Network: A Cry for Life

Sr. Josineide Maria da Silva, SNDdeN  

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Sr. Josineide Maria da Silva, SNDdeN works with women from other Religious Congregations to prevent trafficking of women and children.

I am a woman religious in the Congregation of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur and a social worker.  As a woman, Christian, religious and social worker, I value my duty to  save lives from any injustice and to struggle for others to protect their human rights.

To combat this crime against the human person, I began to work in 2012 with women of various Religious Congregations who form Network: A Cry for Life, for the purpose of preventing the trafficking of women for sexual exploitation. This Network emerged so that women religious may take an active stance against the reality of human trafficking. In the face of the clamor of the victims of sexual exploitation and the diverse modalities of the trafficking of persons, women religious accept the challenge of a specific ministry, focused on this growing crisis in modern-day society.

The major objectives of the Network are:

  • to raise awareness and provide information by prioritizing groups in situations of vulnerability, community leaders, pastoral agents and others;
  • to organize groups of reflection and study;
  • to spread the ministry by empowering individuals who will empower others;
  • to participate in social movements advocating for public policies for confronting the trafficking of persons.

According to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE 2010), the state of Pará has 7,581,051 inhabitants from 144 counties; these are gigantic proportions compared to most of the other states in the Amazon region.  A negative aspect for this population in Brazil arises from the elevated incidence of women trafficked for sexual exploitation. Women from the peripheries of Belém are recruited for Surinam, French Guyana and other countries to practice obligatory sex and other evil objectives, such as human slavery.

Pastoral Ministry for Women
The trafficking of persons, especially of women, is a consequence of social inequality and an expressed, depraved social issue, from colonial times in Brazil until today. The main victims of human trafficking for sexual exploitation are girls and women who live in situations of poverty and social vulnerability.  In the face of this reality, I am sensitive to women and girls who are victims of trafficking for sex and other ends.

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Sr. Josineide presents her paper which shows how social inequality and ineffective public polices contribute trafficking of women and children.

Active Involvement through Education
Professionals in social work face a great variety of challenges in today’s society, with sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy in adolescents, trafficking of persons for sexual exploitation among others.  Social workers seek alternatives to understand these challenges for the persons involved.  As a requirement for completion of a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work, I presented a paper at the University on December 5, 2016 on the reality of the trafficking of women for sexual exploitation in the city of Belém, as a current and great challenge for social workers. Researching and writing this paper led me to discover that social inequality and the ineffectiveness of public policies are factors that contribute to many incidences of sexual exploitation. Social Service workers must start by seeking public policies that meet the needs of the women who are victims of sexual exploitation by traffickers of persons.

josi-bz-1-200-px-webI see this crime as happening in a “silent” and “invisible” manner, as exemplified by the reality of women on the periphery of Belém.  I want to work by exposing this crime by ministering to these women as a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur and to assist these victims in collaboration with other women religious for systemic change in Brazil.

A thought that inspires me often as I minister to those in need is the valued ideal of the late Nelson Mandela of South Africa:

 “I struggled against white domination, and I struggled against black domination.  I nourished the ideal of a democratic and free society, in which all live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal that I hope to live to see become reality. But, if necessary, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

 

Safe Water in Kenya

Sr. Evalyne Aseyo, SNDdeN

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Sr. Evalyne Aseyo, SNDdeN (center) collaborates with workers, volunteers and Communities to revitalize Primary Health Care in Kenya.

In Kisumu, Kenya, I am engaged in research, teaching and community service at the Tropical Institute of Community Health and Development (Tropical Institute).  In collaboration with Community Health Extension Workers and Community Health Volunteers, we form a partnership to reach out to vulnerable communities.  We mobilize and organize communities into Community Units to ensure dialogue, referrals and feedback mechanisms for communities linked to the health sector.  At the Tropical Institute, we consider this partnership as working together for individuals and institutions in sharing resources, ideas and experiences to support, enrich and attain high quality outcomes in health care for all involved.  To revitalize Comprehensive Primary Health Care in Kenya, we collaborate with workers, volunteers and Community Units to enhance community participation in health care service delivery and health care outcomes.  chalk-board-300-px-webTogether with other partners, we collect data and follow up indicators such as immunization coverage, Ante Natal Care (ANC), use of Insecticide Treated Nets for mothers and children under 5 years, vitamin A uptake, health facility delivery, and treatment for safe water. We post results of these indicators on community chalk boards, located in central places within the community. We discuss this data in a forum of community dialogue which leads to community action days for ongoing health care.

