Alive with Mission: Priority for Education

Srs. Dorice Sumbati Shisali, Judith Esther Onditi, Theckler Mwaka, Susan Libendi, Magdaline Mikwa and Maximilla Mutuba, SNDdeN plan together with joyful excitement at NDEC.

By Sister Judith Esther Onditi, SNDdeN, Deputy Head Teacher

In 2010, the Mission of the Gospel inspired Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur (SNDdeN) to open Notre Dame Educational Centre (NDEC) in Malava, Kenya. Six Sisters, assisted by our aspirants and postulants, serve about 300 pupils, from early childhood to class 8. NDEC’s motto, Educating for Life, promotes St. Julie Billiart’s educational ideals of a holistic education. The Centre attracts many students in a learner friendly approach to education, different from the exam-oriented system in Kenyan schools. We view learner-oriented education as creative and practical. Fully engaged, the student takes an active role and centre stage in his/her own learning process. This stretches the learner in every area and involves different activities, including technology or applied technical know-how. The student discovers new horizons and disentangles his/her own capabilities, while applying new skills to achieve the greatest potential.

We, SNDdeN, appreciate this Competency Based curriculum, now used in Kenyan schools, enabling full participation of students with creative discoveries in the learning process. Our learners, even outside the confines of formal education, become creative in manipulating positively their environment. As facilitators in the learning process, our Sisters realize that we are not only teaching for now but we are preparing future and responsible citizens, ready to apply knowledge and to find solutions to everyday problems.

Sr. Judith Esther Onditi works with students in a competency based curriculum session.

R E S O U R C E  C E N T R E

NDEC is located in rural Kenya where most families lack any basic infrastructure for electricity. The Sisters sponsor financially some learners who come from very challenging homes, and lack basic life-needs including, food, shelter, etc. In 2018, we opened a small resource centre, giving students access to materials required to complement what they learn and discover. This facility has a capacity for only 45 learners who come in shifts enabling learners at all levels to access these resources. Sisters, as well as postulants and aspirants, are always available to support our learners in using the materials for expanding their knowledge and skills. In the future, we hope to enlarge the centre to accommodate more learners, even from nearby schools and the community. NDEC confirms education of the whole person as our SNDdeN priority ministry since 1804!

By Sister Magdaline Mikwa, SNDdeN, Administrative Secretary

Each day, people from different backgrounds visit our Administrative Office for various reasons. Teachers, staff, pupils, parents and guests stop first at my office. It gives me joy to be a welcoming presence in the school, especially for the children. Some come with excitement, while others wear fearful faces of the unknown. My ministry involves creating an environment where the child is peaceful, happy and comfortable, and feels at home. In the right environment, each child becomes relaxed; other activities fall into place. I contribute to this holistic education of the children, and also in a special outreach to parents and guardians. Everyone’s story counts. Listening attentively to our children, parents, guardians and all guests, I do joyfully my clerical work for a smooth school operation and I give witness to the goodness of God.

Sr. Magdaline Mikwa meets with new parents.

Most parents and guardians in rural Kenya are peasant farmers, with very little income. Unable to finance their children’s education, the parents struggle with cultural, social and economic challenges. I have learnt that doing everything in the office in a loving, caring and understanding way enables a smooth and coordinated ministry with parents, children, Sisters and staff. Following the progress of the children is the best link for parents and guardians with the different departments and persons who support them in a specialized way.

By Sister Maximilla Mutuba, SNDdeN, Coordinator of Early Childhood and Development Centre (ECDC)

St. Julie’s call to “educate for life,” inspires me, as I teach children from ages 2 to 6 years old. I love my ministry with children in early childhood; I give my best in preparing these little ones for formal education. In collaboration with the ECDC staff, I plan activities for the week. It thrills me to observe the day-care children arriving, joyful and excited, each morning, as they run to meet the Sisters. They recognize the Notre Dame cross, worn by the Sisters, making the children feel at home. They enter spontaneously into song and dance. Recalling Julie’s teachings, I have the opportunity to make school a place where our children love to be, with a sense of belonging, in their early years. Our daily interaction with children in this tender age prepares them for the future. It is a blessing and a challenge for Sisters and staff to provide a conducive environment! The simplicity and trust of each child stretches us to engage with our children in practical activities. We try to develop creativity with suitable materials, appealing for these ages. With limited resources, we work overtime to supplement materials acquired through funds from our Sisters and benefactors.

Sr. Maximilla Mutuba with the Early Childhood learners.

The children’s learning extends in their home environments to siblings, parents/guardians and friends in their neighbourhood. People refer to our Centre, as the “school of happy and welcoming Sisters.” It is a place of healing for some children. At the close of the day, in returning home, some children cry and cling to the Sisters and staff. This prompted us to initiate collaborative sessions with parents and guardians for encouraging conducive home environments. We give the children playing materials to share school stories and experiences with the family. Bringing materials back to school, they explain their use at home, another response for the uniqueness of each child.

