Stories from Africa

A Sanctuary of Hope

“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way it treats its children.”

—    Nelson Mandela

On the wall of francisca Anyango’s office is a little sign that reads: “Children are like wet cement. Whatever touches them leaves a mark.” As head teacher of Our Lady of Nazareth Primary School (OLN), a Marianist-sponsored school in Mukuru — a slum in Nairobi, Kenya — she knows intimately how children at a tender age are marked by life. Hunger, abuse, loss of family members due to AIDS, biting poverty — all leave tell­- tale signs.

The Marianists are committed to leaving another kind of mark on these children — one filled with hope and possibility. The foundation of that hope is education. “They need a lot of hope,” says Kennedy Kamaranda, an administrator who left his blue-chip job in an international corporation to oversee the operation of the school. “I know that hope is never built without God, but comes from a deep knowing of God.

“If they are hope filled, then you can get them interested in school,” he adds. “They have reason to learn.”


Empowering the Poor of Kenya

“[He] has raised the lowly to high places.”

—    The Magnificat, Luke 1:52

It was January 1987, and Veronica Wambui Gateri had just turned 21, the threshold of her adult life. While many young people this age are brimming with possibility, the young Kenyan woman found herself on the brink of despair. Three months pregnant, with no husband and no means of supporting herself, she had decided to abort her baby. But a chance meeting with a Marianist brother would change that.

“It changed everything about my life,” says Veronica, now 40. “If I hadn’t met Brother Peter Daino, I wouldn’t be where I am today … and my son wouldn’t be alive.”


The Power of Human Connections

In 2007 when Rachel Woeste was a fifth-grader at Bishop Leibold School in Miamisburg, Ohio, she began writing to her pen pal Denis Osoro, a student at Our Lady of Nazareth Primary School, a Marianist-sponsored school in Nairobi, Kenya. Rachel and Denis are separated by nearly 8,000 miles and two continents.

Rachel, who lives with her parents and two younger siblings just south of Dayton, Ohio, has noticed many differences between her life and that of Denis, who lives with his parents and four brothers in a house made of corrugated iron with a dirt floor.


Life as a Marianist Volunteer

Katherine (Kat) Brumm, a native of Strawberry Point, a small town in northeastern Iowa, was enjoying her second year at Wartburg College in nearby Waverly when her parents arrived on campus one day to deliver sobering news.

“I was diagnosed with malignant melanoma,” says the 27-year-old who is participating in her first year in the Marianist Volunteer Program (MVP) in Karonga, Malawi, a country in southeastern Africa. Battling a life-threatening illness at age 20 taught her a lot, she says. “You realize that life is short and you’re not invincible. I had to ask myself, ‘What have I done that has mattered? Have I done anything for anyone else?’ In that moment, I felt so selfish. I told myself that if I got through this cancer thing, I wanted to do something for others.”


MIRACLE in Malawi

By the time Annie Mhango celebrated her 17th birthday, she had watched with horror the deaths of three close family members. First her mother died from HIV/AIDS in 2000. Then her father succumbed to the illness the following year. But when her sister-in-law, who had become her guardian, died suddenly from kidney failure in 2002, Annie’s inner reserve was gone. “We were very close,” she says. “She was like a mother to me.”

Without the support of those dearest to her, Annie languished in a state of depression and uncertainty. She kept herself going with a part-time job at a bookstore until one day she discovered MIRACLE, a training program for AIDS orphans operated by the Marianists in Karonga, Malawi, a few hours drive from her hometown of Mzuzu.

“I was accepted into the program last year. I am grateful to the Lord from deep down in my heart that I am here,” says Annie.


The Sky’s the Limit

As a young child, Maurice Otieno Nyang’oro watched planes fly over his home in Mukuru kwa Njenga, one of Nairobi’s largest slums. He dreamed of flying away.

“Ever since I can remember, I’ve wanted to fly,” says Maurice. Thanks to Marianist-funded scholarships and the compassion of many in the Marianist world, opportunities are opening for Maurice— and several of his peers — to make their way out of Mukuru forever.


For Everything There is a Season

According to Scripture, there is a time for everything under heaven. For the Marianists in Eastern Africa, there was a time to plant. Starting with their arrival in 1957, they began to grow a Marianist presence in Kenya, Zambia and Malawi. But the signing of the Lusaka Declaration in 1979 — a document formally declaring their intention to recruit African Marianists in the Society of Mary — gave their work greater focus and direction.

Now, more than 30 years later, it is time to reap the rewards of that work. In a celebration in May, Marianists from around the globe gathered in Nairobi to witness the handing over of leadership responsibility to African Marianists and the newly formed independent Region of Eastern Africa. It also was an occasion to honor the legacy of those who made this possible.


Unlocking the World

The Ujamaa Family Centre, a Marianist adult educational program in Nairobi, opens doors to opportunity.

Teresia Motari is not your typical student. But by American standards, nothing about Teresia’s life is typical. For the past 15 years she’s been living with her husband, Alfred, and their three children in Mukuru kwa Njenga — a slum on the outskirts of Nairobi.

By some estimates, nearly 600,000 people live in Mukuru, a makeshift squatter’s camp that is notorious for its squalor, disease and high crime rates.

“Life here is very difficult,” says Teresia, noting that food, water and medicine are hard to obtain and sanitary conditions are deplorable. “It is not a good place to raise children.”


“I’m a Graduate of Chaminade”

A diploma from a Marianist high school in Karonga, Malawi – coupled with enormous determination – helps thousands of students forge a path out of poverty.

Meet Lyson Mswazi Mlenga, a native of Malawi, who in 1990 was given an opportunity to earn a high school diploma in a country where 97 percent of its young people never cross that finish line. That’s because Malawi is a country so undeveloped, even by African standards, it teeters on the brink of disaster. The statistics tell a sobering story.

According to United Nations’ estimates, Malawi ranks among the poorest and least developed countries in the world. Most people eke out a living as subsistence farmers. (The average household earns less than 50 cents a day.) For many, there is never enough food. Children suffer the most, with 48 percent chronically malnourished. Health statistics reveal a country in crisis: Twelve percent of its 14 million people are infected with HIV/AIDS; life expectancy hovers at age 38; and more than a million children have been orphaned as a result of AIDS.


A Place to Honor Mary

Forty-two years in the making, a Marian shrine in Zambia has become a place for spiritual renewal and forgiveness.

You could say it was perfect timing. In 1969, Marianist Father Anthony Jansen arrived in Zambia, a country in southern Africa. He had been called to serve as a chaplain at Matero Boys Secondary School, a Marianist sponsored school in Lusaka, the capital.

That same year, the Archbishop of Lusaka began soliciting people to help build a permanent Marian shrine for the archdiocese. Father Anthony and a handful of others embraced the challenge — one that began a 42-year journey.


An Appetite for Learning

Students at Our Lady of Nazareth Primary School, a Marianist-sponsored school in Nairobi, are eager to learn — once their hunger pangs have been satisfied. 

On a bright day last fall the entire student body of Our Lady of Nazareth Primary School, a Marianist-sponsored school in Kenya, marked a momentous event: Every student in the school ate breakfast. At a school in the developed world, the achievement would have passed unnoticed. At OLN, however, located in the heart of Mukuru — one of Nairobi’s largest slums — it was cause for celebration.

“For me, breakfast in the morning is a given. For them, it’s a victory,” says Chris Hill, a University of Dayton graduate and wildlife photographer who launched the school’s “Uji Porridge Program” in 2006. “I am overwhelmed when I realize how happy and grateful these kids are for something as simple as breakfast.”