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|In January 2009, Sister Jackie Goodin, CSJ, embarked on a physical and spiritual journey to Songea, a small rural town in southwest Tanzania, an East African country. She ministers at St. Joseph Hostel, a residence for girls and teenagers sponsored by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Chambery. The Hostel provides a safe and caring environment which allows the girls to complete their high school education in town. She works alongside other Sisters of St. Joseph caring for the girls’ day-to-day needs.
SISTER JACKIE'S BLOGNovember 2013
IT’S NOT ALL FUN AND GAMES—
SOME REALITIES AT ST. JOSEPH HOSTEL
It’s close to the end of the school year and soon St. Joseph Hostel in Songea, Tanzania will close for an extended break from school and for the Christmas holiday. Just like many of you, this is a time for Sr. Eliana and me to reflect on the progress and “challenges” (aka problems) of 2013, as well as our dreams for 2014.
Sometimes I have become discouraged at the slow pace of “progress”, change, and improvement here at the Hostel. Though we can readily see the many ways that girls mature from the beginning of the school year, it’s so tempting to focus on the intractability of some of their behaviors. Of course, this makes me wonder if we/I are trying to impose our cultural norms on their African norms which are not in need of changing at all.
For example, there are many times we tell girls that it’s time to come to the Dining Room for study and meals. We have a big brass bell with a mighty loud ring with which we call the girls—truly, you can’t miss it! Yet, some just can’t be on time, and this is after four years of living at the Hostel.
And, night after night, we remind the girls that there is SILENT study time, and yet the chatter continues from almost every girl.
We also have a few girls who have significant psychological problems that we have not been able to understand with any degree of sensitivity. Their internalized worries show up especially in times of illness. For some girls this is manifested in the big drama of falling down in a dead faint on the spot. This just doesn’t happen once a year, but more than once a month. Despite trying many times to help them articulate their concerns in words—Kiswahili or English, their concerns are expressed in troublesome behaviors. If only we could understand ….
Then we usually have just one or two girls each year who break a big rule and thus are sent home to “think” about their behavior and to decide whether they really want to live at the Hostel or not. We recently had to deal with a girl who brought a cell phone to the Hostel and secretly used it many times over several weeks. (Typically, students in Tanzania are not allowed to have mobile phones in a boarding situation because of the many distractions from study that occur.) Another girl had the courage to tell us about this deception. After many conversations to unravel the truth, the girl never did apologize for her lies and “bad behavior”. It was very sad, but necessary, that she leave the Hostel for a “breather”; she has chosen not to return.
One of the greatest challenges Sr. Eliana and I faced this year was how to help one of our girls who became pregnant during a school holiday period. Though other students knew about this, she herself concealed it from us for almost four months. Finally, we heard, too. We met with her family to explain the situation; her mother was very distressed because if the girl’s school learned of the pregnancy, she would be automatically expelled. Because we were not able to deal with the health/medical issues of teen pregnancy, she left the Hostel to return to her family for care. We heard via the grapevine that she has since had an abortion. Oh my, we had many troubled nights, with poor sleep, as we prayed our way through this situation. She has not asked to return to the Hostel. Our worry for her continues.
Generally, all students seem to lack any imagination or creativity because the method of educational instruction is by lecture and rote memorization. Everything in a young person’s life here is centered on routine. It is so difficult for a young woman or man to imagine anything outside of what they memorize. Ironically, they can “read” their English textbooks quite well, but the level of comprehension is very poor. But, if they memorize well enough, they will pass their National Examinations. When I ask my pre-Form I English students to think of a sentence, they look at me like I am crazy, because it is so hard for them to think other than “My mother cooks rice.” Sr. Eliana and I lead prayer every Saturday night and we have introduced many creative ways to pray, but night after night they prefer to say the words of prayers they have memorized. To help encourage even a small bit of creativity and individual thought process, on occasion we pull out the crayons, puzzles, and crochet yarn, as we did during our Festival days.
Every year, we know there will be academic failures—girls who will not pass their National Examinations despite hours of study (i.e. memorization) and despite our prayers for them. Some will not pass into the next grade and will not be allowed to repeat. Most often, they cannot continue their scholarship and they must leave the Hostel. We really feel like failures then.
Zainabu, is a petite girl who just finished seventh grade and is awaiting results of her National Examination; she is both book and street smart and a very emotionally needy girl. She lifted my spirits as she reflected on her three years experience at the Hostel (verbatim):
WHAT I LEARNED AT ST. JOSEPH HOSTEL:
| Zainabu (left) and her friend, Mary.|
To pray to GodTo study silence
To love each other
THE THINGS WHICH I LIKE IN THE HOSTEL:The way we do cleaness
The way we prayThe way we love each otherTHE THINGS WHICH I DISLIKE IN THE HOSTEL:
When sisters got angry [who could she be talking about??]
When I’m sick
When I’m sad
Maybe we are doing some things right. We carry on, with as much hope and determination as we can muster because the life and well-being of every girl—your global daughter—at St. Joseph Hostel is so precious. And we deeply believe in our mission to help every Hostel girl, despite the many disadvantages and poverty, work toward her secondary school education and seek a brighter future for herself and her community. If you would like to learn ways you can help Sister Jackie's girls, contact
Pat Milenius at 216.252.0440, or email@example.com.