A Discussion with Sister Prudentiana Kirungo Mushumbusi, Deputy Superior General of the Congregation of St. Therese of the Child Jesus
April 22, 2023
Background: Sister Prudentiana Kirungo Mushumbusi, STLFWM, is deputy superior general of the Congregation of St. Therese of the Child Jesus in Bukoba, Tanzania. Trained as a nurse and midwife and experienced as an administrator and leader, she was sent to Burundi as a missionary but found herself (after a four-year hiatus in France) caught in the bitter war. With a deep love for children, she and her fellow sisters took in many babies and young children abandoned or orphaned during the war, establishing a safe haven for the community. Following a sabbatical and higher-level studies in the United States, she returned to Bukoba, taking on challenges of leadership in her order and establishing both vocational and pastoral training institutes for girls. This discussion with Katherine Marshall in Washington, DC, during a fellowship visit explored the different dimensions of her remarkable and diverse career. A thread running through the different phases of her life is a commitment to children, women, and girls as well as to the power of quality education.
The discussion with Sister Prudentiana forms part of a series of exchanges with the sisters participating in the Women in Faith Leadership Fellowship. The fellowship works to amplify the visibility, vitality, and voice of Catholic sisters in responding to the complex challenges and opportunities faced by women religious leaders within their organizations and communities. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, Joint Learning Initiative on Faith & Local Communities, the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown University, and the Center for Public and Nonprofit Leadership at Georgetown University have collaborated in the design and delivery of the Women in Faith Leadership Fellowship. Funding was provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation. Sister Prudentiana is a fellow in the inaugural cohort, and this discussion forms part of a series of exchanges with the sisters in that context.
Let’s start with where you come from?
I was born in Muleba/Bukoba in the Kagera Region of Tanzania. My second name is Kirungo, which means “spices.” Prudentiana is my baptismal name.
Is your family Catholic?
Yes, they’re Catholic, devoted Catholics. And we are 12 children: six girls and six boys. My mother’s eighth pregnancy was twins, a boy and a girl. So we are 12.
And how did you become a sister?
I was born in Kagera, near the parish, so I was used to seeing the sisters early in my childhood. I would escort my brother, who was an altar boy, and I wanted mainly to stick around with the sisters because they looked very kind, smiling to people, and they always had children around them. I wanted to be one of them. So that’s how I got caught up in that idea from my childhood.
I remember I wanted to join when I was only nine, but they told me it was not yet time. One evening I escaped from home and went to the sisters’ convent because it was in walking distance. I told the sisters that “My mother told me that I could spend a night or two, here, so that you can teach me how become a nun.” They knew it was not true, but they said, “Okay.” After a few minutes, my father came to pick me up. It was my father who was my favorite parent. I don't know why I was so close to my father rather than to my mom, which was unusual in my culture, but that’s how I grew up. My father told me, “Yes, I will support you in what you want to do, but that’s not the way to go about it.” So I went back home.
When I was 11, they started a boarding school for girls who wanted to become sisters. This school was registered by the government and was an upper primary school. We did the government examination so that one could join either a teacher’s college or nursing school, or you could go to the secondary school. So that’s where I went after my primary school; I was only 11.
My mother was not happy about my decision. She thought it was too early for me to decide on a such life. She was concerned, even scared, because I was a child who was always so attracted to babies. When my mother left home, I would go through the neighborhood asking the mothers with babies if they could bring them to me. Using the little water we had at home, I washed those babies. Going into parents’ bedroom, I took my mothers’ lotion and used it to make those babies look smart. I would tell the mothers to come and pick up their babies before my mother returned home. Eventually, they told my mother. That is why my mother asked me, “But what is happening here? My body lotion is decreasing so fast.” I replied, “I don’t know.” My mother decided to divide the lotion into two parts, one for me and one for them: “You get yours; I get mine.” I said, “Okay,” but I was tricky. When the mothers brought me the babies, I would take half from my tin and half from my mother’s so the two remained the same.
