
Your sister, Gloria Marie
PS I’m not sure what the internet capabilities will be in Zimbabwe but will do my best to continue to keep you posted!