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The PUR Water Packets transform contaminated water to clean and clear water for drinking, cooking, cleaning and bathing.

Support for PUR Water Packets
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Realizing that the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, through a Congregational Mission Fund, give financial support to vulnerable households, unable to access clean water, I requested financial aid from the international Mission Office in order to purchase water commodities for one Community Unit in Kisumu County. From funds received, I was able to purchase the water treatment commodities of PUR water packets and aquatabs.  Community Health Extension Workers helped to identify Kadero and Okok, Community Units attached to Gita Sub-County Hospital, as the villages, which could benefit most from these commodities. Kadero has 25 villages and Okok comprises 14 villages. The River Awach, passing through these villages as their major source of water used for drinking water and household chores including cooking, poses a risk continually.  Also, some households, not using the river water, use unprotected springs.  In April and May 2016, there was a cholera outbreak, resulting from contaminated water, in these Community Units. In following up the water treatment indicator, with the Community Health Workers, we began to raise awareness in these communities on the importance of household water treatment and to make the use of these commodities of PUR water purification packets and aquatabs a priority in these villages.

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Sr. Evalyne Aseyo (on extreme right) encourages the villagers to use the water purification packets and aquatabs.

Even though clean water is still a critical issue, these commodities have gone a long way in reaching some of the most vulnerable households unable to access clean water. In sustaining and expanding this project, we intend to reach more households in the area. Obviously, this project continues to go a long way to reduce diarrheal diseases and water borne diseases in this community.  The community appreciates the support of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur and their generous donors who contribute to this safe water project.

 

Ohio Province Promotes Congregational Projects

Karen Hadden and Angie Weisgerber,
Associate Director and Assistant Director of Development

smndphtovoltaic-1385_hdr-300px-webThe Ohio Province has initiated an educational project at Mount Notre Dame in Cincinnati, Ohio,  on the property at East Columbia Avenue. In an unused garage, solar panels and batteries have been installed for a Photovoltaic Learning Lab Project as part of an engineering experiment for two Notre Dame schools — Mount Notre Dame High School, an all girls school located next to the convent grounds in Cincinnati, OH, and Chaminade Julienne High School, a co-ed school located in Dayton, OH. In collaboration with Mr. Louis Casey, an engineer who coordinates the African Photovoltaic Project (APP) with the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur internationally, the Development Office of the Ohio Province began a forward-looking initiative to connect with international efforts for collaboration, education and fund-raising. Students learn multiple aspects about conserving energy and the benefits of solar power through an experimental solar model. Solar panels on the convent garage convert the energy from the sun and store this solar power in batteries.

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Keith Hanley, Learning Lab Volunteer Project Engineer, meets with Sr. Lorraine Connell, SNDdeN to learn about the success and expansion of the African Photovoltaic Project in the sites where Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur serve in ministry.

This system is similar to the photovoltaic system which the Sisters are using to bring electricity and a water purification system to schools, hospitals and convents in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Nigeria.

Photovoltaic Prototypes
In 2005, the Sisters set up a photovoltaic prototype at the Cuvilly Arts and Earth Center in Ipswich, MA to test the viability of this project for the ministries and communities of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur (SNDdeN) in Africa. This prototype in the pre-school and arts center proved to be a successful venture for installations in the Congo and Nigeria. With the help of generous donors, the SNDdeN Congregation moved forward with installations first for a community in Fugar and for the schools in Awkunanaw, Nigeria (later for communities in Abuja, Enugu, Illorin and Oro). Then, through 10 years, the Photovoltaic sites expanded in the Congo, first in Ngidinga, and then in Lemfu, Kitenda, Pelende, Kinsaku, Mpese, and Nselo.  These installations have been providing electricity, water purification and technology access to ministries and communities, from 2006 to the present.

Education through Experimentation

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Mount Notre Dame High School engineering students working on an experiment in the Learning Lab.

