Educating Women in Congo

Educating Women in Congo

During the 2018 Lenten season, we’ll share the work of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur from around the world. We hope you in turn will share their work with your family, friends, students and faculty by email or by posting each Lenten Snapshot on a bulletin board or via Facebook or Twitter Image (right): Map of Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Educating Women in Congo

Centre Mary Linscott is named for former Superior General, Sister Mary Linscott, a woman dedicated to helping marginalized people. She had a heart “as wide as the world."

Students learn sewing skills as part of their work education.

Sister Gertrude Tonsi (center) with students and the clothing they made.

As background, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is a mineral rich country in Africa. Yet, its 84 million citizens are among the poorest in the world, impacted by government corruption and extremely low incomes. The poor health of mothers and their children results in high infant and maternal mortality rates. Lack of clean water and food insecurity, combined with substandard sanitation, leads to malnutrition and disease. Among Congolese families, the importance of education is improving, yet the parental tendency to keep girls at home doing chores and waiting for marriage still exists.

Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur Gertrude Tonsi, Julie Santu and Solange Lukoki are part of a new ministry in the DRC. Their work is based in Kisantu, an urban community 75 miles from the capital city of Kinshasa, in southwest Congo. At the Centre Mary Linscott, their mission has evolved from programs for disabled people to educating young, unemployed women. The Sisters’ work is the focus of our first 2018 Clean Water Project Lenten Snapshot.

 Our Sisters are working to change the education culture through the Centre Mary Linscott. As a school for the advancement of girls and young mothers with meager financial resources, the center provides classes needed to finish a formal education and the skills needed to earn a living.  The school has three grade levels with curriculum that includes reading and writing, sewing, homemaking/ household practice and religion. Sisters Gertrude, Julie and Solange work with five laywomen teachers and collaborate with the local Ministry of Social Affairs to test students at the end of each year. Those who successfully complete the three-year school receive a certificate and a sewing machine, provided by World Vision. The certificate enables graduates to find employment in clothing workshops and elsewhere.

With enrollment demand increasing and funding insufficient to even provide a meal during the day, the Sisters struggle to construct an additional third classroom. The annual fee for each student is $35 or 50,000 Congo francs. These funds are used to maintain the sewing machines and to pay the teachers. Young women come in crowds at the beginning of the year but disappear soon afterwards due to lack of money to buy fabric. 

From Monday to Friday, courses begin at 8:00 a.m. and end at 12:30 p.m. The students spend one day per week in “the work of goodness.” Parents and families are happy with the education the young women are receiving. This past year, six graduates found jobs at a local clothing market.  

During this Lenten season, we are most grateful for your support in helping our Sisters educate for life as well as provide clean water, especially to the people of Congo.

Learn more about the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur Clean Water Project.