ACN Feature Story – Helping women in Cape Verde, Africa16 May 2019, by ACN Canada, Adapted by Julie Bourbeau and Amanda Griffin, By Robert Lalonde, Journey with ACN in
Cape Verde Archipelago – Africa
Moving ahead for women who have nothing left
During a trip to the Cape Verde Archipelago in February 2019, Robert Lalonde, a regular Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) contributor, spoke with Sister Romualda Tavares, the provincial leader of the Daughters of the Holy Heart of Mary for Cape Verde, which also includes Guinea-Bissau in its territory. The Cape Verde Archipelago is a small island country located off the northwestern coast of Africa and is comprised of ten islands, nine of which are inhabited.
The country includes two dioceses, that of Santiago – the oldest in modern Africa – and that of Mindelo, which serves a population of 535,000 inhabitants, 90% of whom are Christians. Among its many congregations, that of the Daughters of the Holy Heart of Mary (DHHM), in addition to being the oldest Indigenous congregation, is, by far, the one with the greatest number of this country’s communities, with nine.
In addition to helping me appreciate the breathtaking beauty of Santiago Island, my visit with Sister Romualda gave me the opportunity to meet nearly all of the forty sisters who are part of six communities surrounding them on the island: Calcheta (2), Praia – the capital –, Santiago, Somada and Tarrafal . Aspirants, postulants and novices who will ensure the future of the congregation are added to these Sisters, all Cape Verdeans.
During our trip, Sister Romualda shared with me the worries she has for each one of them, while never losing sight of the gratitude she feels towards those who came before her: “I arrived as an aspirant in the Calecheta community in 1976, the first one founded by the DHHM in Cape Verde and was welcomed by Sister Regina, a pioneer who gave us everything. “
This visionary Sister knows that, to bear fruit, it is essential to feed its roots, but also the hope of a better world by giving our heart and soul. Keen on preserving the exemplary unity reigning among her communities, it is with the same enthusiasm that she told me about one and the other. And, while there are many urgent projects to complete, when the time came to favour one, she chose Terrafal, a small town located at the edge of the sea.
A few years ago, the DHHM were planning the construction of a building which would include a social centre and a residence for the Sisters. This centre, whose vocation is to provide daycare for children and to teach women various manual activities and also to get them out of an environment of domestic violence is partially in operation today.
However, while the community has the land, the project to build a residence could not be realized. Thus, the Sisters must live in the centre which is their place of work. This situation becomes problematic for several reasons, some being fundamental, since life in community isn’t lived according to the rules of the constitution by which they are governed.
“As busy as we are with professional or apostolic work that our founder advocated, we preserve, at all costs, strong times of prayer, testament to our strength, vitality and apostolic effectiveness.” This life of prayer is the source from which they draw their apostolic dynamism.
However, by permanently staying at their work location, not only do the Sisters not gain perspective regarding their daily apostolate, but they also do not have a vantage point to experience together the essence of their spirituality. Furthermore, the locales that serve as bedrooms are on the second floor. This represents a major inconvenience for the aging Sisters whose physical health is declining.
They must also adapt to a temporary chapel, since it is located in a small room that was supposed to serve as a space for one of the activities related to the center’s vocation. This situation is surely not conducive to quality contemplation.
Lastly, what can we make of the consequences experienced by the people targeted by the project? The rooms used by the Sisters take away from the space for the activities planned for the women. For example, these spaces should instead serve as sewing rooms or spaces for other manual work, or transition places when they are victims of domestic violence. This means that women, deprived of such a space, are currently living in a precarious situation, both physically and psychologically. Consequently, they are prevented from engaging in a wellness process.