In some ways, the Ohio Province project is another prototype for education and experimentation for students and faculty in a few schools in Ohio and Illinois. The Photovoltaic Learning Laboratory in Cincinnati is a teaching center where students learn about energy as well as about the work of the Sisters in communities and ministries in Africa. During January and February 2017, engineering students conducted experiments for understanding power grids, in order to determine the length of time for the batteries to drain and be restored in tracking the lighting on the power grid. Students from Mount Notre Dame and Chaminade Julienne High Schools are collaborating on this experiment.  Students monitor the output, input, recharging of batteries, and track time, weather conditions and temperature. Students collect, record and summarize the data.  They will present a formal report at the Science Exposition at the University of Cincinnati in March 2017.  They understand the importance of this experiment and the ongoing and lasting effects of a photovoltaic system for supplying electricity and for purifying water.  They realize the impact that this system is already effecting in many sites where the Sisters of Notre Dame live and serve in the Congo and in Nigeria. This learning experience is a way for the faculty and staff in Notre Dame schools in the Ohio Province to understand how the Sisters are contributing to the lives and progress of the people in Africa.  It is an opportunity for them to contribute to the work of the Sisters for sustainability of life for the people in underdeveloped countries and to extend these efforts in the future. Students are experiencing a real connection with the Mission of the Sisters, as they realize the impact of this project begun by the Sisters in 2005 and continuing with success until today!

Lenten Water Project
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Students in Notre Dame schools throughout the Ohio Province participate also in the Lenten Water project. Schools support this global outreach program of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur by raising funds for water purification packets from Proctor and Gamble’s non-profit foundation, Children’s Safe Drinking Water, to be distributed for water purification in communities and ministries in Africa and Latin America. These packets purify the water and supply drinking water to towns and villages that would otherwise be deprived of clean water.  The children in our schools show how much they want to help children in other parts of the Globe.

Sister Ann Fanella, SNDdeN tells about a 4th grade student in Chicago:

 Sr. Ann: Last year a young girl approached me in church with a container of money she had collected during Lent.

Child: Is this going to help someone?

Sr. Ann: Yes! You will help so many people.

Child: (jumping up and down) I am so happy I can help other children.

Since the Ohio Province started this program in 2011, 45 schools have contributed over $140,000 to pay for these water packets, distributed to different Notre Dame sites in the Southern Hemisphere. During Lent 2017, schools in Chicago, IL; Cincinnati, Columbus and Dayton, OH; Phoenix, AZ and throughout the United States will contribute to the Clean Water Project, promoted by the Congregational Mission Office in Ipswich, MA.

See the Lenten Project on the homepage of the international Website: www.sndden.org and read the next article by Sr. Evalyne Aseyo, SNDdeN in Kenya.

 

 

Refugees Cross the Channel

Sister Mary McClure, SNDdeN and Mrs. Rosemary Martin, Head Teacher

The media has recorded well the plight of refugees and asylum seekers. For many refugees from Africa and the Middle East, the journey led to Calais, France, the nearest port for entry into England.  And for most refugees, their journey ended there. Access was denied. Camps were set up and this area became known as the ‘jungle.  Who can imagine the plight of a group of unaccompanied young women in their journey from Ethiopia and Eritrea?

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Sister Mary McClure, SNDdeN welcomes Notre Dame High School’s new students from Ethiopia and Eritrea.

When the camps were being flattened, a group of unaccompanied young women remained in Calais. Beginning to draw negative attention from some male Asylum Seekers, they would be easy prey for traffickers.  The authorities in France quickly distributed the girls to other parts of the country whilst looking for a more permanent solution.  Glasgow City Council agreed to accept a number of Asylum Seekers to the City, as had been the pattern for a number of years.  On hearing the plight of these 19 young women, (11 from Eritrea and 8 from Ethiopia). Glasgow became proactive about ensuring a safe place for them in the City. Very quickly, a large number of the City services personnel, including Educators and Social Workers, met to discuss how to accommodate and protect these vulnerable young women. They considered how the girls could be educated together, in such a large number, whilst receiving the support and nurture required for them.