Sometimes when I saw women passing by from the open market, or when I saw a mother with a basket on her head and carrying a baby on her back, maybe she was even pregnant, I would say, “Hi, how are you? You look tired and you have a beautiful baby, can I help you to carry your baby for one kilometer?” And I would take that baby one kilometer away from this stranger. My mother was furious and she said, “If you drop down those babies, you will go to jail alone. I’m not going to escort you.” So I think from this, my mother thought that religious life was not my vocation because I was so attracted to babies.
But God’s ways are not our ways. I eventually entered, and my mother eventually gave in and said, “It is okay, I will now support you.” And I became a nun when I was young, at 17. But because they had taken us into the school at the early age of 11, and as I was growing up with the sisters, that strong formation helped me to be strong and I never doubted my call. Even when I was sent to school, I was able to remain focused on what I wanted to be.
What was your path as a sister?
In my heart, I was always longing for babies and I always said, “I don’t know what’s going to happen.” But eventually, miraculously, I was sent to study nursing in midwifery. So I was dealing with babies, everywhere. I helped the mothers to deliver their babies, so I was surrounded by babies all the time. So that is how God fulfilled my desire.
So that’s how I grew up. I became a nurse midwife. And then after a while, I was sent to the theological school for sisters. After I graduated, I was appointed to be an administrator of a parish. I was scared because it was the first time I had heard about a sister running and being an administrator of a big parish. At that time, I was only 27 years old. But they gave me that responsibility and I was helped by five other sisters.
Where is that?
Rukora, the parish, is part of the Rulenge-Ngara diocese in the Kagera Region of Tanzania, near Lake Victoria.
I was the administrator of the parish for nine years, with other sisters working with me. At the end of nine years, I felt burnout and I said to myself: “that’s enough,” because it was really hard and tiresome. I enjoyed that service, though. And I had the chance to deal with mothers, babies, and children around the parish. On weekends we had sports: all the children playing with balls, singing, drumming, dancing. I made them some jumping ropes and all that kind of stuff. I enjoyed seeing our parish being a place for peace, love, entrainment, and prayer. We had a chance also to interact with women because I was in charge of the parish and organized women in small groups so that they could work together: farming, weaving, catering, and housekeeping. They no longer had to live their lives miserably. That’s how I made remarkable development for those women in the parish.
But it did not end there. When I returned to my diocese, Bukoba, a few months later, I was sent to Burundi as a first missionary from my congregation. That was unusual because we are diocesan sisters, not pontifical. That means we belong to the diocese. When you belong to the local diocese, you are not meant to go out to other countries. But my congregation did.
What is your congregation?
St. Therese of the Child Jesus of the Bukoba diocese. The headquarters is based in Bukoba in the Kagera Region of Tanzania.
So I went to Burundi with the other sisters, and that’s another miracle.
Why were you sent to Burundi?
To be missionaries; to run a hospital. We were to take over the leadership from the government employees and do pastoral work in the parish.
Unfortunately, after we arrived, the plan and the handover were delayed by almost a year. The bishop in Burundi thought that because his expectations were not met the bishop and the superior general from Bukoba might call the sisters back. So, he decided to grab one of the leaders and send her to France to study. So that’s how I was sent to Nancy II University in France to study French and hospital administration.
Bishop Roger Mpugu from Burundi sent you to France?
Yes, he sent me to study French and hospital administration at Nancy II University in France, near Strasburg. I stayed there for almost four years while others sisters stayed in Burundi working and learning Kirundi and French.
