Sharing voices of sisters in Tanzania and Kenya

This story appears in the Writing Workshops feature series. View the full series.

by Melanie Lidman

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There are hundreds of local languages across Africa, filled with sonorous tones that have exact words for the color of the earth after the rain or the time of day when the sun is just peaking over the horizon. To honor the diversity of these languages, Global Sisters Report reached out to non-English-speaking sisters for the first time with a writing workshop in Tanzania that was simultaneously translated into Swahili.

I always face challenges trying to explain the goal of a global news website about sisters to people in isolated regions where electricity is scarce and the Internet is rarely used. But it was an interesting opportunity to try to do this with someone translating my words into another language entirely.

For our fourth and fifth writing workshops, Global Sisters Report brings you voices from sisters in Kenya and Tanzania. The Tanzanian sisters, who participated in the translated workshop, were going through training to become formators with the Tanzania Catholic Association of Sisters. In Kenya, I held the writing workshop with a group of sisters participating in a finance course with the Sisters Leadership Development Initiative (SLDI) organized by African Sisters Education Collaborative

If you'd like to hold this writing workshop for your congregation, you can download a document here that will walk you through the process. You can also read previous writing workshops from Kenya, Uganda, and Nigeria here.

Sr. Nancy Nyawua, Religious of the Assumption Sisters, from Moshi, Tanzania and working in Kenya:

Before I became a sister, I had the belief that sisters were just like other women and had no ability to accompany people to God. This was so strong in me that I avoided the sisters as much as I could in my primary school. In class they were teachers, and outside class they were just women. I developed such a strong dislike towards the sisters; I was very open about it, which led to me turning away from anyone who talked about religious matters in school. Most of the time I would be alone or be very selective about who my friends were.

In secondary school I joined the Young Christian Student club that was very involved in charity work in and around the school. Most of the members were female students who were very committed to the activities of the club. This was a turning point for me, to experience the potential power of women. I took on more and more responsibilities, until I decided to join religious life myself so I could fully dedicate my life to God and his people. I wanted to be a leader for women, empowering them with knowledge and skills that help them shift from the notion of being poor and marginalized to discovering their potential. They become transformed with happy families, form small income generating activities, and face life with courage. I am happy to be created a woman, and to work for the promotion of women.

Sr. Alice Wambui Ndunyu, Daughters of the Sacred Heart, Kenya:

In my three years working in a children's home, I experienced so many joyful moments with the children. One moment, however, that will always stand out in my mind is when I was preparing one of our three-year-olds for adoption. First I showed her a picture of her mother-to-be. The girl exclaimed happily, 'She looks like me!' I knew the hardest part of the job was over.

The second thing was to prepare a meeting for the child and the mother-to-be. It was a wonderful moment the first time they saw each other — the heart of the child went directly to the mother and their hearts met. They spent the whole day together, and it was difficult to separate the two hearts because they had fallen in love. They were not connected by blood but by an inner drive which nobody could explain.

We planned for the mother to come the next day and spend a few days with the child. They bonded together during this time and created so many connections. Finally, it was time for them to go live together as a family. It was my most joyful experience to see a child who was thrown outside our gates one day who now would be able to enjoy the presence of a loving mother. They are now living together as mother and daughter. It gives me so much joy and hope to know that the little girl has someone to call mum.

Sr. Valkinia Basichakis, Sisters of St. Francis of Penance and Christian Charity, Biharamulu Kagera, Tanzania:

I was able to take my first vows in 2004 and I was very, very happy. I was so full of joy that I completely forgot the four stairs in front of our house. When I walked outside, I fell down and injured my foot. I had to be taken to the hospital and my foot was actually broken. But I was able to get treatment and prepare myself in time to make my vows later that day. I was still so happy and full of joy that Jesus is here to support me always in my religious life as I try to be a good servant.

Sr. Julia (last name withheld), Our Lady of Kilimanjaro, Kweka, Tanzania:

Community life is my greatest joy. I entered the Congregation of Sisters of Our Lady of Kilimanjaro in 1965, after receiving initial formation for three years and I became a professed sister in 1968. When I joined religious life, I felt that the community of sisters was going to be like a large family with a structure that was similar to the family I had to leave.

In my religious community I feel loved, accepted and cared for. All my social, material and spiritual needs are granted. The superior is to me like a dear mother. The community members are my dear sisters. What they contribute to my welfare is wonderful. Their love and support make me feel at home — peaceful and joyful. Their support helps me to manage my apostolate. The community profits from all that I contribute to it. They appreciate it and they are grateful.

Community life has many challenges due to the fact that each member is a unique member of different histories, backgrounds, environments and cultures. Each has her own attitudes, temperaments and motivation. All of these differences for me have become factors of my maturity and stability, though before achieving this stage of life, they were stumbling stones that hindered my growth. I used to grumble and complain much, to the point of being a scandal to others. The ongoing formation that I received during various stages of religious life has helped me to cope well with any kind of challenge and crisis. The community life has and is still helping me to mature and be firm. I try to share this peace and joy with other people that I meet. I thank God and my community for who I am and for my ability to contribute to many.

Sr. Gaspara Samba, The Grail Sisters, Same Diocese, Kilimanjaro:

I love to take care of the young in the community, so my Mother Superior chose me to be a formator. This opportunity made me very happy because I like to help with the young sisters who want to become sisters in my congregation. These groups of girls come from different places and different traditions, so it is my responsibility to help mold them into a single family. This is our mission, and in order to fulfill it I ask the Holy Spirit to guide me so that my work will bear good fruits in the church.

[Melanie Lidman is Middle East and Africa correspondent for Global Sisters Report based in Israel.]