EDUCATION FOR NEW LIFE
a-catholic-community-of-faith-sign-300px-webNotre Dame High School in Glasgow
is a unique school. It is the only all girls’ school in Scotland which is non fee-paying and financed by the local education service.  Founded over 100 years ago, by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, our school continues to offer a ‘safe, supportive environment’ for girls and young women. This Catholic School is recognised as a community which is inclusive of other faith traditions while continuing to celebrate our Catholic identity.

head-teacher-ndhs-glasgow-2017-150px-webIn late November 2016, as Head Teacher of Notre Dame High School, Glasgow, I received a phone call from Maureen McKenna, Executive Director of Education in Glasgow. Maureen believed that the Catholic ethos and nurturing environment which Notre Dame High School provides would be the best possible provision and asked how did I feel about welcoming this group to our school.  With the agreement of our management team, my response was positive: “with open arms,” continuing the heritage and ethos of our Patroness, St. Julie Billiart.

sr-mary-and-girl-300px-webWith two weeks to prepare for their arrival, with no idea of age and stage or the level of English language acquisition or level of schooling received, we began making plans to welcome our new students.  Our first meeting with the girls from Ethiopia and Eritrea took place in their newly refurbished accommodation (a former hostel for the homeless).  With the Pastoral Care team and Year Group Head, we were able to greet our new students.  We had managed to acquire a stock of used uniforms and 19 new school ties.  It was an incredibly humbling experience to witness their delight, not only at the uniform, but on the realisation that education would be an integral part of their new life. We were able to show the girls pictures of their new school and began forming relationships that we hoped would ease their obvious anxieties.

PRESENTS IN PRESENCE
The presence of these young women in our school highlights for us that Notre Dame High School is a special school. Heads of Department and classroom teachers go out of their way to provide learning experiences which are accessible to all. Our young people volunteer their time to support the newcomers in classrooms and on excursions around the City.  Similarly, our new girls are already beginning to establish themselves, even in contributing to our Christmas Carol concert for parents and friends and in our final Christmas service for the young people. What a moving experience to hear the 8 girls from Ethiopia sing an ancient carol in their own tongue.

St. Vincent de Paul group from our local parish community, St. Simon’s, provided £500 to help with the girls’ transition.  We bought Christmas gifts of watches for each of them–why watches? Our students were learning how to tell the time, and no one had a watch!

These young women are a gift to our Notre Dame community. They encourage us to have ‘hearts as wide as the world.’ They remind us of the fragility of life and the sacredness of life. These young women have come to us from the most abandoned places. With courage we continue to welcome, teach and sing: How good is our good God.

Mobilizing African Sisters for Advocacy

Sister Eucharia Madueke, SNDdeN

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Sr. Eucharia Madueke, SNDdeN (center) leads a group of Sisters to the National Assembly in Abuja, Nigeria.

The Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur work with other religious communities and organizations to foster awareness and response to socio-economic and cultural realities which impact negatively the common good. In this spirit of collaboration, my province leadership missioned me early last year to serve the Africa Faith & Justice Network (AFJN), in order to mobilize and enhance the capacity of African Sisters for engaging in advocacy, in serving the people. AFJN is a Washington DC faith-based advocacy organization founded in 1983 as a response to issues of justice that Catholic missionary congregations witness on the ground in Africa. Inspired by the Gospel and informed by Catholic Social Teaching, AFJN seeks to educate and advocate for just relations and to work in partnership with the African people as they engage in the struggle for justice, peace and the integrity of creation.

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I hold a common belief in the African proverb that a single bracelet does not jingle.”  In this ministry at AFJN, I am working to engage the enormous potential of African Sisters for creating change through education, training in advocacy, and strengthening associational relationships. African women are formidable agents of change. African Catholic Sisters have the potential to create change through leadership in providing those critical and essential services: education, healthcare, pastoral and social services for families, mostly women and children.

In April and May 2016, I tested the willingness of the Sisters in various parts of Nigeria to confront the structures of injustice.  In conversations with members of the Nigerian Conference of Women Religious and with other Sisters, I engaged individuals and groups in discussions to  expand ministries of service for changing the structures of injustice that impoverish our people. I also invited them to attend at Abuja the AFJN conference on Just Governance: The Nigerian Bio-Safety Law, GMOs, and Implications for Nigeria and Africa, followed by a one day Sisters’ Forum on Just Governance and the Common Good: Religious Vocation and Faithful Citizenship.  Sisters do not usually attend gatherings with political undertones but attendance at both gatherings was remarkable.  The Minister of State, giving the keynote address, remarked that the conference was special, noting the number of “women of God” in attendance.

