Category Archives: Educational Center

Ministry Widens Urban Outreach

by Sister Gertrude Tonsi, SNDdeN

In 2009, the Centre Mary Linscott opened in Kisantu, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), 120 kilometers from the capitol in Kinshasa. To meet the needs of this urban community, this ministry of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur (SNDdeN) evolved from a center solely for young people living with handicaps to a place also for the formation of young women who are unemployed.

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Sr. Gertrude Tonsi, SNDdeN (center) encourages the young women to show the clothing they made.

The Centre began as a response to a request from Mr. André Lukoki, (father of Sr. Solange Lukoki, SNDdeN), who managed a nearby center for persons with physical handicaps. Mr Lukoki realized that he needed the support and backing of a larger organization, such as a religious congregation whose charism included
promoting God’s goodness by reaching out to people living in poverty.

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The leadership in the Congo-Kinshasa Province accepted the challenge to take on responsibility for a center for the handicapped. For greater oversight, they decided to regroup the young people from Mr. Lukoki’s site to the SNDdeN property in Kisantu. The Sisters named the new center for a former Superior General of the SNDdeN, Sr. Mary Linscott, a woman who loved people living in poverty, and who had a “heart wide as the world.”

Here, the Sisters organized lessons providing the young men and women with possibilities enabling them to take greater responsibility for their own lives. To provide a more rounded formation adapted to the level of the students, the Sisters, aided by lay teachers, taught the students reading, spelling, (Kikongo and French), arithmetic, religion and music as well as practical training in dress making. They renovated available buildings in the convent compound as classrooms for the handicapped.

Tricycle-300 px webMoving from one place to another around the property, however, was difficult for the handicapped. Hand-powered three-wheel chairs were purchased to help them get to classes. They appreciated this Notre Dame education, which helped them to take charge of their own lives.

A New Moment
After some time, the Centre found itself called to a new moment in ministry. As local people in the area took greater responsibility for handicapped persons, they requested that the Centre Mary Linscott (CML) be transformed as a place for women, a social center for the promotion of girls and young mothers who did not have the financial resources needed to finish their formal education and were in need of means of earning a living. The Sisters staffing the CML organized a three-year formation program with literacy (reading & writing) dress-making, homemaking/household practice and courses in religion. In collaboration with the local Ministry of Social Affairs, the Sisters organize at the end of each year a jury to test the level of each candidate. Those who
successfully complete the three year cycle receive a certificate and a sewing machine, provided by World Vision. This certificate enables them to find employment in workshops and elsewhere.

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Women appreciate the new sewing machines.

The Centre now has two classrooms. The Sisters are struggling to construct a third classroom, but the contribution of parents is minimal. The annual fee for each student is 50,000 Congo francs or $35.00. These funds are used to maintain the sewing machines and to pay the teachers. Young women come in crowds at the beginning of the year, but disappear afterwards for lack of money to buy material for dressmaking during the course of the year. Older students sewing class-450px webThe Centre is unable to meet the needs of all. These young people are often victims of every type of manipulation. Actual fees are insufficient even to provide a meal during the day. The Ministry of Social Affairs does not give finances to the Centre.

The SNDdeN Congregation does give to the Centre some support funding which is used for purchasing sewing machines, supplies and contributing to the salaries of a few teachers. Sr. Julie Santu, SNDdeN is responsible for the Centre and works with five lay women who work with these young unemployed girls and mothers. From Monday to Friday, courses begin at 8:00 a.m. and end at 12:30 p.m. The learners spend one day per week in manual labor which is called “the work of goodness.” The parents and families are happy with this environment for their daughters. This year, we have found jobs for six young women at a local market. Some unemployed men, also living in poverty, have asked to be part of this formation.

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Outside the clothing workshop, Sisters Emily Mullen and Julie Santu discuss with Mr. Alexis the need for blouses at Lycée Notre-Dame de Kisantu.