While in France, preparing to return to Burundi, the war started. I had my ticket ready but then I heard that the first Hutu president Merchiol Ndadaye of Burundi was killed and Bujumbura airport was closed. At that time, I was already homesick. The sisters I was staying with in the monastery loved me and advised me to stay, but I had this attachment to my homeland. I remember the superior general saying, “Because there is a war in Burundi, you cannot go. The bishop won’t understand me if I let you return now. You have to stay with us until the war is over. We can look after you and we can help you work on required documents to become a resident here.” I said, “No. This is a trap. I want to go back home.” At that time, I knew how to manipulate some technical devices. So, I called the embassy of Uganda in Paris. I told them, “Look, here I am, a Tanzanian. I was studying at Nancy, and I have finished in my studies. I was supposed to go to Burundi where I am a missionary, but there is war, and I already have my air ticket to Bujumbura. What should I do?” There were no more flights flying to Bujumbura. The person at the embassy asked me, “Does the Tanzanian embassy in Paris know you?” I said, “Yes. They know me.” They called them, and they proved that they knew me very well. They asked me to fax my passport and ticket (at that time we were using a fax). So I did, without the superior general knowing about it. They sent me a new ticket to go to Tanzania through Kampala, Uganda.
Having everything ready for my travel I thanked the mother general and the sisters for their love and hospitality. I told them that I had to go back home for my mission instead of becoming a French citizen.
So that’s how I made it back home, through Kampala to Bukoba.
How and when did you go back to Burundi?
I stayed in Bukoba for a month. They did not want to send me back to Burundi while there was still a war. Even some of my sisters told me, “We are very happy that you are lucky, you are safe, because the war started when you were not in the country.” But at heart, I was not feeling comfortable. I thought maybe God through Bishop Roger Mpungu had sent me to Europe to study French and hospital administration so that I could help those people during the war. And our sisters were still there. Nobody went to bring them home. So I waited for a week, two weeks. After a month, I knocked on the superior general’s door: “Hi mother. What is next?” She said, “Oh, how can I dare to send you back to Burundi while it is at war? What would your parents think of me?” But I told her, “For me, I’m ready to go.” And fortunately, the people making noise saying “don’t go” were not my parents. My parents have never been an obstacle for my mission.
I said, “My parents are out of this business and, myself, I would love to go back to serve.” And I told her, “Mother, you sent these sisters and me without our consent. You told us to be missionaries and we did, saying, ‘Yes ma’am.’ Since the war broke out you have never been there to see how the sisters are doing. Is that fair, mother?” She’s like, “Oh my goodness. That’s true, but we are afraid and we don’t know how to get there.” I said, “It’s safe; myself, I’m not scared. I’m ready to go.” So that’s how the superior general and some of the counselors went with me to Burundi.
We arrived at Gasorwe parish in Burundi. It was very scary. We were in the hot zone where they were fighting—the rebels and the soldiers. We could hear them shooting, bombing villages. Our convent was about 100 kilometers away from the Tanzanian border.
I had never heard anything about war in my life, and the situation numbed my senses for a while. To me it was a new experience. The superior general spent only one day, and the second day she didn’t have the grace to stay. It was for us, who had a calling to be missionaries, I guess. So they went back home and we stayed in that war. I’m really still wondering how we dared to stay? Can you imagine, Katherine: you are here, you know me, and then you witness someone you know chopping off my head and the brain is draining out on your eyes. That was our daily life. We went through this for almost 10 years.
Yes. I was there for almost 10 years. I returned to Burundi in 1993 and I left in 2002. I asked my superior general to leave because when rebels came, they were aiming at the leader of the community. So I was the one targeted. At the same time, I was the one who was not quiet, who seemed crazy and mischievous. I don’t know what was on my mind.
I was on fire rescuing innocent victims and defending them, even helping men to escape the country. I would do anything in my power to help. The war was real. Desperate people would bring and leave babies and children at the convent gates during the night. When one opened the gates in the morning, we would find babies: nine months, one year old, two years, three years. What do you do? You just take them in.
But when the bishop of that diocese got the news that we were hosting children at our convent, he came furiously saying: “Sister Prudentiana, are you running crazy? Who told you to open this orphanage? I brought you from Tanzania with your sisters not to open orphanages but to run the hospital and do parish work. What and why are you doing this?” I said, “My Lord, I’m not doing it because I want to. But instead of waiting for the foreigners to do everything for us, let us do the little we can.” And then he asked me, “Do you have enough to feed these children?” I replied, “We are sharing what you give us.”