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At the Sisters’ Forum, with over 60 Sisters from 23 religious communities, speakers encouraged the Sisters to see the issues of injustice as Nigerian Catholic Sisters, and not as individual Congregations.  Sisters reflected passionately on the issue of poor governance and the situation of women and children in Nigeria, and then committed themselves as a group to challenge those structures that harm women and children in the nation. They recognized their limited knowledge and capacity for justice ministry by requesting assistance to develop needed skills. Their eagerness to work together for change, even with an expressed fear of incapability, and their boldness to step into the future with courage showed their readiness to engage in advocacy and to effect change together as women religious.

Educating for Social Action
AFJN conducted 5 days of advocacy training from November 22-27, 2016.  Convinced of the power of education and their personal and collective responsibility to advance the common good, over 86 Sisters from 27 Congregations took the opportunity to reflect on their role in nation building, to explore the structures of injustice in Nigeria, to practice talking with authorities, and to build a network of Sisters for collaborative action.

Seeking Conversations with Authorities
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The Sisters attempted to hold an advocacy meeting with selected law-makers: the Senate President and his deputy and the Speaker of the House and the Federal Director of Police.  Despite many vain attempts to obtain permission from any of the law-makers, the Sisters were not deterred from making a visit. Unfortunately, security personnel at the National Assembly complex that housed the law-makers’ offices barred the Sisters from entering. With courage, the sisters refused to be intimidated by the security personnel; rather they positioned themselves beside the entrance to the National Assembly and peacefully and prayerfully delivered their message in public.  They asked that the law-makers protect women and children, promote sound development strategies, protect Nigerian land and water, as well as small farm holdings, stop excessive and irrational spending, and be accountable and accessible to the people they represent.  Speaking to the Police Director, who at very short notice, welcomed the sisters and thanked them for their visit to his office, the Sisters demanded that the police, in discharging their duty protect the vulnerable and respect the dignity of each person.

Movement Unfolding
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At the conclusion of the Conference, Sisters realized the importance of education to confront structures of injustice and the power of associational relationships which may enable them to speak the truth to the authorities, without fear of being targeted. Thirteen sisters representing different Congregations formed a steering committee to keep up the momentum of the Conference.  The movement is now legalized and its by-laws approved by the Nigerian Corporate Affairs Commission under the name Africa Faith & Justice Network Nigeria. AFJN will continue to journey with the group in their efforts to effect necessary change.

Seeds Bear Fruit in Brazil

By Sister Jane Dwyer, SNDdeN

In February 2015, we will remember the 10th Anniversary of the death of Sister Dorothy Stang, SNDdeN. During the years since her assassination, new life has burst forth even in the midst of continued violence and threatening situations. Sr. Dorothy was murdered, but her life and work have taken root in the hearts of the people in Brazil. Hope abounds in signs of new growth. When Sr. Dorothy died, there were 35 basic Christian communities; today there are more than 85 communities who live daily the Gospel message. In 2005, the

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Sr. Dorothy Stang: Prophetic Witness of Justice

Projects for Sustainable Development (PDS) were fragile, just beginning. These projects for developing and cultivating the land, as well as protecting the rights of farmers in building their livelihoods were in beginning stages. Today, individuals and families, living and working in an ecological way in the forest, plant gardens on small plots of land. They take responsibility in defending a major forest surrounding this land and where they can only work collectively. Now there are two sustainable projects in Anapu: Virola Jatoba and Esperança. Sr. Dorothy was murdered on Lot 55 of PDS Esperança. Now there are more than 450 families in the two projects, many who have electricity and well-built homes. In the last ten years, more than 1,200 families have occupied government lands destined for agrarian reform. Their insistence has more or less secured their right to remain on the land until judicial questions are resolved. Schools appear as the people organize and demand them. Roads are at least passable in most cases.

On February 12, Sr. Dorothy’s anniversary, the Sisters and people will remember and relive the shock and pain of her murder, the fear and violence which haunted us during 2005. We will remember the empty chair at our table and at meetings, the lilting laugh and adventurous spirit so brutally silenced. We recall also, in the aftermath of Sr. Dorothy’s murder, that the local radio    hounded the parish and land pastoral team and terrorized the people. The local media portrayed Dorothy, the people and the Sisters as the culprits, who were getting what we deserved. The Sisters had no vehicle through which we could respond or question. We bore the calumny and terrible lies. The population was fearful and we did not know whom to trust. As the years passed, we made 9 trips to Belem for the trials of Sr. Dorothy’s murderers, always with 2 or 3 busloads of people, and always with police protection. During the first two trials, we camped out in the park area in front of the judicial building in simple tents put up by the Dorothy Committee and their friends who always welcomed us with open hearts and hands.

