Sisters Provide Disaster Relief

By Sisters Juana Rivera Jara and Evelyn Fitzke, SNDdeN

El Niño rains hit the Pacific coast of Peru in March and April 2017. In the rural north, the Piura region, where two communities of Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur live and minister, the devastation was particularly damaging. Floods devastated whole villages; Houses-flooded-neighborhoods-web300pxthey washed away houses, schools, and health centers; they destroyed roads, bridges and vast areas of crops. During the heavy rains and flooding, the Sisters in the Tambogrande Region rallied to help people suffering from the disasters to their homes and property. Everywhere, destruction and disease pervaded an area where many people are already vulnerable!

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Sr. Juana Rivera Jara, SNDdeN hangs an IV for an elderly dengue fever patient. No fancy IV equipment or crisp bedsheets here! The patients walked many miles to reach the Health Center in town, where dedicated staff offer the best they can .

Sr. Juana Rivera Jara, SNDdeN is a nurse, living in Tambogrande in a community of four sisters, and working in the town’s health center. She talks about the pain and suffering that she is witnessing daily from those who are ill, living in poverty and at great distances from medical resources. “The torrential rains have brought diseases, especially dengue hemorrhagic fever and chikungunya (deadly viral diseases transmitted by mosquitoes), and also the threat of cholera. There have been many deaths,” she says sadly. “In my work as a nurse, I care for people with these illnesses. They are mostly those living in poverty in flooded rural areas.”

Sr. Juana comes from the village of Miraflores, high in the hills that border the town of Tambogrande. “I was born in the rural area, I grew up in the campo,” she tells us. “I appreciate and enjoy the countryside and nature and all its beauty. But there also have been moments in 1983, 1998, and now 2017 that frightened and saddened me. I feel now the suffering of the people from the disastrous flooding: whole villages cut off by damaged roads and bridges, mudslides, crops completely lost and domestic animals carried away into the rivers and mudslides.”

 

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Sr. Juana uses games and puzzles to access the development of children in the village in order to pick up developmental delays that can be treated.

Facing Challenges
Sr. Juana realizes the challenges. The people who come to the Tambogrande health center are very poor, and often come great distances, from the rural communities that surround the town. With rivers and creeks swollen, roads and bridges destroyed, to reach the health center presents major obstacles for travel. In several rural communities, the small health clinics are completely washed away, so people have to make the long trek into Tambogrande.

Sr. Juana understands the problematic situations, hurdles and frustrations experienced by the people in the travel through raging waters and thick mud:
♦ parents bringing their child with a high fever and convulsions;
♦ the family transporting their grand-dad whose speech is slurred;
♦ the man and woman carrying their brother who fell and now is unconscious.

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Even the local ambulance sometimes gets stuck in the strong currents of the swollen river!

Once the people arrive, they need to pay for basic supplies, such as needles, IV equipment, bandages and medicines. They do not have health insurance; they do not have any money. With the bean fields washed away by the floods, the livestock drowned in the rivers and mudslides, these desperate people search for medical help for loved ones in this humanitarian crisis, caused by the severe flooding. Tambogrande’s health center, made of brick, is still standing, but desperately under-equipped and under-staffed. The flood waters are reaching the walls of the health clinic, and are now a focus of mosquitoes. There are not enough beds or mosquito nets or other essential equipment. When the emergency room overflows with patients, the medical staff must attend them on stretchers and benches in the hallways.

For the doctors and nurses, the situation is extremely difficult, Sr. Juana explains: “The hours are long, 12-18 hours per shift, which is longer than normal, due to the shortage of medical personnel. The conditions are not safe for the healthcare worker, either! I have often been afraid of contracting these illnesses, because we work surrounded by the mosquito that carries the virus.” The biggest challenge now facing Sr. Juana and the other medical staff at her health clinic is the current outbreak of deadly dengue hemorrhagic fever, carried by a mosquito breeding in the flood waters. In fact, Sr. Juana heard that 3 young healthcare workers, 2 nurses and a pharmacist in the neighboring city of Piura, have died from these illnesses.

