Advertisement

Catholic Nuns in Kenya Boost Prisoners’ Confidence in Women’s Day Celebrations in Lodwar

Members of the Association of Sisterhood's of Kenya (AOSK) in the Catholic Diocese of Lodwar during the celebration of the International Women's Day at Lodwar Women's Prison.

Hope reigned behind the heavy walls of Lodwar Women Prison on Saturday, March 6 when Catholic Nuns belonging to various Religious Orders in Kenya’s Catholic Diocese of Lodwar visited the correctional facility, bringing it to life on the celebration of the International Women’s Day (IWD).

In an interview with ACI Africa Monday, March 8, Sr. Winnie Assimwe, the Chairperson of the Association of Sisterhoods in Kenya (AOSK), Lodwar unit said that the initiative was aimed at making women locked behind bars feel that they are loved.

“We wanted to make female prisoners feel that they are loved and that we think about them even as they stay behind bars. Many of them lose hope when they are locked away,” Sr. Winnie, a member of the Assumption Sisters of Nairobi (ASN), said.

She said that the event was also a way for the Catholic Nuns to respond to the needs of prisoners described in the compelling passage in Matthew 25 where Jesus describes the actions of candidates of his Father’s kingdom: … I was in prison and you came to visit me … whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me (Matthew 25:35-36, 40).

Some 40 Nuns drawn from ASN, Assumption Sisters of Eldoret (ASE), Sisters of Mary of Kakamega (SMK), and Sisters of the Good Shepherd of the Immaculate Conception took part in the one-day event in Kenya’s Turkana County within the Diocese of Lodwar.

Advertisement

The main activities of the day included Holy Mass and entertainment after the inmates were taught about the origin and purpose of the special day for women across the world.

Sr. Winnie explained that the day is especially important for women locked behind bars.

“The history of the International Women’s Day dates back to the early 1900's that was characterized by a lot of oppression against women. Behind prison walls, you can be sure to find a woman who has undergone one kind of oppressive treatment from the society or the other,” the AOSK official noted.

She said that in prison, women believe that the society is against them. Some are usually put behind bars for crimes that they did not commit and are subjected to the worst form of psychological torture.

More in Africa

Information on IWD website detailing the origin of the celebration indicates that women's oppression and inequality was spurring women to become more vocal and active in campaigning for change.

In 1908, some 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding shorter hours at work, better pay, and voting rights.

At the Lodwar Prison, Turkana women are locked up for a variety of offenses, which are mostly tied to poverty, the Ugandan-born ASN member who has been serving in one of Kenya’s most hardship places since 2018 told ACI Africa.

“Most women here are unemployed and they engage in irresponsible drinking of local brew to manage their stressful lives. When they drink, they engage in all manner of conflicts and fights,” Sr. Winnie recounted, adding that most women who end up in jail engage in fights, some that result in murders.

Advertisement

Other conflicts that result from drunkenness, she shared, are women causing disturbances by engaging in affairs with other people’s husbands.

Also in attendance at the Saturday event was Turkana County first lady, Margaret Nanok and the County’s Executive Committee Member for Health Services and Sanitation, Jane Ajele.

The Nuns donated basic items such as sanitary towels, soap, body lotion and milk to the six children who live with their mothers behind bars. Additionally, foodstuffs such as baking flour, rice, cooking oil and sodas were donated with the support of the government officials.

Sr. Winnie said that the presence of the two government officials was important as the inmates were assured of inclusion in the government plans and budget.

“The last time we visited the prison was during lockdown; we saw that the inmates didn’t have a hall for their social activities. We invited some government officials who saw the situation and now, we see a newly constructed hall,” she said.

Female inmates at Lodwar Prison are engaged in a variety of activities such as sewing, beadwork among other hands-on activities aimed to help them transition from life in prison to family life.

The challenge they face, the Nun explained, is getting raw materials for their activities as well as market linkages for their products.

There are various Religious Congregations of Nuns engaged in different apostolates, including health, education, pastoral and well as social work in the Diocese of Lodwar.

These Nuns, Sr. Winnie said, put up with a myriad of challenges, key among them the lack of resources and the vastness of the Kenyan Diocese.

“There are 68 members of AOSK here and we would have wanted to come together in the Saturday event. But we couldn’t because the Diocese is so vast and we are spread out in distant places from each other,” Sr. Winnie who doubles as the Medical Coordinator of the Diocese told ACI Africa, adding that the Nuns were allowed to celebrate the event in their various deaneries.

The roads in the Diocese are also in poor states and the Nuns find it challenging going on mission in distant places.

“Here we have seasonal rivers, which flood in a matter of hours. You cross them in the morning comfortably but when you come back in the evening, you find it flooded and you find yourself stuck on the other side. It is a big challenge for us,” the AOSK official in Lodwar Diocese shared.

Those involved in school and hospital apostolates also lack important resources for their apostolate, including school buses and cars and some are forced to walk for miles to their missions.

With Kenya’s devolved governance system that created County governments, Catholic Nuns in Lodwar Diocese have also been forced to surrender some of the institutions they managed to the government, cutting them from donor funding, Sr. Winnie said.

“Before devolution, the Catholic Church in Lodwar was referred to as the government because of the services that we gave to the people through donation from outside. Today, the donations have dropped significantly and some of the institutions we managed such as schools and hospitals have been taken up by the County government,” she explained.

In her message to all female prisoners on the International Women’s Day, Sr. Winnie says, “Strive to be good models of society. You may think that behind bars, you are not important members of society but you are. Even in prison, you can provide good examples to others depending on how you choose to lead your lives.”

She also calls on women Religious to serve other people selflessly saying that it is such service that keeps her moving in one of Kenya’s hardship missions.

“As Religious, let us remember that we have been called to serve the poor. Before I serve myself, I need to first ensure that others are comfortable. This should be our greatest source of joy,” she says.

Sharing about her own experience, the Ugandan-born ASN member said, “When I entered Religious Life, I remember saying that my inspiration was to serve the poor and least in society.”

“And when I came to Kenya, I was asked whether I didn’t see any poor people in Uganda where I was born and grew up. I remember my answer which keeps me moving till now. I said that it is in serving the poor that I do not know that I get so much satisfaction,” Sr. Winnie told ACI Africa March 8.