In a desire to offer holistic education, the School Sisters of Notre Dame, in Nigeria responded to a call, in 2018 to serve in Corpus Christi Nursery and Primary School, Anwule-Oglewu, a school located in a rural settlement on the outskirts of Otukpo , Benue State, Nigeria. Sr. Monica Benedict, Sr. Esther Bassey and Sr. Dorothy Enang were the three pioneer Sisters sent by the congregation to begin the new mission and the school for the diocese of Otukpo. As School Sisters of Notre Dame (SSND), we gladly answered the call to serve in Anwule. Our conviction that we can transform the world through education always propels us to go to the tiniest village where there is a need and to reach out to all, especially women and children and youth. For us education means enabling a person reach the fullness of her God-given potential. Thus, our approach to education is to help transform a person so that he or she becomes a better member of society. As School Sisters of Notre Dame we carry out our mission through our effort to promote unity, our community life, our ministry directed toward education and our common search for and doing God’s will. The people of Anwule received us whole heartedly and have been very supportive of our ministry in their village.
It’s Monday morning; the echo of the school band is heard in the distance almost to the farthest end of the small village where our school is situated. The sound of the band is usually a call to pupils wherever they are to hurry up to school; it will soon be time for assembly. Having a parade band was a wise decision; it helps check lateness to school. Pupils who could be in the parade band will be at school as early as 7:00am and begin to beat the drums. This alerts those who are still at home that it will soon be time for assembly and because the children all like to match to the rhythm of the parade band, they begin to hurry to school. So, by 7:30am most of the pupils are already on the assembly ground ready for morning devotion and instructions. Afterward, the pupils settle in their classes and lessons begin with recitation of rhymes and poems. The pupils in the nursery class can be seen demonstrating, clapping, and moving around with their class teachers as they sing. Most of the pupils enjoy this kind of learning because it’s fun. The most amazing thing about this aspect of learning is that despite the fact that most of our pupils in the village school struggle to speak English, they easily say the words of the rhymes and poems correctly in English.
Amidst the joys of ministering in a rural settlement are challenges.
Raining seasons are often very difficult times for our pupils as most of them walk many miles from their villages to attend school in the village where our school is situated. Usually, the children walk in groups and chatter away, laughing and playing and recounting their experiences in school as they walk the miles.
When the rains are heavy there are more puddles on the roads which are already badly damaged by erosion. The roads are muddy and some pupils will be all too happy to go to the farm rather than to school. The pupils who choose to walk the miles to school put their clean stockings in their pocket while they walk to school. As soon as they arrive at the school compound, they collect some water to wash the mud from their feet and footwear, and then put on their stockings before joining the line for assembly. The pupils endure the scorching sun of the dry season and the cold rain of the raining season. Thus, they defy seasonal challenges in their bid to acquire an education.
The village where we are is a farming settlement. Most of the families depend on the sales of their farm produce for income. One such farm product is cassava which they harvest and process locally into a rough form of flour called garri. The villagers wait for buyers to purchase the garri before they are able to pay their children’s tuition. Seeing their struggles, the Sisters, as well as the diocese where we work, have made efforts to support needy children.
Another challenge is the fact that the school does not yet own a library where pupils can have access to variety of books to better enhance learning.
In the past, the village had a small school where the pupils were mostly taught in the local language; we incorporated that school into the new school when we came. So, it was a challenge for us in the beginning to teach the pupils because only a handful of them could communicate in English. [English is the official language of Nigeria.] We could feel the pupils’ struggle to speak English. We could sometimes hear them outside the office practicing, in the few words they know in English, before coming to the sisters to express a need. Some of them completely avoided coming to the sisters out of the fear of expressing themselves in English. We smiled at them and encouraged them to keep trying to speak in the few words they knew. Gradually, they are now beginning to learn. “I had my challenges teaching in the classroom in the beginning because the pupils could not understand me and I could not communicate in their local language. I learned to teach through demonstration,” says Sr. Esther.
The school has no stable source of water. During the raining season we harvest rain water to supplement the water we buy from other towns. This is the water our pupils also drink when they are in school. The challenge, however, is that during the dry season, the rains stop and most of the rivers we depend upon for water also dry up. During this time, we rely on the water bought and transported to us. Sinking boreholes in the village has not been very effective; reaching the water table to find water has been difficult. We are left with the option to find the resources to build reservoirs to store water during the raining season so that our pupils can have drinking water while in school.
We hope to expose our pupils to educational videos, a valuable learning aid. However, we are hindered by the lack of a power supply in the school. Having a generating plant or a solar panel installed in the school to generate power is something we pray and hope for each day because with a power supply available in the school, our pupils in the village can have wider learning opportunities like their counterparts in the cities.
In the same vein, we discovered that most of the pupils have not traveled outside their locality. We needed to develop the world view of the pupils to see beyond the village where they live. This we did by using a globe to show and teach the pupils the names of continents and countries around the world and to encourage them to begin to think beyond their locality. We also hope to begin to take them to big cities for excursions. It is our dream that pupils from this school will graduate and be admitted into renowned secondary schools and universities around the world.
In line with the Sustainable Development Goal of the United Nations, the School Sisters of Notre Dame, through our Shalom network, seek to foster peaceful, just, and earth friendly activities. Shalom aims to listen to the cries of mother earth in all their forms, and to seek ways of responding to these cries. One of the activities of the Shalom network that we introduced in our school is the formation of Shalom Club to train the pupils to care for creation and mother earth, and also to make efforts to live responsibly. Thus, the pupils are encouraged to plant trees and engage in climate friendly activities. Each child in the Shalom club plants a tree and nurtures it. Since our school is new and the compound is relatively bare, the children are excited to plant trees to beautify the compound.
Despite the challenges we face in this rural community, we are happy ministering to God’s people because we are convinced that we can transform the world through education. To achieve global education for all,one of the goals of the United Nations, we must give priority to rural education, as most of the children in the rural community do not have access to quality education. We must be willing to make the sacrifice to go into the tiniest villages and put smiles on the faces of the children. For us, the School Sisters of Notre Dame, “United and content with little we go out into the tiniest villages because our Love cannot wait.”