Q & A with Sr. Mercy Shumbamhini

by Jill Day

Contributing writer and editor

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Sr. Mercy Shumbamhini is president of the Conference of Major Religious Superiors of Zimbabwe, superior general of the Mary Ward Congregation of Jesus in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi, and one of Zimbabwe’s most respected child counselors.

Shumbamhini’s work, whether she is leading the conference of men and women religious congregations in Zimbabwe, helping her fellow sisters in the region or working with desperate, difficult children, is all to do with people and how to give them dignity.

As a social worker, Shumbamhini also worked with widows, helping them come to terms with the grief of losing not just a husband but, under Zimbabwean customary law, also losing their homes – right down to their cooking pots – to their senior brother-in-law.

Shumbamhini is based at her congregation’s main office in Harare.

How do you reach people in need?

It is practical theology, I feel. With children in crisis, how can we help, how can we give them pastoral care? In my doctorial thesis I focused on storytelling, a participative approach, because the person has the power to help themselves. They are experiencing a difficulty, and when I can help them see this and resolve it, it gives me life.

My passion is to help others, especially the poor.

Shumbamhini sees education for sisters as critical to helping them to reach their full potential:

Sisters do an enormous amount of good work in health, education and caring for troubled women and children in Africa, and it is a great privilege to be able to contribute what I can.

After joining the congregation, I was sent to [the Jesuit-run] St. Ignatius College to complete my secondary schooling, after which I went to the School of Social Work, part of the University of Zimbabwe, which also run by the Jesuits.

While I was working as a counselor, I took my honors in social work with the University of South Africa and graduated with distinction, so they offered me a scholarship to do my doctorate.

Shumbamhini spent 13 years in KweKwe, a small town two hours south of the capital, running an orphanage.

When I see a baby, helpless, deserted and I realize that we can bring warmth, love and hope to this tiny bundle, my heart swells with joy.

The Kwekwe municipality has given the sisters land for a secondary school, to complement the primary school and orphanage they already run.

They keep urging us to start building – but we simply don’t have the funds.

A favorite quote from her congregation’s founder, Mary Ward:

‘There is no such difference between men and women that women may not do great things.’

[Jill Day is a contributing writer and editor based in Harare.]