By Sisters Phyllis Cook and Lucy Musembi, SNDdeN
Notre Dame in Kenya celebrates a Golden Jubilee (1965-2015), a time of gratitude for the gifts of fifty years and hope for a new future! When the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur (SNDdeN) arrived in Kenya in 1965, education was considered a priority for the newly independent nation. Full of hopeful expectation, the country faced dramatic changes. In educating the young, the Sisters contributed much to the changing environment in the early years and throughout these fifty years.
Today in 2015, Kenya has developed enormously and is becoming gradually a developed country, despite many internal problems. Aware of increasing violence, based on discrimination within our global reality, the Sisters in the Kenya Unit realise the need to facilitate education for change. Technology has led to growth in many areas, even in the financial realm. However, the economic gap between the rich and those living in poverty increases every day.
Jubilee Gift of Growth
As educators, the Sisters are experiencing a call for personal, communal and societal transformation, leading to tolerance, justice and peace. During the Church’s Year of Consecrated Life, they are beginning the next chapter of life with the entire Notre Dame Congregation. Multiple blessings emanate from a religious congregation which is international. During Notre Dame’s fifty-years in Kenya, Sisters from Congo, Japan, Nigeria, United Kingdom (UK), and USA have served in various ministries for extended periods of time. Presently, twenty-one professed Sisters carry on the legacy of the Kenya Unit. Fourteen Sisters are Kenyans. Inspired by the spirit of St. Julie, alive in the communities and ministries of Sisters, ten young women are currently discerning entrance into our Congregation.
Notre Dame Owned Ministry
Rooted in Kenyan life, the Sisters yearn for ministries on Notre Dame owned land. Today Malava, in Kakamega Diocese, has a flourishing school opened in January 2010 with a small class of 3 year olds who are now in Class 3. The school continues to grow in modern, well-equipped classrooms. A new building is almost ready to accommodate a full elementary school with classes from Grades 1 to 8.
The Sisters’ ministries cross the whole range of education, not only in schools but also in the wider sense of being with people as they strive for self-reliance. A strong focus on justice and peace calls the Sisters to greater awareness of our world in crisis and to action for change in a new era. As Kenya still reels from the Garissa University attack, the Sisters look forward to acting on principles of justice and peace in their ministries among the people and in their own lives.
Beginnings in Collaboration
The Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur have always collaborated with the Church, religious congregations and local communities in their ministries in Kenya. The first five Sisters brought St. Julie Billiart’s living charism by proclaiming the goodness of God in small communities and expanding ministries. They began teaching at St. Mary’s Girls’ Secondary School and St. Lawrence’s Teacher Training College in Egoji. Each year, more Sisters arrived. Both primary and secondary teachers-in-training profited from the Sisters’ expertise and experience in several places, including Eregi Teachers’ Training College in Western Kenya and Kenyatta University College near Nairobi. In catechetical teams and as parish ministers, the Sisters helped to teach new methods in religious education at all levels across the country. The Sisters opened schools in the dioceses of Meru, Kakamega and Lodwar. They knew that the schools, once established, would be given to local Religious Congregations. Bishop Sulumeti Girls’ Secondary School in Kakamega is one of these schools. At the invitation of the Bishop, Sisters spent twelve years opening and grounding students in a solid education. Recently, one SNDdeN spent five years on the staff of this school which educates today over 900 young women. Two alumnae are Notre Dame Sisters who continue to spread God’s goodness.
From the beginning, the Sisters networked closely with local Congregations, and helped to establish the Association of Sisterhoods of Kenya. SNDdeN contributed to formation programs for seminarians and other women religious. Serving in very poor areas of Nairobi and Kisumu, the Sisters collaborated with the Mill Hill Fathers in assisting local communities to move towards a better quality of life.
Children Living with Disabilities
In different towns /cities, our Sisters have educated disabled children. Several Sisters joined the staff at St. Lucy’s School for the Blind at Egoji. Others worked with children living with disabilities in the Challenge Program in Nairobi. For ten years, St. Julie’s Centre for Disabled Children in Malava gave needed support for educating those in need. Today, the fruits of this ministry remain visible. Our Sisters are not strangers to life in the desert. One Sister became the headmistress in Marsabit Girls’ Secondary School, a new and struggling school. Three Sisters went to Lodwar where they founded a Girls’ Primary School. One of them travelled the desert roads throughout Turkana strengthening religious education in the diocese and in helping the women become more self-sufficient. Two Kenyan Sisters first met our Sisters in Lodwar. The Sisters hope that St. Julie’s daughters will again minister in the future among the Turkana people.
Ongoing Life in Mission
Life in Mission relies on continuing education of the Sisters since the beginning of the Kenya Unit. Through study, the Sisters become more caring, professional teachers, knowledgeable and astute stewards of resources, effective communicators, versatile and compassionate social ministers. Education prepares Sisters for the future and moves systems to action for transformation in society and change in our Church and world.
Source: Good Works, June 2015. pp. 4-7. Reprinted with permission. GWJune2015