By Sr. Beatrice Chepngeno, Province of Africa
“Content with little we joyfully direct our resources toward that oneness for which Jesus Christ was sent.”
This call becomes significant to us sisters in the Gambia as we respond joyfully in preaching Jesus as the universal Christ. It affirms God’s action and revelation in and through Jesus, the universal Christ, in everyone and in every religion. We feel we are called to witness the love of God to humanity, and, on the other hand, we witness the same love among the peoples of Gambia.
We continue to engage ourselves in education, Pastoral work and Inter-religious dialogue. Our significant presence is felt more through transformative education as we work to enable the little children of Notre Dame School to reach the fullness of their potential. As we respond to the need for education of the children in the rural part of the Gambia, specifically in Soma, we discover a great need not only to educate the children but also the parents and the larger community on the importance of education for the transformation of the world.
This is important because the community around us value the teaching of the Islamic religion as the first priority, which in our view delays the education and development of a child. Due to this, we have taken steps to talk to the parents, especially during Parent Teacher Association Meetings, on their responsibility towards training a whole round child. We also make a follow-up on the progress of children and even visit and learn the nature of families in order to appropriately reach out to children, who many times are caught between attending Islamic school or conventional elementary school.
Mother Theresa’s words “going into the tiniest villages” becomes more clear to us as we daily respond to the needs in our reality, which is opposed to the reality in the city. Since we live upcountry, most a times, we hear people asking us to move from the rural areas to urban areas, where we will get higher school fees and ease in training the children, as is the trend in this part of the world.
However, we feel and see and are moved to share our love with the poor through our response to the urgent need of education in Soma. Our school, Notre Dame School, is a single-streamed school with capacity of about 160 pupils, both Christians and Muslims from grade one to grade six. The school shines in the region, and our children compete with the children from the city. We get encouraged when we see the good performance in discipline and in academics. For instance, the performance of our Children in the national examination was very good; we got first position in our region and ninth position at the national level.
We continue to educate the parents on the value of education, so as to encourage the children to love and work hard in school. The parents’ mindset towards the education of their children is slowly but positively changing. They now appreciate the formation given to their children, and most of them guide the children at home. It is encouraging to see that Notre Dame School is growing rapidly, with parents booking for grade ones’ admission ahead of time. We see that the transformation is taking root, as most parents are now committed to following up the progress of the children’s performance in school.
In our apostolate, we are committed to the Christians of Mary Mother of God Parish in different ways. As is the nature of the Diocese of the Banjul, it is not uncommon that the religious sisters coordinate most of the Church groups’ activities. Our presence and involvement in the parish strengthens the faith of the Small Christian community, as we take part in major activities such as coordinating the Youth, Missionary Childhood Group and the Parish Pastoral Council. These activities also become good avenues that provide room to challenge the youth on their involvement in the other church activities.
Though the language is a barrier, we find joy and fulfillment when we use gestures and smile at one another, especially as we visit them in their various homes. The uniqueness of our environment brings unity among us regardless of the religion, as we interact closely and share our love and experiences together. Our prime role is sharing our faith with others in deeds. We fully participate in the group activities, even the co-curricular activities that bring Christians closer to us; however, even during the church activities, Muslims join us and are always willing to participate during Christian sport activities.
I find this astounding. This confirms that the word of God is not a silent presence as we reach out to the Gambians and touch the Muslims, too, in different ways.