by Sister Sylvia Nyaboke Nyamira
As members of a Laudato Si’ community, School Sisters of Notre Dame (SSND) have begun seeing aspects of our mission and ministry through the lens of the Pope’s 2015 encyclical. The document asks many things of us, including that we act in solidarity with the most vulnerable among us.
As a former primary school teacher currently working at St. Francis Girls Secondary School in Kenya, I teach and work with teenagers who are most vulnerable due the environments they are growing up in.
Most of our students come from families where one or both parents are not present, families struggling with substance abuse, economic poverty, or stresses that leave very little time for their children. These factors have made our young people feel unloved and uncared for. Because they are in the stage of discovering themselves, teenagers are very sensitive; anything happening around them can build or destroy their self-esteem. This can lead students to find their identity in groups that ruin their lives as they look for that sense of belonging—a place they feel loved, accepted, and welcomed. I am grateful to be with them during this time.
In response to these challenges, our school administration introduced a guidance and counseling program and office. We have guidance and counseling time every Thursday. I am grateful to journey with the students in this office. The experiences are sometimes heartbreaking, but I take time to listen to them and be with the students. The students need to feel listened to and not judged—something most of them lack from the people they love. In cases of bigger issues, I refer students to another professional counselor with the help of my sisters. In addition to one-on-one meetings, we also have guidance sessions in the classrooms. Each class has chosen its own peer counselor who brings student concerns to me and helps me know and prepare for which topics I need to talk about with them.
The sisters and other workers try to instill Christian values such as love, respect, humility, and compassion so that students can go home and share them with the people they stay with. I also use my talents, especially in sports, to help students be creative and active; this has made them open to me. I join them during entertainment, prayer, choir practice, Young Catholic Students programs, class interactions, or any activity they do. This has helped me to know the students well and find out who has special needs. It always gives me joy to see a lot of improvement in students’ social, academic, spiritual, emotional, and physical lives. I have learned a lot from them.
As our charism as SSND states, we work to enable each individual to reach her/his fullest potential. As we see the greatness of each student, we try to work with parents to see how we can help the students. Sometimes it is not easy but by God’s grace we can see the fruits. I thank God for this great opportunity. He has entrusted me to be with these students, and I ask for His graces to lead me to be able to remain faithful to His mission, so that each and every one of us can be what God has called us to be.