SISTERS OF NOTRE DAME DE NAMUR: “FROM CHARITY TO JUSTICE”

By Sister Ijeoma Okoye, SNDdeN, Nigeria: Governments must provide essential social services such as quality education, healthcare, clean water, and sanitation for their citizens. Governments also have the primary responsibility to safeguard the human rights and security of all who live within their borders.  The above, unfortunately, is not the reality in many African countries, especially in countries within the sub Saharan region of the continent where Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur have a presence.  While some of the governments have only made half-hearted efforts, others have out-rightly neglected to provide these much-needed services for the people.

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Standing from L:  Srs. Marie-Therese Mbongi, Rosita Ignatius, Priscilla Aliu, Margaret Inziani, Chantel Kisimbila, Majella Anyanwu, Elizabeth Chinamo, Fr. Emedo Obiezu.  2nd. Row L:  Srs. Isabelle Izika, Ijeoma Okoye, Theresa Anikwata, Maximila Matub

The failure of governments in many sub-Saharan African countries to fulfill the state’s obligations to their citizens has contributed to an escalation in the number of people living in extreme poverty in the region. For over a century, Catholic Religious Institutes of women and men, and other humanitarian organizations have endeavored to fill the gap created by government’s negligence or failure to provide education, healthcare, and others services.  Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur have been outstanding in their efforts to offer quality education, healthcare, and other social services for people in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Congo Brazzaville, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, and Zimbabwe for over a century. Nevertheless, it is increasingly becoming evident that despite years of efforts by so many faith-based and other humanitarian organizations, the gaps in accessibility of these services continues to widen. This may suggest that our efforts are no longer enough, probably because we are only tackling the symptoms of the problems.

Therefore, while applauding the efforts of Religious Congregations in providing these services to people living in poverty, we must also begin to challenge the systemic roots of

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Theresa Anikwata & Sr. Margaret Inziani

the social problems that keep people in poverty, such as poor governance and corruption. A deeper consciousness of social justice moves us to question those systemic structures which create the gaping inequalities among peoples in our society. Since social action involves working with social institutions so that they become more responsive to the needs of individuals, Institutes of Religious Life are called to “MOVE FROM CHARITY TO JUSTICE.” This broadening of focus is necessary if we must remain relevant in the 21st Century. Our prophetic mission as Catholic Religious women in the present age requires us to make a paradigm shift in the way we perceive our roles in society. Thus, rather than just filling the gaps created as the result of the state’s failure to fulfill its obligations to the people, we must also begin to collaborate with others to seek creative ways to advocate for change in those unjust structures that strip millions of our people of their human dignity.

 

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Sisters show off their certificate of participation at the end of the workshop

In an effort to respond to these needs, Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, working as an NGO at the United Nations recently organized a training workshop (30 April – 4 May 2019) for the Sisters of Notre Dame Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation Animators from the African units.  The aim of the workshop titled, From Charity to Justice,” was to strengthen the Sisters grassroots advocacy for systemic change, and the commitment to social justice as called for by the “2014 Chapter Calls” of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. The venue was the SMA Center in Abuja, Nigeria.

Fr. Emeka Xris Obiezu, an Augustinian priest from Nigeria, and the former United Nations representative for the Augustinians International facilitated the workshop. Sr. Majella Anyanwu, SNDdeN -Nigeria, (Lawyer), gave an input on human rights, and Sr. Amarachi Grace Ezeonu, the SNDatUN representative and the organizer of the workshop gave her presentation (virtually from New York). Participants at the workshop were Sisters from Kenya, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Nigeria. At the end of the workshop, the participants shared testimonies of being empowered by the experience of the three days. They drafted a proposal to be presented to the 18th General Chapter of the Congregation taking place in July 2020.

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