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Seeds Grow in Southern California

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Kindergarten give a group hug to Sister Judith Flahavan, SNDdeN.

Over the course of her last thirty-one years as an active ministry educator, Sister Judith Flahavan, SNDdeN was a principal in three Catholic elementary schools in South Los Angeles, CA. In June 2012, she retired from full-time ministry. Then, during a six-month sabbatical, Sister Judith learned that Notre Dame School (NDS) in Santa Barbara, CA, the last existing Catholic school among the original four Catholic schools there, did not have a full-time principal. She made a decision to use her gifts as an educator in this city!

 

Reflections: Sister Judith Flahavan, SNDdeN

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8th Grade students at Notre Dame School in Santa Barbara, CA.

The Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur (SNDdeN) have a long history at Notre Dame. In 1906,
Fr. Stockman, OFM invited SNDdeN to begin a school for children at Our Lady of Sorrows Parish in Santa Barbara. In an old Armory Hall belonging to the parish, four Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur (SNDdeN) opened Dolores Catholic School with 150 students in 1906. Through the efforts of those first Sisters and the many who followed them, the school grew and flourished. In 1911, the Jesuits assumed responsibility for the parish. In 1974, the school was renamed Notre Dame School. Over the years, people recognized the school’s strong education, academic excellence and dedicated alumni/alumnae. When the number of Sisters diminished, the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur withdrew from NDS in 1990.

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Primary students learn with iPads at NDS in Santa Barbara.

Common Realities
In January 2013, Sister Judith was happy to assume the leadership role as Principal at Notre Dame School. Moving to peaceful Santa Barbara after her many years in South Los Angeles was a bit of an adjustment. She received an amazing welcome by the many people thrilled that an SNDdeN was back, and she immediately felt “at home.” Also, as Sister became more and more involved as an administrator, she realized that among the families at NDS there are common realities shared also with the families in South Los Angeles. She learned that at this school many children (166 students out of 260 students) qualified for the federal breakfast/lunch program, which is considered the benchmark for persons living in poverty in the United States. She came to realize that the income of many families was comparable to that of families she knew in South Los Angeles.

She rejoiced in the beautiful goodness of the families:
• the respect for all persons which was evident among them,
• the way they helped each other when possible,
• their commitment to Notre Dame School,
• their reverence toward God, and
• their ethic for hard work.

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Transitional Kindergarten children learn about St. Francis and Pope Francis from Notre Dame Associate, Jackie Gonzalez.

She appreciated the dedicated faculty, two of whom were Notre Dame Associates. She saw that at NDS, St. Julie’s vision of educating those living in poverty is alive and well. She was overwhelmed by the number of alumni/alumnae living in Santa Barbara and remembering with gratitude and happiness the Sisters who gave them a strong educational foundation. Mainly, Sister Judith realized that the seeds of education planted by those Sisters were in full bloom. Even though the Sisters had not been in the school for about 20 years, their spirit and St. Julie Billiart’s charism of proclaiming the goodness of God by educating children for life still inspires and permeates with energy the daily experiences within the Notre Dame community.

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Since June 2016, a competent educator, Ms. Christina Stefanec is replacing Sr. Judith as Principal. Grateful for the opportunity of serving for 31/2 years at Notre Dame School, Sister Judith is confident that the mission of St. Julie will continue to be integrated and grow in the school, and in making known God’s goodness and love in Southern California.


“Truly, I tell you that just as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me.”

Matthew 25: 45
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Santa Barbara School students say “Thank you.”

Sisters Welcome Asylum Seekers in Scotland

by Sisters Patricia Cassidy, SNDdeN

“I was a stranger and you welcomed me…” (Matthew 25: 26)

The city of Glasgow, Scotland has welcomed more dispersed asylum seekers than any other city in Britain. Since the year 2000, the Government in the United Kingdom (UK) has been dispersing asylum seekers throughout the country to ease pressure on London and surroundings. Many Glasgow-based organisations are rising to the challenge.

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Today Sisters Patricia Cassidy, Maureen Coyle, and  Eileen Cassidy, SNDdeN make a difference in the lives of refugees and migrants.

