Book Foreword by Sister Rosanne Rustemeyer
School Sisters of Notre Dame (SSND) Development Director / Province of Africa
“As I chronicled my trials and tribulations I discovered my voice in between the lines of my story, a voice that was filled with faith.”–Francis Mandewah
I have known Francis Mandewah since he was 15 years old, when I first met him in Sierra Leone in 1976. Since that time, Francis has spoken to me about his deep gratitude for the ways God has worked in his life over the years, gratitude for having somehow achieved his dream of coming to the United States to pursue his studies.
However, I was astonished at reading of all the adventures, struggles, and joys that were a part of Francis’ life beginning many years ago in his small village of Punduru located on the boundary between Kono and Kenema Districts of Sierra Leone.
I was enamored by his ability to share his “deep story”, from relating the intimacy of relationships growing up in his village in a very remote part of Sierra Leone to the intricacies of engaging life on a reservation of First Nation peoples in the United States.
Francis’ relationship with his mother affirmed for me the powerful place the African woman has in the family and the tremendous influence that a mother has on her children, particularly her male descendants.
Reading Francis Mandewah’s memoir was a walk back in time for me. In the early 1970s my religious congregation was invited to come to Africa to work with the education of girls.
(Photograph: The original four School Sisters of Notre Dame who arrived at the Yengema School in 1973 to administer the girls’s section at YSS. Two of these sisters are still alive and living in St. Louis, MIssouri. Standing in the back is Reverend Father Thomas Roger Barry from Ireland, Principal of Yengema Secondary School.)
That invitation coincided with a decision at the 1972 General Chapter of the School Sisters of Notre Dame to send 10% of the Sisters to be in direct service of the poor. Over the next few years invitations were honored in five African countries: Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Ghana, and Kenya. Some years later our Sisters from Poland opened a mission in The Gambia in West Africa.
Up until this time in Africa extended families had tried to provide for the education of their young men, but very few of the young women were afforded the possibility of secondary school learning. In 1973, four School Sisters of Notre Dame arrived in Yengema, Sierra Leone, to minister at Yengema Secondary School, opening a section of the already established school for girls.
The Sisters taught in both sections of the co-educational institute but administered the girls’ school, introducing academic and practical studies that would enhance the life of the young women and thereby ultimately strengthen the life of African families. I was missioned to our community in Yengema in the fall of 1974.
Being quite young at the time, I have often quipped that those years from 1974 through 1983 provided a time of personal growth and understanding for me particularly in my “faith” life. I was, therefore, very happy to read of Francis’ ability to share his relationship with God through the prayers he voiced throughout the book whether he was giving thanks or begging assistance at moments of dire need.
I had learned in my early years in Sierra Leone that Africans live their daily lives very close to God praying for protection as they lie down to sleep and without fail thanking God as they awoke from sleep. I am heartened that this tradition has remained a part of Francis’ life.
To be a global citizen in today’s world is to recognize in one’s self the ability to welcome diversity in a non-judgmental way. The most fruitful way of achieving this skill is surely to experience diverse cultures and environments in a very personal way; feeling the blistering cold of the Sahara Desert by night, harvesting olives and oranges from the Greek countryside, befriending the peoples of varied cultural backgrounds attempting to learn their languages so as to imbibe a new and broadened way of thinking.
Obviously, Francis Mandewah has grown in wisdom, age, and grace since I first met him as a student at Yengema Secondary School in 1976. He has used these intervening years to cultivate and maintain a deep friendship with his mentor, learning along the way of the immensity of that gift. This journey has developed in Francis an awareness of the miracles God continues to work in his life.
In opening himself to a contemplative spirit, Francis developed a sustaining prayerful relationship with his God, who provides the strength for the many questions and wonders he continues to encounter.
The continent of Africa is undergoing a great deal of change in this 21st century as I witnessed daily with my Sierra Leonean students at the University in Makeni (2008-2014). I believe it is a land of great promise! It is my prayer that one day Francis will be drawn back to his roots and play a very positive role in bringing that promise to fruition.
Sr. Rosanne Rustemeyer, SSND Development Director
Province of Africa
The Office for Development supports the Sisters and ministries of 75 SSNDs working in Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Sierra Leone and The Gambia. The ministries include education, healthcare, social and pastoral work. The Director is responsible for the leadership and management of development strategies for the Province of Africa in the U.S. and assists and collaborates with development efforts on the continent of Africa.