And the bishop said, “Can you guarantee the future of these children?” I said, “My Lord, you cannot guarantee your future. I can’t guarantee mine. How can I guarantee the future for these children? But let us take care of them day by day. God will take care of their future.”
Then the bishop said, “Okay, I’m leaving; but if you sisters won’t stop this, I don’t have anything for you.” So he left. After a few days, some international organizations came in. They knew about what we were doing and that we were Tanzanians. They came looking for the sister who spoke French. We were afraid, we thought they might take me with them, so my sisters tried to hide me. But eventually I voluntarily showed up and said, “I’m here; I am the one.”
At that time, we had about 90 children in our compound, in a convent that was built to accommodate five sisters. Now we had 90 children under the same roof. The corridors were full and our lounge. We had babies up to one year, two years old who didn’t know if we were dressed or not, so we would share our bedrooms with those angels. The older ones were sleeping in the corridor. That’s how we survived.
So when the international organization came and asked whether we had an orphanage here, I said, “No, no, no.” But you know, you cannot hide kids. When they were everywhere they heard people coming: “Oh, the wazungu are here!” They came waving at them, shaking hands. The kids were so many, and dirty. But you could not hide them. Our visitors asked, “Do you have an orphanage here?” I said, “No, we don’t.” Then they asked, “Why do you have all these children?” I said, “If I came to your family and called your children orphans, how would you feel?” “I would feel bad,” some replied, saying that those children were orphans. I said, “Who told you that? This is our convent, this is our family.” I asked them to come with me. I showed them the open kitchen saying, “We are cooking here, we are sharing our bedrooms with them, and some are sleeping in the corridor. Where is the orphanage?” One of them asked me, “So you don’t need any help from us. Do you want us to leave?” I said, “Yes, I don’t need your help.” They left, and the sisters asked, “But why didn’t you ask them for help?” I said, “Who told you that they are going to help us? Maybe they were hoping to see that we had no help so they could take the kids from us.” After they left, I think they were moved and touched by the way we treated them, and the way we were so committed to rescue vulnerable children.
The next day, as usual, I was working at the parish, but I was also in charge of Caritas and taking care of the refugees within the country. On that same day the international team came to our convent while I was at work. I saw our kids came running. “Mother, mother, those people who came yesterday, they came again today.” I asked, “How many of you did they take with them?” “None” was the children’s answer as they ran joyfully back to the convent. I went after them to check, and I found out they brought food, rice, blankets, and other utensils. I thanked God for the intervention. With what I got I could even feed people in the villages for almost six months. And that’s how I did that.
What was the organization that came?
There were many organizations. During the war, we didn’t even look to see who was who. But they were from one of the international organizations. We were helped by people from within the country and some from abroad. Some spoke French, English, whatever. We didn’t even bother to know the details. They eventually left.
Through this experience, I came to know that some men were targeted to be killed by fighters. So I convinced their families, particularly their wives, to allow us to help their husbands escape the country. I escorted them to the Tanzanian border so that they could go to the refugee camps. I promised to give food only once a day to the families left behind. They came to our convent with their kids every day. We did not have enough, it was scanty, but it was better than nothing. And we could not give food to a mother to feed a child when you were not present. They were hungry, and she might take everything for herself. So we had to sit there and feed the child. Our mission was basically to deal with what the day brought in.
I helped many men to escape the country because we had an ambulance from Italy. I would drive them at least to a walking distance from the boarder to the refugee camps. But it was very risky. We knew that we were going to meet there with either the soldiers or the rebels. We had no choice.