Collaboration with persons living with handicaps is still a focus at the Centre. Mr. Alexis, a person with a handicap, works in the clothing workshop of our school. He makes all the blouses worn by our students at the Lycée Notre-Dame de Kisantu. The Sisters continue a journey of fidelity by helping unemployed women and girls, and in supporting persons with handicaps, in a ministry which is certainly the work of St. Julie in the Congo.


Please show your support for the educational efforts of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur at Centre Mary Linscott in Kinsantu, Democratic Republic of Congo.


Education in Haiti with Opportunity for Employment

By Sister Katherine Corr, SNDdeN, Executive Director of Notre Dame Mission Volunteers

Sr.-Katherine-Coor,-SNDdeN,-etcNotre Dame Mission Volunteers (NDMV) are partnering with Notre Dame Family Education Center in Haiti to facilitate expanded educational access and job readiness. The Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur (SNDdeN) have been serving since 2009 in La Savane, a deprived neighborhood, located in the city of Les Cayes. Serving a community that has no social safety-net nor any basic government services, the Sisters opened a Center which provides basic education, health services, and job training skills. Guided by St. Julie Billiart’s educational principles, the Mission Volunteers with the Sisters educate for life. They are involved in a multi-year effort in planning for the future. They are engaging the people of La Savane in a transformational process for more services to increase access to education, vocational training, and basic needs like clean water and food for their families.

Four full-time Mission Volunteers, recruited from the U.S. and the La Savane community, are now involved throughout the year as co-leadership in literacy classes at the Center. They assist with projects related to needs outlined by the community. Inspired by commitment and energy of the people in the neighborhood, these American and Haitian volunteers work alongside nearly 200 women, adolescents, and children.

VolunteersIn La Savane, these Mission Volunteers:

  • Give English classes to adolescents
  • Lead an after-school literacy class for children
  • Teach reading, writing, and math to children unable to afford school education
  • Oversee a computer literacy course for young adults
  • Help women in small craft industries already begun by teaching them math skills for these industries
  • Lead community cleanups with people in the neighborhood

At the Center, the volunteers are currently aiding in the construction of a potable well, leading an agricultural program for young adults, and directing a meals program for students and other individuals in certain projects. One volunteer shared, “The strength of this program comes from the many people in La Savane who are involved.”

On-going Challenges
Hatian-Mother-and-child Haiti is currently ranked as the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere with 80% living under the poverty level, in being deprived of food security, access to clean water, education and employment. NDMV has been successful in establishing a strong partnership with the community and expanding the capacity of the Center to meet neighborhood needs. Like the country, the neighborhood, has many challenges. Most families cannot afford to send their children to school.

In attempting to develop a holistic learning community in the neighborhood, the Sisters and lay volunteers witness firsthand the catastrophic effect of unemployment without possibilities for job opportunities, as well as the lack of educational and physical training for the children. Families ask for help in getting meaningful employment in La Savane. Parents search to rise above these seemingly insurmountable obstacles and plead for work in order to feed their families and support education for their children.

La Savane Builds a Bakery
BakersIn working closely with Sister Jeannette Pierre- Louis, SNDdeN, Director of the Center, the local Diocese, Catholic Relief Services, and with the local community, NDMV is addressing this need by establishing a small bakery enterprise. The bakery will offer the residents of La Savane a chance to learn a trade, become familiar with important business skills, and provide income for the people to pay for schooling their children. To have food for families and financial resources for educating the children is the primary goal. To build a bakery in collaboration with neighborhood leaders and the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, is a shared objective for creating jobs for twelve men and women. NDMV is currently engaged in a the Haiti Project to raise $150,000 as seed money to begin initial stages for opening a bakery in La Savane. This is an enormous business enterprise, and one way out of poverty for this Haitian community, while upholding the human dignity and God-given potential of those in need. The opening of a bakery is a tangible action for change of the Notre Dame Mission Volunteers and the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur.

 From Good Works, June 2015. Reprinted with permission.