In 1992, three Indian Sisters of Notre Dame were welcomed with song and dance, when they arrived in Arusha, Tanzania. Living initially in a convent with no electricity and no water source, the Indian sisters began their missionary work at the all-girls St. Joseph Diocesan Secondary School in Ngarenaro. Of the 594 students in the school, 241 were Catholic; 126, Lutheran; 129, Muslim; 73, Seventh Day Adventist; 25, other denominations.
AIDS, Teen Pregnancy, Orphans
The plight of African women soon became evident, when 30 students were dismissed following a mandatory Tanzanian pregnancy test at the beginning of the school year. In addition to teen pregnancy, AIDS was a pressing issue, and the school abounded with many other challenges. When the Sisters of Notre Dame assumed administration of the school in 1994, teaching was improved, the students gradually grew in discipline, and the civil authorities began to recognize the positive influences of the sisters’ instruction.
In summer, 2012, the sisters began building a home in Kiomboi, for children who are orphaned or in other difficult situations. An Indian sister nurse who had come to Africa in 2005 to offer medical instruction at the Women’s Center, began to reach out to these children, forming a group called the “Aloysia Children” named after the foundress of the Sisters of Notre Dame, who was herself an orphan. Since there are almost two million orphans in Tanzania alone, many of them HIV infected, this ministry is greatly needed, as are the other ministries established by the Sisters of Notre Dame in Africa.
In 1996, the sisters purchased land in Njiro, which would eventually be used for a formation house, a primary school, and the Zinduka Women’s Center. In 1997, the Sisters of Notre Dame were invited to Shinyanga, 613 miles west of Arusha, to collaborate with the Salesian Father in running their Don Bosco Co-educational Secondary School.
In summer, 2012, hundreds of people from a tribal Masaai village in Simanjiro came together to celebrate the opening of Notre Dame Nursery School and Convent. The village contributed 3 cows, 3 goats, and 4 chickens for the feast. A Muslim Sheikh was the chief cook, and choirs from the Catholic Church and the Lutheran church sang at Mass. The sisters rejoiced in the interfaith cooperation, and the children who used to study under a tree, sitting in the mud, joyfully showed off their new school.
In 1998, when the Notre Dame Mission Director visited Shinyanga, she described the African landscape: “huts, dirt roads, not much civilization” and the life of the people: “The people have one full meal a day of cornmeal mush and cooked beans. The students have one or two sets of clothes, which they wash by hand in a pail. Without textbooks of any kind, they sit on hard benches in unrelieved heat and copy notes from the board….There are few prospects of jobs after graduation.”
By 2000, the Sisters of Notre Dame in Tanzania had begun to welcome young African women who expressed a desire to join religious life. In 2002, land was purchased in Mlolongo, Kenya, near Nairobi, for a pre-novitiate house of discernment. By October 1, 2005, the 155th anniversary of the foundation of the Sisters of Notre Dame, God blessed the congregation with 9 newly professed African sisters.
Empowerment of Women
Tanzania remains one of the poorest countries in the world, despite its political stability, so the Indian sisters responded to this situation by sending one of their trained social workers in 2002 to study the living conditions and the socio-economic and educational background of Njiro’s families. Sister gathered women with leadership potential to act as community animators and drew up a plan for the Zinduka Women’s Center. The Center’s aim is to integrate the development of women and to assist them to grow in socio-economic self-reliance. It helps them tap local resources, makes them agents of social change, develops their talents, and establishes a drive to increase literacy. Self-help groups meet monthly to discuss issues relevant to the women, to strengthen mutual support, awaken awareness, and begin income-generating programs. With the support of Zinduka women, St. Julie Nursery School opened for village children who otherwise would never attend school. Soon, women from surrounding villages began to request schools for their children.
We Give Praise to God!
Great land of Africa! Dedicated and loving sister missionaries and their collaborators witnessing God’s goodness and provident to the most needy.