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Women work in a garden and starter plants begin to grow in tiny pots

March 28, 2024, New York, New York – Dominican Sisters around the world continue to dedicate their lives to empowering women and work to eradicate poverty, especially in the areas of human trafficking, asylum, and the dangers that women and children face in combat areas.
Dominican Sisters from Brazil, Cameroon, and Ireland spoke of their work during a “Dominican Webinar: Our Commitment to Empowerment of Women and the Eradication of Poverty.” Hosted by Adrian Dominican Sister Durstyne Farnan, OP, Dominican Representative at the United Nations, the webinar was held March 19, 2024, during the second week of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) 68, March 11-22, 2024. “We hope you will learn more about the Dominican commitment,” Sister Durstyne said in her introduction. 
“Human trafficking is the result of the misery of the economic system that commodifies people and doesn’t respect human rights,” said Sister Sandra Camilo Ede-Brasileira of the Cry for Life Network (Um Grito Pela Vita) in Brazil. The inter-congregational network works to combat and prevent human trafficking, which includes sexual exploitation of women and child labor. “Our network is a space for prophetic action and solidarity, linked to the religious conference of Brazil,” Sister Sandra said.
Survivors of human trafficking receive support from psychologists and by participating in handicraft and baking projects, Sister Sandra said. “We can fight for wounded people with a praxis that can free them,” she said. “Our network gives us the creativity to start from different points of view,” developing models that can address the issues of society.
Sister Sandra said the network also holds awareness campaigns. “A person who is aware of this reality can really open their eyes to the situation,” she said. 
Sister Marie Cleide Pires de Andrade, OP, also from Brazil, works with other Sisters to combat domestic violence and to accompany its victims. “This is the experience of many women in this social context marked by inequality,” she said. A member of the Dominican Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Sister Cleide said the emphasis is on “encouraging self-knowledge and self-esteem” among the women through activities that enhance their daily lives.
Sister Cleide used the community garden where the women work as a metaphor for the Sisters’ ministry with the women. “The seeds have been sown, such as spaces for welcome, friendship, listening, and raising awareness,” she said. “We want to continue dreaming and sowing seeds of joy and hope.… We are bearers of light.”
Sister Linda Nkechi Korie, OP, a Dominican Sister of Blessed Imelda, helps women combat poverty through services such as childcare. The Sisters of Blessed Imelda have worked for women’s empowerment for the past 40 years and now have six communities in three regions, building schools wherever they are, she said. 
She focused on efforts to educate girls and women, noting that 129 million school-age girls are not attending classes. “Early marriage, poverty, low family income, large distance to schools, lack of school infrastructure – all these factors contribute to increasing the social gap in the region” because of lack of education, she said. 
The Dominican Sisters of Blessed Imelda strive to provide schooling for more girls by offering scholarships. “We have sent 600 to schools, but that’s not enough,” Sister Linda said. She added that the Sisters are also building more schools to make up for many that have been destroyed.
In addition, Sister Linda said that the Sisters train women through income-generating skills, such as producing soap, and have employed many women in their schools.
Also in Cameroon, Sister Joseph Ngo Ndezeba serves at the St. Dominic Multipurpose Center in Balikumbat, in a conflict zone. “The schools have been shut down for a very long time; therefore, the children have been deprived of education and feel abandoned,” she said. “Girls are prey to unwanted pregnancies and unwanted marriages.”
Sister Joseph said the St. Dominic Multi-purpose Center trains girls to care for themselves and their children through education and training in crafts, home management, and masonry to build a decent home for themselves. The center is also opening the first technical school in the region.
Sister Marie Williams, the Coordinator of the Dominican Justice and Peace Office of the Dominican Sisters of Cabra, Ireland, spoke of the Young Mothers’ Network. Sponsored by her office, the network serves young immigrant mothers who came to Ireland seeking asylum and are now living in Ireland’s Direct Provision System. This system of accommodation centers provides asylum seekers with room and board, food, and healthcare until they are allowed to live independently. 
Sister Marie spoke of the hardships of this system. “The average length of stay is three years, but some have stayed for nine years,” she said. “People don’t have a say in where they live. A person or family could be moved without warning.” In some cases, she said, people are moved into tents.
One particular aspect of the poverty faced by families in the Direct Provision System is shame. “The women speak of the humility of being known by a number and only being spoken of by their needs,” she said. “They want to be recognized and valued for themselves.”
Sister Marie said that the Young Mothers’ Network offers women and their children a sense of dignity and recognition. Mothers in Direct Provision are invited to monthly peer meetings, where they can listen to talks on topics such as their essential rights. 
“When the women in the group give us feedback, they speak to us about the sense of being accompanied and the friendship and support they have found in the group,” Sister Marie said. “They no longer feel alone. This humanizing experience with others helps them the most – simply being there with others.” 
The webinar concluded with concerns from young Dominican students. Maddie and Emily – a sophomore and a senior at Dominican High School in Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin – spoke of the small things that young people can do to make a difference in the world. Tatswana and Michelle spoke of aspects of life in their nation, Zimbabwe, that keep women from achieving their potential: the lack of access to finances, early marriage, and teen pregnancies. Erin, Eva, and Katilyn shared a statement by Dominican girls on the importance of education. 
The webinar was presented by the Dominican Leadership Conference (DLC) in the United States and the Dominican Sisters International Confederation.

