Sister Elizabeth - Nigeria

"Help Me Keep the Children Safe…"

Hundreds of schoolgirls have been kidnapped. No one knows where they are. In this part of Africa, everyone is watchful.

Sister Elizabeth with Nigerian students pictureSister Elizabeth is the principal. It’s evening and her students prepare for sleep. They roll out their mats in the largest room. The electricity has been on two hours, and now is off. They have twenty minutes before they can no longer see.

She walks the perimeter. She checks the razor wire, that it hasn’t been cut, and that no holes have been dug under the wall. At the gate she talks with the watchman. He watches the road, worried.

At midnight, the moon breaks over the trees. Sister Elizabeth, on the second floor, looks out. She looks over the road, and at the spaces between the buildings, and at the gate. Then quickly she sees something that for a moment stops her heart. She looks harder. But it’s only the watchman. He’s crossing to his stool by the gate. Sister Elizabeth is glad for the moon.

“Why do you stay?” I ask when she comes to visit. “Why, when it’s so dangerous?”

“Because,” she says, “the students look to our Sisters. Without us, without an education, they don’t have a chance.”

“But,” she says, “please pray for me.”

On the television I see and hear of more kidnappings. I think of Sister Elizabeth – the uncertainty, the vigilance, the worry that a light, a noise, a movement by the road, could be the beginning of an unimaginable ordeal.

“But what else, Sister? What else can I do for you?”

“You can help me buy razor wire,” she says. “You can help me pay the watchman. You can see that I have a phone that works. There are so many things, so many things I need to keep the children safe.”

Sister Elizabeth is among the hundreds of Sisters of Notre Dame teaching in Africa. Her school is among the twenty-seven other schools run by the Sisters. At each of them the parents of the children do what they can. They help pay for the food that arrives on Mondays. They pay the small tuition. They volunteer.

Students picture in their classroomBut they cannot afford the razor wire, nor support the watchman, nor pay for a phone. For these things, Sister Elizabeth looks to me, and to you.

We read the headlines, we read the news clips, and we think ‘how awful.’ There is something in all of us that wants to see children safe. And equally, something that sinks inside when we see them harmed.