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Sisters Juana Rivera Jara and Consuelo Zapata Crisanto (center and right) interview a resident (left) in a shanty town on their rounds as community nurses.

Assistance from a Community of the Sisters of Notre Dame
How do we help? In any way we can. Sr. Juana often finds she has to help discretely, out of her own pocket with Notre Dame funds, to make up what is lacking in terms of medicine or critical supplies. Sometimes it may be only her own bottle of drinking water that saves the day.

With Sr. Consuelo Zapata Crisanto, SNDdeN, a nursing student, Sr. Juana conducts home visits in some destitute neighborhoods.

Sr. Miriam Montero Bereche, SNDdeN, a psychologist, provides post-traumatic stress

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Sr. Miriam Montero Bereche (right) and the parish youth group distribute emergency packages of good for families living under plastic sheeting or in tents.

counseling to individuals and families traumatized by the flooding.

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Sr. Evelyn Fitzke visits an elderly man in a small village and brings medication and food supplies.

 

Sr. Evelyn Fitzke, SNDdeN, visits the elderly through our St. Julie Senior Adult Program and ensures that they have essential medications and food.

Sharing is a primary value in the Peruvian culture.
During the recent floods, the SNDdeN community as a whole worked in coordination with the local parish to obtain and distribute supplies of food and medicines to devastated neighborhoods of people living in poverty. Recently, Sr. Miriam accompanied the members of the parish youth group to the town of Catacaos, which was completely

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Children and parents sit outside to eat packets of food, just distributed.

destroyed when the Piura River overflowed. The group distributed emergency packages of food to families camped out on the side of the road or to whole families living under plastic sheeting or in tents. This project, initiated by people who themselves have lost so much shows how even the most vulnerable find some way to reach out to someone who has even less. Through their involvement in the parish, specific experience and training and the generosity of donors, the Sisters feel blessed to share and to offer some relief in a humanitarian crisis.

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Faithful to Heritage in Saint Hubert

by Sister Monique-Marie Petit, SNDdeN and Mr. Patrick François*

In April 1812, in a letter to the superior
of the community in Saint Hubert, St. Julie writes:
“Everyone wants to come to Saint-Hubert.”

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In August 1809, Saint Julie Billiart founded the school of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur (SNDdeN) in Saint Hubert, Belgium, at the request of the mayor of the city. At that time, three Sisters became the community and opened the school with two classes. Even though much has changed from the early years, the Institut Notre-Dame celebrates today over 200 years of life as an educational institution! In 1985, the Institut Notre Dame joined with the Institut of the Marist Brothers in a merger school called: the Fundamental and Secondary Free School of Saint Hubert (Ecole fondamentale et secondaire libre de Saint-Hubert). The number of students continues to increase, with 700 students now in the secondary school and 240 in the pre-school and elementary schools.

SNDdeN Presence in Disadvantaged Area
A city of 3500 inhabitants, in the middle of the Ardennes Forest in the province of Luxembourg, Saint Hubert is considered an economically deprived area in relationship to the two nearest cities.  Many families live and survive, inspite of unemployment, thanks to the Public Center of Social Action. The student body, both in the secondary as well as in the pre-school and elementary grades, becomes more financially and socially disadvantaged from year to year. In the secondary school, more than one student in three is not able to pay the entrance fee in September. The young people, 32 girls and boys who are welcomed into the boarding residence are for the most part children from one-parent families, with emotional and financial problems. Practically one-third of those students depend on youth-aid services. In 2016, the secondary school opened a special class to educate children of new immigrants welcomed into the region.

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Sisters Jeanne-Emmanuel Pairon and Marie-Clotilde Gilles, SNDdeN play games with the student boarders.