In collaboration with an organisation in Britain, called Positive Action in Housing (PAIH), three Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur are making a difference today in the lives of refugees and migrants in Glasgow. PAIH supports and highlights the plight of destitute asylum seekers, i.e. those whose cases are rejected. This organisation provides some financial support through a Destitution Fund, raised by public donation, and tries to find overnight accommodation for the most vulnerable, either in hostels or with accommodation volunteers. Three Sisters assist these asylum seekers who lose all support entitlements, including their homes, and who find themselves evicted onto the streets. Sisters Patricia Cassidy and Maureen Coyle, SNDdeN are among those volunteers who open their home in Glasgow to asylum seekers. Living next door to them, Sr. Eileen Cassidy, SNDdeN also offers “on hand” support in this ministry.

Continue reading Sisters Welcome Asylum Seekers in Scotland

Sisters Teach in an Isolated Place

Sister Obioma Ezewuzie, SNDdeN, Headteacher

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Sister Obioma Ezewuzie, SNDdeN, Principal, speaks at a graduation ceremony.

As the poorest school mission of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur (SNDdeN) in Nigeria, Notre Dame Nursery and Primary School, Ugwuomu-Nike, fosters the charism of our Congregation by taking education to a small village, an abandoned place. This educational mission is certainly close to the heart of our foundress, St. Julie Billiart. Our school serves specifically the children of people living in poverty: palm-wine tappers and peasant farmers. The school helps many parents who are unable to pay school fees or buy books for their children. The school provides also a source of employment for the wives of these farmers as well as young girls trying to earn a living in Ugwuomu–Nike.

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Sister Schola Onwumar, SNDdeN helps little children with a project.

This Notre Dame School, Ugwuomu- Nike, is in Enugu State, East Local Government Area, which is the Southeastern part of Nigeria. In, 1996, the Diocesesan Office of Peace and Justice asked the SNDdeN to assume responsibility and to manage this educational project. At first, the Sisters lived among the people by renting a small house. Since the nursery and primary school were never economically self-sufficient, eventually in 2006, the Diocese handed over the school and land to the SNDdeN. In assuming ownership, the Nigeria Province built a small convent on the property to show that we had come to stay and to throw in our lot with the local people. A Catholic church, half built, graces the village today and does have a resident priest.

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Sister Nkechi Onah, SNDdeN, shows her pupils how to weave palm leaves into mats.

Quality Education
Our school is without any doubt the best school in the local region. In this far-away place, five Sisters, with lay co-workers, offer quality education in the early stages of learning. Every day, some children walk a very long distance of seven to eight miles from their homes to the school. To reinforce the learning process in school and at home, we print exercise books for the children. In school, we do also seasonal farming and plant cassava which is one of the major foods here; and we sell snacks to the pupils. We ask help from some of the parents who are more secure economically. They have contributed resources to put ceilings in a few of the classrooms. At present the school has two hundred and fifty pupils with twelve teachers and two helpers. Twenty percent of children in the school are supported financially by our Notre Dame sponsorship program.

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Sister Chidinma Nwasunja, SNDdeN, teaches her pupils computer science.

Challenges for Power and Transportation
In the community where the school is located, there is electricity. Even when the residents pay as much as they are able, the electrical current is low or scarce. Most of the time, we need to run our generator, especially for the computer classes. Another obstacle is the bad road leading from the city to our village. Cars are not very popular on that road because only four-wheel drives can manage the terrain on an untarred road. The mixture of sand and clay is very dusty during the dry season and slippery during the rainy season. The main public transport is to climb on the back of a motor bike behind the driver. The cost of this transport rises considerably when the road is almost impassable. Sometimes two or three passengers climb on one bike. Some Sisters have scars on their legs and arms from the poor drivers’ efforts to avoid hitting a goat darting out from the bush or slipping and sliding in the sand and the mud. Mud also sticks to one’s shoes or sandals when walking during the rainy season. The majority of the children walk to school; a few students pay to ride a motor bike.

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Sister Jumoke Balogun, SNDdeN, makes reading a priority for her students.

God is so visibly present here in many ways.
The Sisters called to this ministry in nursery and primary education are happy, adaptable women who find joy and God in serving people living in poverty and in supporting them and one another. The village is quite isolated. Most resources, provisions and contacts are located in the nearest city at a distance of 45 minutes to an hour’s drive. The people of Ugwuomu-Nike are happy to have the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur in their village; they value the education and support their children receive in the school. They appreciate also help provided from abroad. From the funds contributed by many generous donors, our Province has been able to advance the growth of our school. Through grant funding, the school has more resources for education: some recreational equipment for the nursery section, football posts for the primary section, classroom furniture, computers for children to reach the wider world and learn more through technology. Funding has also provided a portion of staff salaries.

