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Catholic Sisters Living with Alzheimer’s in Africa to Benefit from New Endowment Fund

Sr. Jane Wakahiu. Credit: ACWECA

Conrad N. Hilton Foundation is creating an endowment fund to support Religious Congregations that are struggling to provide quality care to Catholic Sisters suffering from Alzheimer’s, members of the Association of Consecrated Women in Eastern and Central Africa (ACWECA) have been told.

On Thursday, August 26, the Head of Catholic Sisters Initiative at the US- based foundation, Sr. Jane Wakahiu, assured members of ACWECA that networks have been established for “an endowment fund” to help elderly Sisters to cope with a variety of health challenges that come with old age.

“(We have) networks to help us understand better ways of supporting our elderly Sisters in sustainable ways and for long-term health challenges such as Alzheimer's, so that we can provide Sisters who have given their lives to our work with a life of peace and spiritual fulfillment,” Sr. Wakahiu said.

She added, “In this regard, the Hilton Foundation in collaboration with the International Union of Superior Generals is creating an endowment fund to support institutes of the Religious to provide quality care to Sisters suffering from this debilitating disease.”

Sr. Jane Wakahiu during her presentation. Credit:ACWECA

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The Associate Vice President of Program Operations at Conrad N. Hilton Foundation spoke broadly on the topic, “Collaborative Networks for Collective Impact: A Unifying Lesson from the COVID 19 Pandemic” in her August 26 presentation to participants in the ongoing 18th ACWECA Plenary Assembly.

Addressing hundreds of participants who followed the August 26 session of the blended virtual and physical Plenary, the member of the Little Sisters of St. Francis (LSOSF) invited Catholic Sisters in Eastern and Central African region to embrace cross-cultural approach of working to come out of the COVID-19 pandemic stronger than they were before.

“I invite you to… stretch outside your comfort zone and discover new ways of living the mission that allows us to face common problems through cooperative efforts,” Sr. Wakahiu said.

Apart from the program for Catholic Sisters living with Alzheimer, Conrad N. Hilton Foundation has also launched a research study for Catholic Sisters in a number of African countries. The study, Sr. Wakahiu says, will yield data that is aimed at addressing the challenges that the elderly face.

Credit: ACWECA

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The care of elderly Sisters, the Kenyan-born Sister says, is an opportunity for Catholic institutions for Religious to collaborate.

“Congregations around the world are facing similar challenges, and we have an opportunity to work together towards providing a common solution,” she says, and adds, “In this regard, we have launched a research study on the care of elderly Sisters in five countries in Africa so we can establish the best solutions.”

Addressing the Plenary participants, the LSOSF member said, “We desire to work with you to create networks of healthcare professionals, Sisters working to eliminate cultural issues such as FGM, and Sisters working in both elementary and high school to improve the educational outcomes of children in marginalized communities.”

The California-based Foundation that seeks to improve the lives of individuals living in poverty and experiencing disadvantage throughout the world is also collaborating with ACWECA to support in training the trainer of formation directors in the region.

The Hilton Foundation’s Catholic Sisters Initiative is also supporting in scaling up the Sister Blended Value Project to help Sisters transform some of their ministries to social enterprises for sustainability. 

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Credit: ACWECA

Additionally, the Hilton-Hekima Scholars Program provides theological training to Sisters across Africa to strengthen Consecrated Life and has also facilitated the setting up of data centers in Africa that will be used to collect, store, process, and allow the sharing of information about Catholic Sisters on the continent.

Sr. Wakahiu says that the newly launched Hilton-Hekima Scholars Program has 170 Sisters enrolled to study Theology virtually across Africa.

To provide continued education, Hilton Foundation has a solid network with the African Sisters Education Collaborative (ASEC) to provide opportunities for higher education and leadership development to Sisters. 

The Catholic Nun who has previously served as ASEC Executive Director notes that Hilton Foundation has also created the Sister Led Youth Empowerment Initiative (SLYEI) to support underserved families.

