Sr. Jareen Aquino, MM, on mission in Tanzania, explains how the girls she accompanies are responding to their call to mission.
Wherever you are and whatever situation you find yourself in, we are all called to mission and be witnesses to the Gospel. The question now is, how do we answer such a summons? And if we do act on this call, how do we rise to the challenges we face when our witness is not welcomed?
Just like Amos and the 12 apostles, the young women whom I have been accompanying here in Arusha, Tanzania at the Emusoi Centre have been called to preach and enlighten minds. Through their education at the Emusoi Centre, an educational center for young girls primarily of the Maasai ethnic group, the girls are bridging their rich heritage with the demands of modern society. They bring change to their communities and expand the perspectives of their communities when it comes to the roles of women. Lastly, by believing in themselves, they are creating better options for themselves and for others.
I have this activity that I would often do with my pre-secondary students in which I would ask them what symbol they would use to describe themselves. A couple of them would usually draw that they can be symbolized by fertilizer, (mbolea), water (maji), soil (udongo), sun (jua), stone (mchanga), cabinet (kabati) and light (mwanga). Even though they choose different symbols to represent themselves, there was a common theme in all their answers: they chose symbols of what will be good for their families and communities. Young as they are, the students already have this idea that they are not just undergoing education for themselves.
When these young women go back to their villages, either after they finish school or when it is safe enough to go home during school vacations, they are preaching in their own way how important it is to educate girls. Changing and/or expanding perspectives on the role of women is a long process, especially in a culture where the role of women and girls is limited primarily to being commodities to be exchanged during marriage.
When the apostles were not welcome, they were told to shake the dust off their feet and depart, but it is different with the girls. I have seen how these young women persevere in handling all the obstacles that they encounter. Oftentimes they are taunted and discouraged by friends and family members to continue with their schooling. Some would succumb to the taunting and would not come back.
I often ask those girls who do come back as to why they persevere. The most common answer that I get is, “Sister, I have a dream. I have my goals in life.” They seem to have this inner drive in them to show and prove to their communities that this is what happens when a girl goes to school: they become confident, independent, brave, helpful, smart and hardworking. In this way, they answer their call to mission.
Photo: Sr. Jareen Aquino (back row, center) and some students at the Emusoi Centre in Tanzania. Courtesy of Sr. Jareen.