AIM Commission for African Women

Commission for African Women—AIM USA initiated this innovative program for a two-fold purpose:

  1. To send Benedictine Sisters from the United States to African communities of Benedictine women to teach courses and workshops in spirituality and human development.
  2. To raise funds for African Benedictine sisters still in need of high school education.

Sr. Dianne Maresh, OSB, from Crookston, MN and Sr. Bonita Gacnik, OSB, from Yankton, SD, travled to southern Tanzania. Read about their experience here.

Sister Cathy Bauer, OSB from Covington, KY and Sister Suzanne Fitzmaurice, OSB from Atchison, KS visited Tanzania from June 20 to July 28, 2011 as part of the African Women's Commission sponsored by AIM USA. The following are some of their reflections on this experience.

This summer we were blessed to have the opportunity to spend six weeks with the African Benedictine Sisters at Our Lady Help of Christians Monastery in Ndanda, Tanzania. A joyous welcome awaited us as the sisters greeted us with the traditional African hospitality of prayer, dance, song, and food.

During our time there, we spent the first two weeks teaching classes. We talked about the Prologue to the Rule of Benedict and Chapter 4 describing the tools for good works. Our sharing brought forth much discussion about our lived experience, opening our eyes to the ways the Rule is lived in different cultures. We also shared on the role of the Psalms and Lectio Divina in our daily life. The sisters were very interested in learning about the Myers-Briggs personality types which helped them understand themselves better and deepened their understanding of how to work with each other in community. Some sisters were eager to learn about computers and keyboarding .We taught the classes in English and they were translated into Swahili by the community's superior. Most of the African sisters speak very little English since Swahili is the language of daily life.

After the two weeks of teaching and sharing, we spent the rest of the time living community life with them and visiting several mission houses. Most of these houses were a significant distance away from the monastery and required a trip of several hours on very rough roads. While the country was very dry and dusty, it was also filled with wonderful trees and flowers along the roads. There were beautiful woods and hills along with sandy flat plains and an amazing variety of butterflies. All of the mission houses had several active ministries. We were moved by their hard work in providing education and medical care for the local people. The sisters teach life skills to the women, and offer workshops to students in plumbing, masonry, carpentry, mechanics, and electricity. They grow fruits and vegetables, and raise chickens, pigs, goats and cows to provide payment for those who work at the local health clinic. Each ministry is designed to meet the specific needs of the people in each local area.

All of these experiences gave us the opportunity to spend time with a variety of Tanzanian sisters. It was wonderful to see the similarities in our lives-the prayer, the common table, the seeking God, and the quest for balance. It was also important to see the challenges these sisters face every day in regards to resources- food, water, electricity, health care, education. Here in the USA, it is so easy to take so much for granted. This visit helped us become more aware of the excess in our lives and deepened our desire to live simply .This was an amazing experience and a real gift for us.