Sr. Gertrude Tonsi, SNDdeN (center) encourages the young women to show the clothing they made.
By Sister Gertrude Tonsi, SNDdeN
In 2009, the Centre Mary Linscott opened in Kisantu, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), 120 kilometers from the capitol in Kinshasa. Meeting the changing needs in this urban community, this ministry of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur (SNDdeN) evolved from a center dedicated to young people living with handicaps to a place for the formation of young unemployed women. The Centre began as a response to a request from Mr. André Lukoki, (father of Sr. Solange Lukoki, SNDdeN), who managed a nearby center for persons with physical handicaps. Mr Lukoki realized that he needed the support and backing of a larger organization, such as a religious congregation whose charism included promoting God’s goodness by reaching out to people living in poverty. The leadership in the Congo-Kinshasa Province accepted the challenge to take on responsibility for a center for the handicapped. For greater oversight, they decided to regroup the young people from Mr. Lukoki’s site to the SNDdeN property in Kisantu. The Sisters named the new center for a former Superior General of the SNDdeN, Sr. Mary Linscott, a woman who loved people living in poverty, and who had a “heart wide as the world.”
Here, the Sisters organized lessons providing the young men and women with possibilities enabling them to take greater responsibility for their own lives. To provide a more rounded formation adapted to the level of the students, the Sisters, aided by lay teachers, taught the students reading, spelling, (Kikongo and French), arithmetic, religion and music as well as practical training in dress making. They renovated available buildings in the convent compound as classrooms for the handicapped. Moving from one place to another around the property, however, was difficult for the handicapped. Handpowered three-wheel chairs were purchased to help them get to classes. They appreciated this Notre Dame education, which helped them to take charge of their own lives.
A New Moment
After some time, the Centre found itself called to a new moment in ministry. As local people in the area took greater responsibility for handicapped persons, they requested that the Centre Mary Linscott (CML) be transformed as a place for women, a social center for the promotion of girls and young mothers who did not have the financial resources needed to finish their formal education and were in need of means of earning a living. The Sisters staffing the CML organized a three-year formation program with literacy (reading & writing) dress-making, homemaking/household practice and courses in religion. In collaboration with the local Ministry of Social Affairs, the Sisters organize at the end of each year a jury to test the level of each candidate. Those who successfully complete the three year cycle receive a certificate and a sewing machine, provided by World Vision. This certificate enables them to find employment in workshops and elsewhere. The Centre now has two classrooms. The Sisters are struggling to construct a third classroom, but the contribution of parents is minimal. The annual fee for each student is 50,000 Congo francs or $35.00. 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 afterwards for lack of money to buy material for dressmaking during the course of the year. The Centre is unable to meet the needs of all. These young people are often victims of every type of manipulation. Actual fees are insufficient even to provide a meal during the day. The Ministry of Social Affairs does not give finances to the Centre.
The SNDdeN Congregation does give to the Centre some support funding which is used for purchasing sewing machines, supplies and contributing to the salaries of a few teachers. Sr. Julie Santu, SNDdeN is responsible for the Centre and works with five lay women who take work with these young unemployed girls and mothers. From Monday to Friday, courses begin at 8 :00 a.m. and end at 12 :30 p.m. The learners spend one day per week in manual labor which is called “the work of goodness.” The parents and families are happy with this environment for their daughters. This year, we have found jobs for six young women at a local market. Some unemployed men, also living in poverty, have asked to be part of this formation.
Collaboration with persons living with handicaps is still a focus at the Centre. Mr. Alexis, a person with a handicap, works in the clothing workshop of our school. He makes all the blouses worn by our students at the Lycée Notre-Dame de Kisantu. The Sisters continue a journey of fidelity by helping unemployed women and girls, and in supporting persons with handicaps, in a ministry which is certainly the work of St. Julie in the Congo.