She has just celebrated 50 years as a nun. Apart from carrying out duties as a nun, she founded Lusubilo Community Organisation where orphans are cared for, people living with HIV and Aids and various vulnerable groups are supported.
It empowers communities with means to finding resources to support themselves. She talks to Every Woman through Kufasi Shella about the challenges she has faced in the 50 years she has been a nun and her community organisation.
What is your age and where were you born?
I am in the late 60s. I was born in Embombeni TA Mtwalo, in Mzimba district
What type of family did you grow up in?
We are three, am the only daughter. My father was a carpenter at Livingstonia Synod in Khondowe, my mother was a nurse. My father died when I was around two years old. I grew up with my uncles, in more of a communal set up. My mother and her brothers raised all their children together. My brother is the one who paid most of my school fees.
What level of education do you have?
I went as far as Junior Certificate (JC), then received other trainings in relation to my career.
When did your become a nun?
I became a Rosarian Sister in 1962 at Katete Mission in Champhira. My first posting was at St Mary’s Parish in Karonga which by then was under Mzuzu Diocese. I have just celebrated my 50 years as a nun.
What exactly do nuns do for the church and society?
Nuns dedicate themselves to the service of others; they purify the church through prayer and life of total dedication to God and God’s people.
What challenges have you gone through as a nun?
Many people do not understand what it means to be a nun. Sometimes you end up being separated from family [for a long time]. For instance, we have a Poverty Vow which is meant to liberate one from having earthly possessions so that you can concentrate on your call as a minister. Some people consider this vow as a threat to supporting one’s family and friends. Traditionally, earthly possessions that one accumulates become a social capital for the rest of the family. It’s like one’s capacity to care for your family, friends and relatives is judged by how much earthly property you have.
Again my ministry is to serve the local congregation within my parish and beyond. I am commissioned with several ministries but am not able to reach out to as many people due to limited resources.
What compelled you to become a nun?
I was attracted to the spirit of prayers lived by monks that I saw in a dream. In the dream I saw men always praying to God and working in silence. Sister Anne told me that there were no monks in Malawi that time but if I wanted to work for God I was to join the six girls who were preparing to start life of offering themselves totally to God and following Christ’s ministry of healing when he was on earth. The greatest challenge was that I was a Presbyterian and I did not want to leave the church. But I eventually became a catholic.
What does Lusubilo Community Organisation do?
Lusubilo is a community based organisation that is involved in orphan care, supporting people living with HIV and Aids, and reaching out to various vulnerable groups. It empowers communities with means to finding resources or feeding the orphans and vulnerable groups. It has fully employed staff, with a secretariat at St Mary’s Parish of the Karonga Diocese.
Lusubilo does not support the concept of an orphanage. However, due to the intensity of malnutrition, insufficient support to people infected and affected with HIV and Aids within its catchment area. We have just built a temporary children’s village. It runs as a transit home and where emergency cases are handled. It deals with cases like critically malnourished children; babies whose parents have died suddenly; or those who have parents but require close attention while the secretariat looks at how best to support them or take them into a self-sustaining home.
What prompted you to set up Lusubilo Community Organisation?
When I was in Mzuzu Diocese, I used to see a lot of children who during the day were all over town picking food from trash cans and sleeping under bridges. This gave me the idea that if communities can be organised such kids would not be roaming in the streets. When I came to Karonga I found kids doing piece work around the bus depot for food. I also saw a boy steal something from someone at the depot. The next day I bumped into the boy and asked him why he did that. He said the money he stole was for food for his home. This convinced me to do something for the communities.
How does the centre sustain itself?
There are some families from Europe and the US who support us. The funds are received through Catholic Relief Services. We depend on agriculture. Communities do farming – that’s the food that feeds everyone. Other resources come from the Holy Childhood in Rome which comes through the Bishop of Karonga Diocese. We have had 1152 families since 2011.
What has the centre achieved?
The biggest achievement is nutrition enhancement of communities. The organisation provides nutrition supplement through village nutrition centres. A number of villages have graduated and do not need to be supplied with food.
Five children have graduated from The University of Malawi. Some of them are working with Lusubilo. Two are still studying at The Polytechnic. Some are in colleges pursuing various courses. All of them have and are being supported by the centre.
What challenges does the Lusubilo face?
Communities around St Mary’s Parish in Karonga have a perception that Lusubilo has a lot of money and seek assistance on daily basis. In as much as some of the needs are critical, they do not necessarily fall under the core objectives of the organisation. We have no sustainable source of funding.
We mostly depend on communities to be taking care of its beneficiaries. Such communities are however involved in other development activities within their villages and at times give the initiative less attention.
Originally every household would give one bag of maize worth of money to the centre which was then used for buying fertiliser the next season. This has not been continued.
The increase in fertiliser prices has left around 600 households stranded. The donors have complained that fertiliser is now expensive. Unlike in the first years when Lusubilo was just starting, most of these households were left out of the Government Input Subsidy Program but were taken care of by the centre.
What are further plans for the Lusubilo?
The Lusubilo Secretariat is looking into being self-sustaining.
As a nun don’t you miss family life with your siblings or even having kids of your own?
No, the liberation vow is what helped me. When you get there you are engaged in spiritual life. Our life on earth should reflect our life to come in heaven. I am not separated from my family; physically I meet with my blood family. But I have my fellow nuns who are now the family that I live with. As a nun we concentrate on the needs of everyone around us not necessarily our blood family.