By Sister Eileen Hogan
(Pictured here: All-Africa Conference: Sister to Sister (AACSS) leaders from five sub-Saharan countries with participants from the Transformative Spiritual Leadership Faith Development.)
In September 2012, four Sisters of Mercy—Margaret Farley and Mary Oladimeji (West Midwest), Mayon Sylvain (Mid-Atlantic) and Eileen Hogan (Northeast)—traveled to Entebbe, Uganda, for a meeting with All-Africa Conference: Sister to Sister (AACSS) leaders from five sub-Saharan countries—Cameroon, Malawi, Nigeria, Uganda and Zambia—who represent thousands of local sisters living and ministering in desperate poverty with people who still face the ravages of the HIV and AIDS pandemic. During a period of five days, we discussed needs and programs within each country and ways to increase collaboration for creating and sharing programs. We prioritized broad concerns and explored possible responses to a growing desire among sisters for further education and personal development. Two impressive AACSS programs that Ugandan sisters founded and are administering received our special interest.
The Counseling Training Program for Sisters (CTPS) is offered under the auspices of the Kisubi Brothers University College in Entebbe, Uganda. CTPS has graduated 25 sisters with degrees in counseling/psychology; six of these sisters are completing studies for a master’s degree. Seventy-three sisters graduated with diplomas. Scholarships continue to be needed in order to enable sisters living in extreme poverty to earn their diplomas/degrees at CTPS.
The other international program, Transformative Spiritual Leadership and Faith Development Course (TSLDF), is offered in Uganda’s capital, Kampala. The AACSS Leaders considered ways to increase the attendance of sisters from more destitute countries and ways for preparing them to benefit more fully from a program that is academically challenging.
On September 28, Sisters Mayon and Mary made an arduous trip to Lira, a town in Northern Uganda where the Missionary Sisters of Mary Mother of the Church (MSMMC) offer great service. More than 100 persons, including many sisters, gathered for the official opening of the Bishop Asili Counseling and Rehabilitation Center. The AACSS had facilitated the funding for the center’s construction. For Mayon and Mary the image and feeling of an extended family was vivid and palpable. As Mayon extended her hand with scissors to cut the ribbon, suddenly several hands descended upon hers; cutting the ribbon was a community event!
The center provides holistic development for women and families infected and affected by HIV and AIDS. Sister Florence Achulo, one of four local sisters to receive AACSS scholarships to attend CTPS, is the director of the Counseling Center. She and four other sisters offer psychological counseling and enhance the participants’ health status while improving livelihoods by teaching agriculture skills and crafts. The sisters fully participate with the women in all activities at the center, including decision making, singing and dancing.
Mayon and Mary were deeply touched by the warmth, strength, and generosity that radiated from the gathering of a prayerful people who had suffered the profound traumatic abuse of a long ruthless war. The long suffering people of Lira now share a peaceful and secure life, unabashedly proclaiming in song and dance their new experiences of the living, loving God.
That sisters, trained by CTPS, are ministering to the people of Lira fulfills a core goal of the AACSS. Ten years ago Margaret and I listened to African women voicing the need for religious to gather throughout the sub-Sahara in order to share their fears, hopes and responses to the HIV and AIDS pandemic ravaging the lives of their people. Today, our hopes are fulfilled as local sisters spread the Spirit of Mercy into the hearts of people suffering in the beyond the beyonds of Africa.