We did this work for some time, and I realized I was traumatized. But at that time, the orphanage had started and was running well. I dared to ask the superior general if I could come return to my country. And when I came home, she asked me where I would prefer to go for a sabbatical. I said, “I would like to go to France, because our congregation is St. Therese of the Child Jesus, who was born in Normandy, France." That’s where I wanted to go for one year, but she refused saying, “No, no, no, you cannot go to France, because it is a French-speaking country and there, you’ll be hearing about the war all the time. You will never recover from your traumas. I will send you to the United States." I was puzzled and said, “No, I’m not going to the United States.” I didn’t know that in the United States you have some places, like up country, with some quiet locations. I thought everything was big buildings everywhere. I didn’t like that, which is why I was reluctant to go. I did not know English any more, even the scanty English I had had already disappeared, as I was fluent in French and Swahili. That is why I asked myself what I was going to do in the United States.
The superior general assured me that there were some sisters’ age mates studying in the same state so they would look after me. I eventually accepted on condition that I wanted to go to a remote area. I didn’t want to stay in big cities, even though I knew nothing concerning the remote areas I was proposing. So the process happened fast. Mother superior immediately called the sisters who were studying, but instead of applying for a one-year sabbatical for me, through their own kindness, they said, “As far as we know her, she is intelligent, so why don’t we find her a scholarship. She can come, and after the rehabilitation she can study whatever she wants.” I realized it when I got the papers for the visa. I thought they had sent me the wrong papers. I said, “I’m not going to study, I’m going for sabbatical.” The superior general told me, “Oh, oh, just go. And then you’ll work it out with your fellow sisters in the United States.”
What did you do in the United States?
That’s how I found myself here in the United States. Because I wanted to go up the country, they sent me to a beautiful state, Florida, with tropical weather. I enrolled at Saint Leo University, a Catholic university in Tampa. Professional counselors rehabilitated me from my war traumas, because upon my arrival I didn’t like to hear anybody or anything making noise, or to see somebody jogging towards me. I was automatically scared and I would ask, “Why is he coming towards me?” as if I was the only person on the road. I didn’t like to hear even fireworks. Thank God people around were loving, kind, and sympathetic. I am always grateful to them; they revived my spirit and soul. For me, Florida is my second home.
During my studies, I was staying at the Benedictine Sisters of Florida’s Holy Name Monastery in Saint Leo. The sisters made me feel at home. I will never forget the hospitality and thoughtfulness I experienced in the United States. Imagine during the war we were not able to access communication devices. I didn’t know how to use computers. Also, the little English I had was gone; I was somehow lost. But when I went to class and the professor asked us to write the first paper, I said, “Yes, madam, fine, but myself, I don’t know how to use the computer. So maybe I’ll write by hand.” She looked at me and I think she could hardly believe what she heard. “Okay.” She thought, probably, “This poor nun will not make it.” However, I wrote and handed in my first the paper, and when she returned it, it was marked “flag, flag, flag.” I wondered what she really meant; “What does flag mean?” I knew the American flag, but here she meant, “This is not English.”
The students were so kind. They started calling me “Sister Puddy.” Students would tell me, “Sister Puddy, don’t worry, we are here to help you. You will to make it.” They were with me. I was a grownup, and those teenagers were with me whenever I needed their assistance, asking me, “Let us see what have you done!” Another one would say, "Come with me to the learning center." I made tremendous progress, very fast. After one semester, the professor asked my class, “Would you allow me to post Sister Puddy’s first paper on the school website?” “Oh no, no,” my classmates shouted at her, saying, “That would be humiliating to her.” But I myself told the professor: “If that post is for helping some desperate students to learn from it, go ahead and do it. Show them that there is always a chance to succeed.” So the professor posted my first paper and the paper I wrote at the end of the first semester.
At Saint Leo University, I was taking theology, not medical classes anymore. I took pastoral theology and counseling. I graduated with a master’s degree. To my big surprise, I got two awards from Saint Leo. And I said if I didn’t get people to accommodate me, to understand me, to assist me, to walk an extra mile with me, I would not have made it. I arrived there almost losing my head, and at the end of my stay I returned to my country completely renewed. I was ready to do anything to make a difference in other people’s lives. I still believe what I acquired abroad is meant for other people, not for me. That’s why I am motivated to serve God by serving others.
What was your next chapter after you returned from recovery and studies?