White woman with gray hair and glasses stands at a podium. Another white woman with gray hair stands t the side. In front of the podium are attached 5 photos of the rainforest and on a table sits lit candles and some artifacts

March 7, 2024, Adrian, Michigan – Adrian Dominican Sisters Lorene Heck, OP, and Mary Priniski, OP, recently made their second trip to the Amazon Rainforest in Ecuador, renewed their acquaintance with the local Achuar people, and learned from them about their cultures and the need to preserve the rainforest and all of Earth.

In a February 14, 2024, presentation, Sisters Lorene and Mary recounted their experiences of traveling from one rainforest village to another on three-hour canoe rides, hiking in the jungle, being reunited with members of the Achuar community, and their many encounters and lessons learned from the Achuar communities. 

Their trip at the end of 2023 was a follow-up to their first tour of the Amazon Rainforest in Ecuador in November 2022. The 2022 trip gave Sister Lorene, Director of the Congregation’s Ministry Trust Fund, the opportunity to experience firsthand the Ecotourism project of the Achuar people, funded in part by a Ministry Trust grant. 

“The Ministry Trust Fund has made it possible for the Achuar to train guides for ecotourism,” Sister Lorene explained. “The Ministry Trust member initiative was introduced to the Achuar people by [the late] Sister Judy Bisignano, for whom the rainforest was a life-changing experience.” 

Sister Judy was the founder of Maketai, Inc., a nonprofit organization that supports the projects of the Achuar people. “Maketai means thank you, and [the Achuar people] are extremely grateful for any people who come and visit them because they really want people to know the importance of the rainforest and make a commitment to the maintenance of the sustainability of the rainforest,” Sister Mary explained. “Their big goal is to unite all the Achuar communities to work together to protect the rainforest.”  

The Ministry Trust also granted funds to the Achuars’ reforestation project, which involved planting 10,000 saplings. The Achuar community makes use of trees to build their homes. Reforesting is “part of their desire to preserve the rainforest and to be responsible stewards of the rainforest,” Sister Lorene said.

The importance of the rainforest is one of the lessons the Achuar people strive to teach the eco-tourists who visit them. But the lesson extends beyond the rainforest to the need to protect all of Earth. “When I think of what they’re doing [in Ecuador] and what we’re doing with our land, it’s all of a piece,” Sister Mary said. “How do we really allow for the Earth to flourish? We need to do our part here as they’re trying to do their part there.”

Watch a video recording of the presentation.

Feature photo at top: Sisters Mary Priniski, OP, left, and Lorene Heck, OP, talk about their recent experiences in the Ecuadorian rainforest.



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