Volume 24, Issue 1   —   April 2023

Peace Education in a Multicultural School Environment

By Sister M. Karin Kuttner, SSND, Austria-Italy District of the Bavarian Province

As an SSND educational institution (Friesgasse) in one of the poorest districts of our city, we are known for peace education in the Vienna area and beyond. We are open to children and youth of all cultures, languages, and religions. The approximately 1,400 children and youth who are between the ages of 3 and 20 represent about 40 languages and 20 religions and denominations.

PeaceWhat does peace education mean in the context of national, international and social conflicts and tensions? Our walls in the building are decorated with the „peace ribbon,” with the word „peace” written in the students’ languages. That alone does not make it so. However, it is a clear sign of our mission. Our commitment is to see diversity as richness. You are welcome, no matter where you come from and who you are! Everyone is appreciated by us.

Where do we come from?

Where do we come from?

Tensions and potential for conflict are always present, but these are occasions for us to learn together. We design programs and projects to break down prejudices and support peaceful coexistence. Under the motto “make:Peace!”, we run the “be.buddy!” program. In this program, older children accompany the new ones as buddies to support them during the integration phase. Peer learning is extremely important here. Training programs on mediation and anti-violence courses have proven successful. We work according to the concept of New Authority by Haim Omer. Religious learning takes place both in students’ own denominations and inter-religiously. At the end of the school year, the Fries Peace Award is presented for special social achievements. Workshops for intercultural learning, such as the “Day of Diversity of Languages and Cultures,” contribute to peaceful coexistence in colorful diversity. Peace education is a joint journey of learners and teachers.

Changing Trends of Education in Africa

By Sister Lucy Waigwa, SSND, in The Gambia, Province of Africa

The 2023 International Day of Education theme is “to invest in people, prioritize education.” As School Sisters of Notre Dame in Africa, many of us minister in institutions of learning where educational changes are slowly being implemented.

These changes are meant to respond to the megatrends in Africa: climate change, digitization, and urbanization. We facilitate these changes through our prayerful support and offering our professional expertise in various ministries.

Here are some examples of the changing trends in education.

In Kenya, the Competency-Based Curriculum focuses on imparting practical skills to learners by harnessing their core competencies. Digital literacy is one of the seven major competencies. The lack of availability of textbooks, accompanied by their high cost, has led to shifting to technology to fill this gap.

In Ghana, many students use a learning application called uLesson to revise core subjects. Its mission is to deliver high-quality, affordable, accessible education for all Africans. It is easily downloadable on a phone or laptop.

In the Gambia, formal education and sports are highly emphasized aspects. The idea is to break the rigidity of overemphasizing theory in education. Many students who struggle with formal education thrive in sports since adequate time is factored in within the school curriculum. Aware of the signs of the times, we continue „enabling people to reach the fullness of their potential…” (YAS, C 22)

Building Peace and Advocating for the Dignity of Life

By Sister Leticia Antonello, SSND, Brazil, Province of Latin America and the Caribbean

Shared reading activity for the creation of a theatrical play.

Shared reading activity for the creation of a theatrical play.

Wars, pandemics, earthquakes, abuses, racism, and hunger affront peace and life dignity. Globally or locally, whenever life is threatened, the pain of others affects me and moves me to act, inspired by Jesus Christ, who came so that all may have life and have it abundantly.

For  30 years, in Elisa Maria, on the outskirts of São Paulo, Brazil, we SSND have dedicated ourselves to programs for youth and adults, responding to the call to build peace and defend the dignity of life amid extreme poverty and violence. Most of the families are migrants from Brazil’s North and Northeast regions. When they arrive, they face unemployment, homelessness, and easy access to drugs and prostitution. These hurt the peace and dignity of the families’ lives and frustrate their dreams for a better life.

We prioritize welcoming, listening, and coexistence. We offer daily opportunities for integral human development through educational workshops and sports for 180 children and adolescents. The children receive a balanced diet at the Mother Teresa of Jesus Social-Cultural Association. Our pain is that when the end of the week or a holiday comes, many are sad because they won’t have anything to eat or a cozy place to stay.

Workshop on making berimbau for capoeira dancing.

Workshop on making berimbau for capoeira dancing.

The moving testimonials from schools and other spaces where our children and adolescents participate say how different they are in their way of thinking and acting – respectful, grateful, and kind. Such reports encourage us to move forward and fill us with hope. We must always sow, for the fruit will appear in God’s time.

Our commitment is to continue sowing seeds that transform. Plunged into a social reality ‘deformed by various vices and signs of death,’ “We cannot uphold an ideal of holiness that would ignore injustice in a world where some revel, spend with abandon and live only for the latest consumer goods, even as others look on from afar, living their entire lives in abject poverty.”  (Gaudete et exsultate 101). As Betinho, a Brazilian activist, stated: „Hunger is in a hurry.” And, I would say: advocacy for the dignity of life is in a hurry, the construction of peace is in a hurry, and caring for the planet is in a hurry because all of us in the world are, in a way, in agony. Let’s keep going forward with our gaze fixed on the One who is our Hope and Peace.

60th Anniversary of Pacem in Terris

By Sister Marinez Capra, SSND, International Shalom Network Coordinator

Sixty years ago, in April 1963, Pope John XXIII wrote the encyclical Pacem in Terris to address a world deeply engaged in the Cold War. The Berlin Wall had been built, and the Cuban Missile Crisis frightened millions as nuclear weapons began to proliferate. The significant issues of Pacem in Terris are the relationships among human beings, between citizens and public authorities, between states, and among the people and states in the international community. It presents rights and duties in all of these areas. Pacem in Terris paved the way for the strong commitment of the Catholic Church and faith-based organizations in the promotion of human rights, justice, peace-building, and peaceful resolution of conflicts. It was also for SSNDs a foundational document for the establishment of the Shalom Network and for our continued work to build a Culture of Peace „founded on truth, built up on justice, nurtured and animated by charity, and brought into effect under the auspices of freedom.” (Pacem in Terris 167)

As we read Pacem in Terris, it is so realistic, and we hear its bell sound calling for peace in our wounded world. We can see the connections between the cry for peace in Pacem in Terris and the last two encyclicals. The 2015 encyclical from Pope Francis’, Laudato Si’, on caring for our common home, planet earth, is addressed to „every person living on this planet” (LS 3) and calls for a global dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet through our daily attitudes, actions, and decisions. The 2020 Encyclical Letter Fratelli Tutti on Fraternity and Social Friendship is addressed “to acknowledge, appreciate and love each person, regardless of physical proximity, regardless of where he or she was born or lives.” (FT 1) We could ask ourselves how do we see Pacem in Terris actualized in our world reality? How could I relate Pacem in Terris to Laudato Si’ and Fratelli Tutti? In what ways are they similar and complementary? How have they inspired the SSND mission? How do they encourage us in our journey to be prophetic witnesses to universal communion?

Breakdown or Breakthrough?

By Beatriz Martínez-García, SSND UN-NGO Representative, New York, USA

In September 2021, António Guterres, the United Nations Secretary-General, released his Our Common Agenda report, requested by the Member States in September 2020. Our Common Agenda reflects Mr. Guterres’ vision for the next 25 years of the United Nations. The Agenda sets out the challenges and offers recommendations to accelerate the implementation of existing international agreements, especially the 2030 Agenda for Social Development and the Sustainable Development Goals.

I think the following statement of Mr. Guterres summarizes the 86-page document and its call to all humanity to choose for the common good and leave no one behind. “The choices we make, or fail to make, today could result in breakdown or a breakthrough to a greener, better, safer future. The choice is ours.” As SSNDs, what choices must we make to continue our commitment to building a greener, better, safer future?

Participation of SSND at the Commission on the Status of Women

By Sister Beatriz Martinez-Garcia, SSND, UN-NGO Representative, New York, USA

Every year through this newsletter, we have shared about SSND’s participation in the Commission on the Status of Women, whose mandate is to work for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a pandemic. Due to the global uncertainty caused by the pandemic, the Commission sought ways to continue its mandate by leveraging digital technology.

In 2020, CSW64 was suspended until further notice. Sadly, the Delegations of SSND from Germany, Honduras, and the USA could not participate.   In 2021, CSW65 was virtual. There were 13 sisters and lay teachers from Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, and the USA, including one teacher and three students from St. Katherine Drexel Preparatory School in New Orleans who participated online. In 2022, CSW66 was hybrid, and SSND partnered with  Global Partners:  Running Waters and Justice Coalition of Religious to present a reflection on World Water Day. Fortunately, this year, CSW67 was in person once again. Three sisters, students, and teachers from the Academy of Holy Angels, in Demarest, New Jersey, USA and Notre Dame Preparatory School, in Towson, Maryland, USA participated.

Since 2007, students and teachers from our schools have been invited to participate in this Commission in person and recently online. We know from their testimonies that this conference has been a positive learning experience and motivation to continue working for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.

Plastic Pollution

By Sr. Beatriz Martinez-Garcia, SSND, UN-NGO Representative, New York, USA

I was astonished when I read on the UN Environment Programme website, “Every minute, the equivalent of one garbage truck of plastic is dumped into our ocean.” It sounds like plastic is taking over our planet. I want to share a story showing the plastic dilemma’s two sides.

This is the story of a person who started dialysis treatment three times a day for six days a week three months ago. His children dialyze him at his house. Every month they receive the medical supplies. Every week the rubbish truck takes away a big plastic bag full of the waste material used in the treatment. The first time they saw it, they thought, “So much plastic! Certainly, dialysis does the job that the kidneys can no longer do for their relatives, but what about our planet? Where does all this plastic go? To the oceans? How long does it take to disintegrate? How can we prevent such plastic pollution and save lives at the same time?”

On March 22, 2022, the UN Environment Assembly adopted the resolution, End Plastic Pollution: Towards an International Legally Binding Instrument. I hope this resolution responds to the questions above and paves the path towards an international legally binding instrument for ending worldwide plastic pollution, including in the marine environment. In the meantime, what are you going to do to prevent plastic pollution?

Shalom/UN-NGO Newsletter is a publication of the School Sisters of Notre Dame
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