, 06 December, 2020 / 4:12 PM
The leadership of the initiative that facilitates education for women Religious in Africa has, in a reflection, revealed how technology and resilience have enabled the U.S-based entity to continue with its operations amid COVID-19 restrictions.
In a Tuesday, December 1 reflection obtained by ACI Africa, the Executive Director of African Sisters Education Collaborative (ASEC), Sr. Draru Mary Cecilia says that it is thanks to technological innovations that the 21-year-old initiative is “soaring above the dark clouds of COVID-19.”
She recalls that when officials of ASEC’s founding institutions embarked on training Sisters in Africa in computer literacy, and when the initiative developed a hybrid collaborative online delivery of higher education model for Sisters in Africa in 2012, “little did we know these innovations were precursors to a ‘new normal’ in 2020.”
“Yet, here we are, soaring above the dark clouds of COVID-19 because of ASEC’s innovations over the years! ASEC dived right into the ‘new normal’ seamlessly!,” the member of the Congregation of the Little Sisters of Mary Immaculate of Gulu (LSMIG) of Uganda’s Gulu Archdiocese says.
The entity’s seamless transition to the “new normal” amid COVID-19 was facilitated by the fact that ASEC “was designed to utilize information technology (IT) to deliver education programs to Sisters in Africa,” she reiterates, adding, “ASEC's Board of Directors, staff and students are all set to engage online to achieve our mission to provide education to Sisters in Africa.”
With the IT design, the U.S-based Executive Director says, “Online and remote operations have been part of ASEC’s culture and this has proved critically important to navigate the challenges of COVID-19.”
Amid the pandemic that “has taken much from us” including physical companionship, ASEC’s weekly online staff check-ins, check-outs and Zoom meetings with Sister-students in Africa “have brought warmth of presence amidst the chill of social distance and non-physical contact,” Sr. Draru, a holder of a Doctorate in Social Sciences observes in her December 1 reflection.
“The bold steps we took at ASEC to work remotely and deliver our programs in Africa without major interruption were commendable,” the Ugandan-born Nun says adding, “Kudos to ASEC’s dedicated team of staff in the U.S. and Africa for their continued commitment to keep the programs running online, onsite and in hybrid modes. It could not get any better!”
Beyond the technological innovations that have kept the operations of the Pennsylvania-based entity running amid the pandemic, Sr. Draru acknowledges the “resilience of the Sister-students in Africa who kept ASEC’s programs running in spite of the unstable electricity and poor Internet connection.”
“The move by the Sisters to search for Internet signals from on top of rocks, trees, bush or single hot spots in their communities to sustain their participation in the online training was exceptional. The sisters are unstoppable!” she says.
On GivingTuesday marked December 1, the leadership of ASEC appealed to people of good will and well-wishers to facilitate the acquisition of 21 laptops to foster the apostolate of Catholic Sisters working “so hard to support their communities” in Africa.
In the December 1 reflection, Sr. Draru who has been serving as ASEC’s Executive Director since September 2017 further says that besides participating in educational programs, the Sisters in Africa “continue to minister to the most vulnerable individuals and families” such as the urban poor who have no homes to return to and no food to sustain their lives during the COVID-19 lockdowns.
Making reference to vulnerable people in urban settings in Africa, she adds, “The garbage bins they got food scraps from were empty since restaurants and public eating places were closed. The Sisters gathered them; shared food and light moments with them; made masks and liquid soap to provide protection against COVID-19 for these families and to keep them safe.”
“The year 2020 could have been a wasted year for ASEC had it not been for the commitment of the staff and the resilience of the sister-students in Africa,” Sr. Draru further says, and adds, “I am most proud of each member of the ASEC staff in the U.S. and Africa.”
Established on 8 December 1999 by four Catholic universities in the U.S. and their respective Religious Orders, ASEC’s mission is to facilitate access to education for women Religious in Africa, leading to enhancement and expansion of the education, health, economic, social, environmental and spiritual services they provide.
In the last 21 years, ASEC has facilitated the education of at least 5,300 Sisters spread across 10 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. These thousands of beneficiaries, Sr. Draru says, are 13 percent of the number of Sisters ministering in the region.
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ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa