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Changing Times in Protecting Our Planet

By Sister Claudine Dumbi, SNDdeN

Many persons together can effect global change. The responsibility for protecting our planet belongs to all of us. The Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur are becoming more intentionally aware of this responsibility in communities and in ministries on five continents. Today the Sisters call each other to educate themselves about “the environmental crisis, identify communal practices that adversely affect creation and commit to actions for change.” (2014 General Chapter).  They join other voices, like Pope Francis who at the World Day for Youth in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, called for the "respect and protection of the Creation which God has confided to humankind,"  As educators, the Sisters read, research, study and teach about climate change and other dangers to our earth and planetary system.

In the Congo-Kinshasa Province, the Sisters believe that protection of the environment is an essential and relevant ministry in our time.  In small ways, with simple actions, the Sisters practice a respectful care of the earth in their community life and take every opportunity to help the people in their ministries to understand the implications of our endangered planet.  Education is the most powerful instrument for instilling a love and care for Creation and enabling others to understand more about the future of our endangered planet.

Sr. Justine Mokoko, SNDdeN works in the garden in Kimwenza (DRC). She teaches the novices about food security and shows them Care of the Earth in preparing the soil, planting the vegetables in the best soil and protecting the environment from further damage.

Agriculture and Food Security
In the schools and centers, the Sisters and lay staff teach children and adults that climate change is not a curse or a punishment from God, but results from human activity or carelessness.  Agriculture suffers from highly elevated temperatures which diminish the yield in produce from useful cultivation. At the same time, these temperatures transport a proliferation of bad grasses and parasites. Any modification in the rain flow increases the probability of bad harvests from the crops in the short term and a lowering of production on a long term basis. Briefly, climate change negatively impacts agriculture and food security, especially in developing countries. Consequently, if nothing is done, there is the risk of a major  collapse in agricultural production in poor countries. This will increase malnutrition already at elevated levels in these countries.

Sr. Bénédicte Kikwengi, SNDdeN works with her students at the high school in Kisantu, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and teaches them good practices for farming. In turn, these students will pass on to their parents what they have learned in school about agriculture and food security.

Education in Our Time
Since the majority of students in our schools in the Congo come from farming surroundings, the Sisters teach them good agricultural practices which respect the environment. For example, the people need to know and understand what are critical areas in preparation of the land for planting.  The Sisters teach them to avoid :
•    cultivating the soil which is sensitive (prone, liable) to erosion;
•    burning the brush or the forest  before cultivating the land;
•    planting always in the same area.    

Globally, complex questions surface in respecting the earth in abandoned places and protecting the planet:
•    If we tell a peasant cutting the trees for making wood embers not to do it, how is he going to live?
•    If we ask persons leading nomadic lives to stop exploiting the forest, where will they live?
•    If we ask the people living in poverty not to shelter themselves in already damaged spaces in order to avoid erosion, where will they go to build?
•    If we ask a farmer not to cultivate the land in the same place each year, where is he going to till the soil for food?
Education includes best practices for preserving the earth.  These times are difficult. All of us are responsible for the environment and climate change. What part will we play for protecting the planet?  Everyone is called to act! St. Augustine reminds us that “The times are bad, the times are difficult. Is that what the people say? We are the times. Such as we are, such are the times.”

In doing research projects for food security, Sr. Claudine Dumbi, SNDdeN uses this opportunity to talk with farmers about the environment and the disastrous consequences on agricultural production, caused by global climate warming. She counsels the farmers to eliminate cultivating practices which cause or risk further damage to the soil. She encourages them to plant trees or replace those cut to meet needs for heating or building. In 2014, Sr. Claudine met 210 farmers in groups of 30 at a time: 150 farmers in the city of Kinshasa, and another 60 farmers in the Mbanza-Ngungu, DRC. She gave some advice for protection of the planet, care of the environment and addressed specific agricultural issues. In these group discussions, the farmers respond positively to the information provided as well as to this assistance with good farming practices for greater agricultural production.

From the Vatican YouTube Channel