SIERRA LEONE: Sisters take hope to one of the poorest countries in the world

Sister Gianna has a smile on her face as she speaks about her mission in Kambia, a place with no electricity or any other basic services. With her Sisters of Merciful Jesus, a congregation that is supported by Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), she does essential work in a country still recovering from the horrors of war.

Gianna is one of the three Sisters of the Merciful Jesus currently living in Kambia, Sierra Leone, where people lack basic services, like bathrooms and electricity, but above all retain hope for a better future, in a country still grappling with the ghosts of a civil war that tore the nation apart between 1991 and 2002, killing over 50,000 people and forcing more than half a million to flee from their homes. After the war came Ebola, and then the pandemic. In such a tragic setting, it is hard to keep dreams alive.

“Everywhere we go we try to show that God is love. We have not been here for long, but through our way of life we try to show what it means for God to be merciful, to be loving”, says Sister Gianna.

Sr. Gianna Smarzewska in front of St. Faustina's Day Care Center
Sr. Gianna Smarzewska in front of St. Faustina’s Day Care Center

Evangelising through example

The Polish sister arrived in Sierra Leone in 2016 and quickly began making big plans. The education level was very low and children and young people had difficulties writing and reading. The sisters wanted to open a local kindergarten and a pastoral centre for young people.

With ACN’s help, these dreams have now come true. “We were able to renovate this building, for the children to come to learn. We repaired the roof and built a bathroom. Now we can teach them how to use these things and improve their level of life. Children come every day, and they learn, study and play, but they also get a hot meal, which for them is rare. They are happy and they are lucky”, says Sister Gianna, expressing her deepest gratitude to all benefactors who helped make this possible.

Usually ACN does not support kindergartens, but Sierra Leone is a very special case, as schools and kindergartens are generally the only vehicle possible for evangelisation. The majority of the population is Muslim, but there is widespread respect for Christian values, since most of the educated inhabitants have been brought up in Catholic schools, and therefore parents have no problem in letting their children come into contact with Christianity, including prayer.

Sister Laura, polish sister from the congregation of Merciful Jesus, diocese of Makeni, Sierra Leone
Sister Laura, a Polish religious sister of the Congregation of Merciful Jesus.

This was how the Divine Mercy Centre was created. “There is a place where we can organise weekend retreats. We want to help the people to grow spiritually in faith. We, the sisters, want to remind everyone, that all of us are precious in God’s eyes because Jesus gave His life on the Cross for everyone”, the sister told ACN.

According to the local Church, the sisters’ presence has had a very positive impact on the life of the neighbourhood, especially for the youth and children.

There are around 100 children in the kindergarten now. Although they are very young, the sisters hope that their example will stay with them for the rest of their lives. “Most of the families are from around the compound. On Sundays they often dress their children up in their finest clothes and send them to pray with us. This kind of evangelisation is working. We cannot evangelise very much through words, but through our example I believe that many of these children might become close to Christ in the future.”

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