I would say after my recovery, while I was still studying at Saint Leo, I combined it with fundraising for St. Therese of the Little Flower Orphanage in the Muyinga diocese in Burundi, because when I left Burundi, the sisters with their meager resources were almost ready to send the orphans away on the street. They said they had run out of the little stock of food they had. When I got such sad news, I asked myself, almost blamed myself, who had started that orphanage without a reliable source of income. I couldn’t imagine abandoning kids we once rescued! We brought these kids when they were babies, some at the early stage of their childhood. At that time, they did not know the value of living and now they were aware of life and suffering. And now how could one dare to send them to an unknown world?
I am glad I went out doing mission appeals. If you go to Burundi, you will be amazed to see all the infrastructures the orphanage now has. People in the United States are very kind and very generous. They tried to understand and were moved by my story, in spite of my poor English. Thank God I showed their pictures on a panel, me with those kids during that war. “Oh my goodness,” viewers said. “She is the nun who is talking to us.” They were surprised and wondered how I dared do such a risky mission. Many donors contributed to construct buildings for those kids. As the orphans grew older, we enrolled them in different schools. Some have graduated from universities and vocational schools. Some who formerly suffered from severe malnutrition, physical and mental retardation, and traumas couldn’t make it to acquire higher education, but we have been assisting them to build up their dignified future life. We bought them plots of land, put up a small family house, maybe gave them some animals to raise when establishing their independence.
At the end of my studies, I had many friends already who tried to convince me to stay in the United States for a good course. They proposed to give me a house near the parish so that I could continue making mission appeals and then send funds to Burundi and Tanzania to support noble mission work. That was a great idea, but I told my friends I also needed physically to be back home. I can keep returning to raise funds for a month or two and then go back. They understood me and that is how I went back home. But I sometimes come to the United States to raise funds for our orphanages and other projects for girls and women’s empowerment.
I wish I had the power to predict the future. I would have agreed to prolong my stay in Florida at least for one year, because on my arrival in Tanzania, a few months later, I was elected to be a superior general. Just imagine! I had been outside my country, my congregation, for almost 20 years. After a short time trying to readapt myself, I was elected as a superior general. I thought I was dreaming! I asked myself, "Why me?" I had no clue how former leaders succeeded. I didn’t have connections with local supporters who could support my work! I was like a stranger in my own motherland. But God helped me a lot. He opened many good hearts who supported and assisted me to demonstrate my capability for my mandate. Luckily, sisters of my religious order were cooperative and supportive too, which made my responsibility a bit lighter. That is how I completed successfully my term of six years.
Were you still in Bukoba?
Yes. When I returned to Bukoba, I was appointed by the superior general to use the funds I raised to establish a capacity-building multipurpose center, meant to empower unprivileged girls and women. Unfortunately, a big part of the buildings were demolished by an earthquake which hit our region in September 2016, particularly in Bukoba where we are located. I also dared to establish a seminary for girls in Rubya.
I can witness that it is good education that has brought me this far. I support the idea of running vocational schools for those who are underprivileged. But I highly recommend that we need another group of girls and women to get a good higher education so that they can occupy important positions in the system where they can voice for women and eventually change the system. Helping African girls and women to just acquire skills will not position them to fight for their rights, but will perpetuate discrimination against women. They will continue to suffer from injustice.
As one of the solutions, when I was a superior general, my counselors and I decided to start a seminary for girls. We have several secondary schools, but this seminary is meant to prepare future nuns because we are aging. It is a right time to form, train, and educate girls who are devoted and committed to continue our missionary work. But at the end of their high school education, we are not forcing them to become nuns. Some will quit and join secular life. That is fine, too. But at the time they graduate from our seminary, we hope they will become strong women in the future. They will have a great impact in advocacy and leadership. We also started another Kashozi Vocational Training Center for those girls I’ve been talking about. And at the same time, I continued supporting the orphanage in Burundi.
Are there many from Burundi now in Tanzania still, from the refugees? I know that there was a lot of movement. But they’ve gone back?
