The Right To Be Here
When Sister Nida was home on vacation earlier this year, Mitzi Ramos interviewed her. Here she shares about her love for the young people of Tanzania.
‘Rais wa Tanzania ni nani?’ (‘Who is the current President of Tanzania?’) bluntly asked one student at Mslowa St Gaspar Bertoni Secondary School of his high school religion teacher who had just recently arrived and found herself in what was for her a completely new context. Drawing a blank, the student continued, ‘Kama hujui, wewe hufai kukaa hapa’ (‘If you don’t know, you don’t deserve to be here’.)
Strong words from one so young and yet Sister Nida Galera TC understood perfectly where this young person was coming from. Typical of the people in Mslowa, a small village in the district of Mikumi, Tanzania, was their deep love for their culture and a resistance to Western influence born out of their slave trade experience with Arabs. This is evident in the people’s straight-backed posture, due maybe to having to carry loads on their heads, they are not shy and have an air of dignity about them. This innate sense of racial pride coupled with the straightforwardness of youth accounted for the statement.
Sister Nida chose to be stationed in Tanzania. She was sent there in 1998 and has been there since, first as the religion teacher in their high school department, then taking on pastoral work in the boarding school and, after six years, the task of Head Mistress (Principal). Such positions placed her in close contact with the youth which fostered her vision for her life, ‘To spend my youth in the missions, offering what I can give, sharing my faith’.
Her love for young people and the ability to speak their language was something she had cultivated, inspired by the Legionnaires, as members of the Legion of Mary, of whom she was one, are commonly called. She sought to guide young people through activities and the space to grow, looking to their spiritual formation and clarification of human values – that they might choose in freedom.
She too, chose in freedom. Coming from East Rembo, Makati City, having finished a Bachelor of Science in Biology intending to be a doctor someday, taking up education units to teach and working as a production operator in a semi-conductor multinational company, Sister Nida had come a long way. Finding herself bored with the cycle of earning hard and spending money, she decided to try the ‘search-in’ offered by the Capuchin Tertiary Sisters of the Holy Family and found happiness in being other-centered for Christ’s sake. Soon after, she found herself in Tanzania together with four Colombian Sisters and one Tanzanian.
Language of Life
One essential tool that Sister Nida found to be most effective in being able to connect with the people was their language. To speak their language is to enter into their life, their culture, their particular world view. To speak the language of others enables one to belong to their culture and makes it easier to establish an authentic fraternal relationships.
Sister Nida became quite fluent in two types of language – the verbal and the non-verbal. Of the first, she had to learn three languages and to forget her own. After all, she lived in a community that required speaking to her fellow sisters who were not of Filipino descent and serving in a land that was foreign in all its nuances. The rewards of being able to speak their language though was one of enriched understanding of their cultures and being able to make herself to be understood and at the same time understand others. To better integrate into this culture, she turned to young people and asked them to instruct her. It was in the course of learning from them that the statement at the beginning of this article was uttered. Such honesty and directness could only be uttered in the context of a relationship in which young people felt heard, understood and accepted and loved.
The second language, the non-verbal, was learned by Sister Nida most especially from young people. She has learned that the key to being heard by them lies in the way she treats them and frequently being with them in their normal daily activities. Young people appreciate your being reasonable, giving time to present your rationale for your proposals. Not to do so, increases the possibility of young people rebelling. Sister Nida learned that to be listened to by young people, adults like herself needed to learn to listen to them as well and at times to be humble enough to accept their suggestions. This is not to say though that one should just let the young people lead. On the contrary, though they seek to be heard and given the chance to lead, they also appreciate firmness. Sister Nida shares that adults, though respecting the youth’s capacity to think, may guide them by suggesting good alternatives and then giving them the freedom to choose. And for her sometimes it is necessary to present negative alternatives to help them choose the good ones.
Her life's work
‘To spend my youth in the missions is my dream,’ shares Sister Nida and she likes the challenges that the mission work presents everyday of her life there in Tanzania. As she continues to ‘spend her youth’ serving in Msolwa St Gaspar Bertoni Secondary School owned by the Stigmatine Fathers, she seeks to instill in the minds and hearts, especially of the young, an experience of God in the most ordinary day-to-day aspects of their lives from the moment they wake-up until the time they rest in the evening; that their biological senses – sight, hearing and so on - can be used to feel God’s presence. For it is in experiencing God that real life, in all its richness, depth and meaning, is lived.
You may email Sister Nida at firstname.lastname@example.org or write her at Capuchin Tertiary Sisters, General Delegation Rosario de Soano, PO Box 1989, MOROGORO, TANZANIA. You may learn more about her congregation at www.terciariascapuchinas.org/ and clicking on ‘Welcome!’