Two retired Sisters, Sœurs Jeanne-Emmanuel Pairon and Marie-Clotilde Gilles, SNDdeN live in the building and bring ready assistance and a happy presence to the life of the school. Another SNDdeN, Sister Monique-Marie Petit, SNDdeN, is a member of the Board of Trustees. Today, at the heart of this school, is an oratory, a place of calm, prayer and reflection. Faculty, staff and students, faithful to St. Julie’s spirit, visit frequently this oratory. The directors in the different sections of the school are particularly sensitive to the educational values transmitted by Saint Julie: one director, Mr. Patrick François, belongs to the group of directors organized by the South Belgium/France Province whose goal is the implementation of Julie’s charism in our heritage schools, in our time.

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Sr. Monique-Marie Petit, SNDdeN, visits the pre-school and helps with lunch.

In the pre-school and in the elementary school, a special effort is made to have the children eat the noon meal at school and also to have staffing for supervision/counselling for student-boarders. Offering this possibility demands a big investment of time and energy for supervision of the students by the teachers and brings peace, security and enjoyment for the children.

Educational Values
A major objective of the school is to educate the whole person and to help every young student to find his/her way and place in life. The administrators, faculty and staff welcome each child to the school, whatever may be his/her way, and allow each one to have new opportunities, and sometimes a third or fourth chance to succeed.  These students, like all others, are “lifted up” to Christian values which motivate and guide the adults serving in the school. The full staff has the will to help the 2mai2017-009-300pxwebweakest and most deprived, which is a strong value inherent in this school. As a goal of our Notre Dame foundresses, this value inspires teachers and administrators to form these young people to the best of their abilities. Among other Notre Dame values, the school is a place of respect and welcome, an inclusive community where differences are lived out each day by students from different cities, town, social classes, and enrolled in different academic programs or options. Sharing and good relationships are born in exchanges among students and teachers from day to day.

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Students in the elementary and high school find friends at recreation after lunch.

In order to give the children in the early years more quiet spaces in their life and apprenticeships, a renovation of the buildings was undertaken in the summer of 2016. Now the pre-school and elementary classes are located in one large building, on a green and ventilated site. During recreation time for the elementary school, constructive activities take place in order to involve students and limit any conflicts. Also, the space reserved for games is more self-contained, with the yard divided into different zones: discussion, games, sports and ball games…etc.  Consequently, the secondary school uses now the property from the elementary school which enables a greater cohesiveness for their sports teams.

Welcome and inclusion of students from a disadvantaged milieu becomes possible, thanks to creativity and the involvement of many people. To permit each student to pursue his/her studies and to have some materials involves great financial efforts at the school. The members of the Board of Trustees, administrators, teachers and the students organize lucrative activities to accomplish these ends/aims: fancy-fair, plays, sale of lasagna, etc. This is a challenge each year. The young people are aware of these charitable and disinterested actions in participating at gatherings for increasing funding sources. They learn to contribute to projects for fighting against leprosy or tuberculosis in the Third World, for animation in day nurseries or homes for the aged, and become involved in other service projects.

As a former student of the Institut Notre-Dame and the merged Institut Saint-Joseph, Sr. Monique-Marie realizes that this school has remained faithful to the educational values of Saint Julie and Marcellin Champagnat (Marist Brothers’ Founder).  In spite of difficulties experienced, St. Julie’s spirit is active and alive daily in Saint Hubert: “Ah ! Qu’Il est bon le Bon Dieu.”
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**Sister Monique-Marie Petit, SNDdeN is a Member of the Board of  Trustees at Saint Hubert. Mr. Patrick François is Director of the first degree level at the school and also a member in the Association of French-speaking Congregational Schools in Belgium/France (ASSOEC)—See Good Works, June 2012, pp.12-14

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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

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Sr. Mary McClure, SNDdeN welcomes a group of young women from Ethiopia and Eritrea.

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?

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 Sr-Mary-and-Girl-300px-web-pixilatedlooking 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.

With 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.

euchairaTesting the Waters
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

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