Sister Carol Wetli
llorin, Kwara State, Nigeria
“We have a key role to play in the development of the Nigerian region.”
With two master’s degrees and additional certification, training and years of experience, Sister Carol Wetli is an advisor to the fastest growing of all Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur units in the world. Sister Carol has taught, mentored and advised the Nigerian Sisters in formation, finance, leadership, development of community life policies and strategic planning since 1992. Statistics tell her the rapid growth of the Nigerian religious community makes the African nation critical to the future of SNDdeN. “We have a key role to play in the development of the Nigerian region. It’s going to be strongly committed,” she says. “They are well-educated, competent and dedicated. Nigerian Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur have come of age.”
In Nigeria, SNDdeN now manages five primary and five secondary schools, owns two primary and two secondary schools, owns one primary health clinic, manages one diocesan hospital and staffs two peace and justice centers. Sister Carol serves as Development Director, mentor and teacher living half the year in the Postulate House in Fugar, a small city in the state of Edo, and half of the year in a community of sisters in Illorin, the state capital. “My whole reason for going to Nigeria in 1992 was to be a support to the Sisters, to affirm them, to challenge them, to let them know they can do it,” she says. “I feel good knowing we have been empowering them and all the leadership now is in their hands.”
But life remains harsh for the 84 Sisters living this underdeveloped and impoverished nation on Africa’s Atlantic coast. Crime is rampant. Living conditions are third-world.
Every one of their 15 communities has been victimized by robbers. Attackers cracked the skull of a guard to get through the padlocked gates of a compound housing a convent, boarding school for girls and health clinic. A Sister suffered a gunshot wound to her leg when highway robbers tried to shoot out the tires of her bus to force the driver to stop. Even Sister Carol was terrorized by thugs who broke into her living quarters and forced her to open her drawers, cupboards and suitcases. “Everything is precious,” she said. “They steal whatever they can find.”
Only one of the communities has “city” water delivered through pipes. Tankers deliver water to the rest, pumping it into underground storage containers. And once they have the water, it isn’t safe to drink. They have to boil it. Electrical service can be disrupted for months at a time. The Sisters use generators sparingly because of the cost of gasoline, turning only to recharge lanterns and batteries. The lack of electricity makes the most routine chores of daily life extreme. The simple task of doing laundry, for example, means washing and rinsing clothing in buckets and hanging it to dry.
Political corruption and the deterioration of education and health care services further complicate the lives of the Sisters who are running schools and health centers, says Sister Carol. Traveling on highways often means paying for safe passage. “To get out of school, you need signatures from heads of departments,” Sister Carol says. “Sometimes you pay for that.” Even the Nigerian Sisters who are advancing their own education have difficulty getting transcripts.
Despite the challenge of living in an underdeveloped nation, Sister Carol says she is happy in Nigeria. She sees the glory of God in the demeanor of the Nigerian Sisters and the ways they interact with people. “Some people think we have everything that they don’t have, but there’s something in the culture there that we don’t have,” she says. “Here, we run, run, run. There, they take more time for other people. With them, everything is about relationships, togetherness and connectedness.”
Update: Sister Carol Wetly has recently returned to the US (February 2, 2021)