COVID-19 has invaded the lives of our children, unable to come to school. Some parents telephoning the Sisters, ask them to assure the children that the school is closed now, but they will be able share their stories when school re-opens. We continue to offer simple activities to engage the children at home in their own environments. We follow the ideals that St. Julie offers us for educating children in every generation.


Sr. Susan feeding chickens with learners in the SND outreach programme.

By Sister Susan Libendi, SNDdeN, Coordinator of Social Outreach Programme

As Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur (SNDdeN), we respond to specific needs in our time. We believe that God expects the best from us, and inspires us to reach out to our brothers and sisters. We are inspired by St. Julie who insisted that we “exist for the poor, absolutely for the poor.” She called us to make known God’s goodness and love with and among people living in poverty. My ministry contributes to this SNDdeN Mission for many vulnerable families. Parents desire education for their children, but most are unable and trapped in the poverty web. They face the limitations of economic, social, spiritual and psychological challenges, on a daily basis.

Education transforms lives and enables people to participate in decisions that affect their lives. The government of Kenya aims theoretically at providing free primary education; that is not the case on the ground. Private and faith-based schools like NDEC attempt to reach out to marginalized and less privileged pupils by ensuring that they get basic education in a conducive environment for best achievement. Most learners on scholarship are partial or total orphans. In the present economic situation, our Social Outreach Programme, addresses various needs of the community and the most vulnerable in the Malava area. We aim is to visit households, gather information, initiate economic activities for parents’ self-reliance to provide new income, to help families receiving financial assistance, and to familiarise ourselves with local communities.

We engage children and parents in activities generating some minimal income for their households. When our families meet to share their struggles, we help them and the surrounding community to find hope in different processes of healing. In collaboration with our postulants, I visit families to experience their reality of life. By interacting within these households, without any pre-conceived judgements, I live the call and Mission of Jesus Christ. I listen, learn, and allow myself to be transformed by my brothers and sisters, made vulnerable by the circumstances of life. In partnership with other service providers, I organise workshops for parents facing critical times to give them opportunities for finding creative solutions and practical ways for becoming self-reliant.

Sr. Susan Libendi visits the parents of students at home.

Spending time with children from these households, I observe their self-esteem and confidence re-awakened as I teach them what they need to know for life. During the holidays, I follow up on school attendance and progress of our children, to strengthen the bonds between the children and parents at home in their own environment. Parents and children experience the transformation that education brings to individuals and society. As a private Catholic school, without any government subsidy, NDEC relies on school fees, a major sources of income to meet expenses in our school. Through funds received from donors, our Congregational Leadership Team supports our Mission with small grants for scholarships for needy children and for small income generating activities for their families.

We have begun a chicken project in which parents and children raise chickens, sell the eggs and provide a small income, important for struggling families. The goals are to empower families in becoming self-sustaining, to give them confidence in taking charge of their own lives and to participate in decisions which affect them. This project enables parents to pay school fees as well as to manage their own households. In December 2019, we conducted with our parents a workshop to raise awareness in educating our pupils for life. The participants discussed issues of concern for young people and ways of working with them to ensure a brighter future. The event aimed at revitalizing efforts by the parents and guardians in accompanying their children in education. They discussed ways to become self-sustaining and to take charge of their own lives.

By Sister Theckler Mwaka, SNDdeN, Coordinator of Nutrition and Worship

NDEC attracts children from all backgrounds. For children to be happy, stay active, and concentrate during indoor and outdoor lessons, it is vital for them to be healthy. Our focus on education for life includes good health. At school, we ensure that children have a balanced diet, since good nutrition is important in enabling them to remain alert and happy. I work with the kitchen department which provides a simple and balanced diet meal for the children.

Sr. Theckler Mwaka oversees the kitchen for good hygiene.

A clean environment is critical. I encourage the children and staff to ensure that hygienic standards are maintained in the school. With the Sisters in our community and in collaboration with the teachers, we organize talks for the children on cleanliness and hygiene, with specific emphasis on personal hygiene and a clean environment. Our school directives insist on clean drinking water and the hand-washing, after toilet visits, as well as before and after eating. Through our Social Outreach Programme, we provide sanitary essentials for your girls from vulnerable homes.

W O R S H I P  A N D  E U C H A R I S T

In collaboration with other Sisters, I coordinate the worship programme. NDEC links the children for worship to the Pontifical Missionary Children’s Programme at the parish level. The school is connected to St. Theresa’s Catholic Parish in Malava. The parish priests comes to the school every Friday morning for the Eucharistic Liturgy. The children take time to practice music, liturgical dancing and serving at Mass. They participate enthusiastically in the celebration by taking the lead in making the Scripture Readings, singing and dancing. These small activities have enhanced the zeal of the children as they learn more about their faith.

I work closely with the SNDdeN postulants and aspirants in preparing NDEC pupils for Baptism, First Holy Communion and Confirmation. The worship group at school gives the children the opportunity to meet on a weekly basis to faith-sharing with Bible stories and liturgical dancing. For all at NDEC, Wednesday is St. Julie Day. Children are open to hear stories of our foundress, especially her love for children, to see photos of St. Julie, the Sisters and to know more about our foundress and the Mission of Jesus.