They have returned to their country, Burundi. There are no more refugee camps. They had a few at the border, but I guess they also have returned home. If there are refugees, they’re on the other side of the border, but not where I was sending men who escaped the genocidal war.
At the completion of my mandate as a superior general in November 2015, I came again to Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, for a two-year sabbatical program. I returned to Tanzania and lived in Dar es Salaam. We had our general chapter 2021, and they elected me as a superior general deputy. I’m also a coordinator of the sisters working with women, girls, schools, hospitals, and also social work, as well as director of religious formation in our congregation. I am trying to bloom where I am planted by the Almighty God.
That’s a large and critical agenda. How many people are in your congregation?
We are 430 members working in Tanzania, and some are in Burundi and Kenya. In Kenya, we have only a few who are teaching. In Burundi, we have one community up to now. They are running the hospital and the orphanage where we have more than a hundred children. We still get those who are coming not from war, but from some children-led families due to poverty. Some stay at the orphanage; some stay in families, but we have to support them as they go to school; some build up their lives by involving themselves in small businesses. I feel very compassionate towards them. I’m doing this with that spirit of loving children since I was a child. God has showered me with many spiritual children from different countries, so I do not regret not having biological children.
I still remember at my father’s funeral, at his grave, the emcee announced that it was time for the grandchildren to surround their grandfather. All my siblings gathered their kids. I was the only one left behind, but something amazing was about to happen. You know, my father used to come to Burundi during that war. He was courageous. He brought us food he collected for our center. He also came to give us spiritual and moral support. He prayed a novena with us to encourage us to keep up the good work, suffering with people and also helping people of God who were desperate due to the terrifying war. So those kids knew him. And when he died, they were there. And people couldn’t understand when they saw this group coming and surrounding the grave as well. The priest asked: “And where are these Burundian children going? What are they going to do?” They said, “Oh, we just came to support our mom, Sister Prudentiana. Her father, Mr. Andres, is our grandfather.” So you see, God gave me the children I desired since my childhood.
And that’s why even now, I believe when we keep supporting the sisters to have this spirit, to accompany these girls, to accompany these women, to accompany these wonderful orphans, we can make a big difference in the lives of many, wherever we are planted. I strongly believe that without women, empowered, the world will never change, particularly in Africa. If women are not capable to stand on their own and take responsibilities, the whole world will gradually fall apart. In my experience, I have seen that the few women whom we have helped have made big, tremendous changes. So I’m very concerned and I am on fire for women’s empowerment, women’s liberation. I was so happy and moved by very touching life experience stories shared by the sisters during the Women in Faith Leadership Fellowship sessions at Georgetown University.
If you were the president of Tanzania, what would you do?
Education. For me, the first thing would be good higher education.
So what’s wrong with education? Is it the quality of schools? Is it the teachers?
It’s the quality of schools. Also, good higher education opportunities given to girls have to be life-lasting. You can say we are establishing many schools, but what matters most is quality. If the teachers are not well paid, they won’t work sufficiently. They can hardly concentrate and commit themselves to teaching. I can say that in Tanzania, the government has been trying to put up many good schools nowadays. This is a big step that I’m seeing happening now. But it should not end there. They should also do the follow-up to see whether the teachers are really teaching. We should not have good buildings and many children enrolled in schools to end up with poor performance. For me this first step is important, which our President Samia Suluhu Hassan has taken.
What we gained from our first president, Julius Kambarage Nyerere, is brotherhood. Wherever I meet a Tanzanian, whether he or she is from Somalia or any other region in Tanzania, whether Muslim or Christian, we are ndugu, brothers. This spirit has a great value and it takes us far. I believe when you have these strong bonds, they are better than money or any other material things. That’s what we gained from Nyerere. I think his socialism, his political policy, did us some good. We can now together make material progress. However, it sounds to me that we have already failed capitalism. Whatever change may come, we Tanzanians have always to embrace our treasured bond of brotherhood.