The Sisters called to this ministry in nursery and primary education are happy, adaptable women who find joy and God in serving people living in poverty and in supporting them and one another.

On the Margins of Society

“I was hungry and you gave me food…thirsty and you gave me something to drink… a stranger and you welcomed me…” Matthew 25:35

st-margaret-logoSister Elizabeth Smoyer, SNDdeN finds energy and passion in her ministry in South Bend, Indiana at St. Margaret’s House (SMH), a day center committed to the Gospel value of hospitality. Opened 26 years ago, St. Margaret’s House helps women and children who live in poverty, as they struggle on the margins of society. The mission, central to SMH, is to empower women for improving the quality of life for themselves and their children. Staff and volunteers respond to immediate needs and open a pathway for women to make long-term changes leading to a new life. They offer programs to these women for acquiring skills to face the future with hope.

An Interview: Sister Elizabeth Smoyer describes her ministry at SMH.

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Sister Elizabeth Smoyer, SNDdeN coaches participants in the seminar, Creating My Future.

Since 2010, I have been serving as guest services caseworker, kitchen manager and assistant to the volunteer coordinator. The community at SMH helps women face life with dignity and take responsibility for improving their lives. I would describe the core of our mission as building and strengthening relationships, accomplished by “the mutual transformation of guests, staff, volunteers and donors,” in a supportive community. Poverty as well as wealth can be isolating. Addictions diminish health and the self-worth of individuals. At SMH, the hospitality shared provides acceptance, guidance in a non-judgmental way, safety and a good meal. The staff guides, respects and gives direct attention to each woman for a movement forward. Volunteers welcome guests, assist them in the clothes closet, and cook the daily meal. clothes-closet-webSome accompany the women in the art studio as they uncover talents and learn skills of artistic expression in a communal atmosphere. Volunteers have hearts and minds open to listen and support the guests and the staff. They offer help and speak of how they “receive so much more than they give;” they find how their own suffering connects them to our guests. Day by day, this communal experience opens deepening wells of compassion and silkcreations32014commitment. This community is open, honest and caring for one another. I believe this is transforming action: “By what happens in the community, everybody is changed.”

Concrete Steps
Our long-range goal is helping these women trapped in generational poverty to create their own paths for a stable and secure life for themselves and their families. With concrete steps, we assist the women to improve their lives with skills essential for competing in the workplace. The program Bridges Out of Poverty, Getting Ahead in a Just Getting By World offers a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by different economic classes. Women learn the causes of poverty and the hidden rules of the middle class. Each woman examines her own reality and circumstances for creating her own action plan. She names her personal resources to make concrete changes in her life.

Another seminar, Steps for Success, offers additional lessons for these women by giving them practical skills to find and sustain employment. My responsibility is to present this seminar and to coach participants through the entire process. I accompany participants who step out of “the tyranny of the moment,” of just “doing the next thing,” to reflect on where they have been and where they want to go. The women discover a spirituality of wholeness where their gifts and talents manifest themselves. They find financial literacy with a credit review, basic budgeting and banking and learn the basics of resume writing and interviewing skills.

Providing Meals for Homeless
daily-hot-lunch-webAbout 80 persons come each day to St. Margaret’s; 23% of our guests are homeless or precariously housed. We serve a continental breakfast and an afternoon snack, nutritious food meant for some to be their main meal of the day. Before the noon meal, everyone gathers to welcome by name and applaud newcomers. This meal fosters support and inclusion in our community. We share announcements, victories as well as burdens and gather in prayer led by our guests. These women set the tables, deliver meals to the children and also wash the dishes.

St. Margaret’s House supports the varying strengths and vulnerabilities of guests, staff and volunteers. Our participation in community transforms us as we stand “with people made poor in a world marked by increasing divisions and inequalities” (Calls General Chapter 2014, p. 5). When it may seem that the “work is worthless,” we remember the words of Thomas Merton: “In the end, it is the reality of personal relationship that saves everything.”

Learn more at St. Margaret’s House website or follow St. Margaret’s  on Facebook.

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