In 1949, six Sisters of Notre Dame left the United States to work with the poor and marginalized in Jamalpur, in the state of Bihar, India. More than 60 years later, their efforts have grown into two established SND provinces with almost 300 Indian Sisters in active mission work throughout the country.
In 1992, our Indian Sisters began their own mission in Africa. In both cultures, their work includes all forms of education, healthcare, social work, faith-formation and spirituality. They place special emphasis on the empowerment of women and girls.
In the culturally and religiously diverse country of India, more than 90% of the 1.34 billion people are Hindus. Small percentages are Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs, and Tribals; only about 2% are Christians. Notre Dame Sisters in India evangelize by witnessing to God’s goodness and provident care, through lives that reflect Christ’s love and compassion for all people.
In 1949, the first Sisters of Notre Dame in India opened a health clinic to bring Christ’s healing touch to about 15-25 patients a day. Currently, the expanded Jamalpur clinic serves an average of 350 people every day, who could not otherwise afford healthcare. In addition, there are 11 other health care centers, located in seven Indian states. Taking a holistic approach to health, 4 Sister doctors and 28 Sister nurses minister in underserved areas of India. Clinics are located in rural areas where hospitals are hours away. People walk for miles to the clinics, sometimes arriving in the middle of the night, needing treatment for snake bites or serious illnesses. Sister doctors and nurses minister in other diverse situations, e.g. a leper colony, a prison, a government program for the eradication of TB.
Since assuming the administration of St. Joseph School, Jamalpur, in 1949, Sisters of Notre Dame have opened numerous schools in many areas of India. Schools range from pre-school Montessori schools, through elementary and high schools, to community colleges and teacher training colleges. The Opportunity School for “differently-abled” children provides a loving environment for special-needs children. Wealthier school communities help to support those who are poor. In desolate rural areas, the Sisters begin by gathering a small group of tribal children under a tree to teach them. Before long, our missionaries need to build a large school for hundreds of children who previously had no access to education. In some places, Notre Dame schools have more than 3,000 students! The Sisters also conduct nonformal education programs for rural village children, and adult literacy programs.
Empowerment of Women
SND social workers conduct hundreds of skills-training and empowerment programs to increase the self-confidence of women, and offer economic training to improve their options for self-support.
Empowerment programs for illiterate women often use music as a teaching method, e.g. while women dance, they chant mantras such as, “We will study; we will learn; we will uplift our people.” In rural self-help groups, the women learn to generate income by making items such as leaf-plates and rope, which they bundle and sell at local markets. The women also support one another in difficult circumstances and learn to stand up for their rights in a culture where women frequently suffer discrimination. One missionary told of a woman who found support in an empowerment group after her husband became enraged at the birth of a fifth “girl child” and suffocated the infant. Currently, our missionaries are spearheading a widespread educational initiative, “Let the Girl Child Live!”
We Give Praise to God!
“Incredible India! Self-sacrificing Sisters! Amazing ministries!” sums up Notre Dame Global Missions’ presence in this country.