Sister Obioma Ezewuzie, SNDdeN, Headteacher
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.