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SLYEI operates in Kenya, Uganda, Ghana, and Zambia to connect all vocational institutions operated by Catholic Sisters in these countries to provide skills development for youth for increased self-sufficiency by connecting youths to jobs so they can lead a life of self-sufficiency, Sr. Wakahiu says.

The foundation has also expressed a continued commitment to the Talitha Kum network that fights human trafficking and restore its victims to their communities.

From left; Sr. Pasilisa Namukoye, ÀOSK Executive Secretary, Sr. Mary Cecilia Njeri, ACWECA President, Sr. Hellen Badhiho ACWECA General Secretary. Credit: AMECEA

The editor of the book, “Transformative partnerships: The role of agencies, Church and Religious Institutes in promoting strategic, social and sustainable change in Africa” told members of ACWECA that plans are in the advanced stage to support networks of Consecrated persons working to eliminate human trafficking within the African countries. 

Another network that the Hilton Foundation hugely supports is the Bakhita Project, which is being implemented in Kenya, Zambia and Uganda in partnership with the Jesuit Conference of Africa and Madagascar and Associations of Sisterhoods, to provide scholarships and support young women completing their education.

Sr. Wakahiu says, in reference to the projects supported by the US-based foundation in Africa, “These issues cannot be solved by one Congregation. We have to work together for the common good of our society, and for effective social change.”

She says that the COVID-19 pandemic, which she says does not know boundaries has created “a wilderness of pain and struggle across the world.”

“We have all listened to the stories of horror: people dying without saying goodbyes to their loved ones, families in difficulties going hungry, some now homeless because they could not pay mortgages, with escalating healthcare bills consuming family savings,” she says.

She adds, “I have often wondered, how do we give hope to individuals, families, and communities severely impacted by the pandemic? How do we accompany and show compassion to the overwhelmed healthcare workers and people whose lives have been altered permanently because of the loss of their loved ones?”

Sr. Wakahiu says, in reference to the theme of the 18th ACWECA Plenary Assembly, “If we are to continue playing our prophetic role and ensure transformation in our institutes and communities where we minister, we must reevaluate our priorities and practices, particularly during this pandemic.”

The Catholic nun urged members of ACWECA to think about how they prioritize the poor, and how they work across boundaries to collaborate for the good of the mission.

“We all live charisms of love and compassion to each other and those entrusted in our care, and the time is now for us to be courageous and creative in our approaches as we continue our work in the missions.  The lesson for all of us in the pandemic is that our ministries, our works, are stronger if we work together,” she says.

She underscored, “The pandemic has taught us that we cannot, we must not, work alone.  We must be networked together because our collective knowledge, collective experience, and collective support produce a collective impact. We serve best when we serve together.”

In her August 26 presentation, Sr. Wakahiu further urged Religious Sisters to also take care of their own well-being even as they channel their efforts towards caring for others.

She said that just like everyone else, Catholic Sisters have been hugely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has taken away their community members and their sources of livelihood.

Banner announcing the 18th Plenary Assembly of Consecrated Women in Eastern and Central Africa (ACWECA). Credit: AMECEA

“While we are called to go to the periphery, we also have to look inside our institutes. We, Catholic Sisters, have been impacted by the pandemic too. Our communities have lost Sisters who were working on the frontlines as healthcare staff, our elderly Sisters have died, and many of our ministries remained closed during the lockdown, so many Sisters could not provide services to people in need or minister to those suffering,” she said.

In her August 26 message, the LSOSF member encouraged her fellow Sisters to persevere during the harsh pandemic times, saying, “While we can focus on the negative impact of the pandemic, Prophet Isaiah challenges us to behold and be attentive to the new thing God is doing in us and around us.”

“We are invited to pause and recognize, ‘what will God spring forth in us, in our formation houses, in our communities and in our ministries.’ We will only be able to perceive this new thing if we look hard, listen and allow the spirit to lead us,” Sr. Wakahiu August 26.