Monday, July 28, 2014

Returning Home to Tanzania: Sr. Pia's Reflections on "The Best Years of my Monastic Life" Part Two

The joy of my reunion with the community in St. Scholastica Priory was mutual. I met many new faces among the younger generations – new postulants and novices and new temporary professed sisters. European-born sisters were predominant during my years as prioress (1995-2007), but now a majority of the sisters in Peramiho come from Tanzania. I also saw that they have been joined by sisters from South Korea, Kenya and Uganda.

On Sunday, May 11, most of the sisters traveled by hired bus to Songea to witness the blessings of MBS' newly built Good Shepherd Orphanage, Montessori preschool and kindergarten, as well as the new Good Shepherd Convent of the Sisters nearby. I was deeply impressed and very grateful for what I saw. A big dream has been accomplished on the three pieces of land purchased by the Peramiho priory in 1997 for our orphanage's new home.

I remain aware that the responsibility for children orphaned due to the deadly impact of HIV-AIDS has been left by the Tanzanian government to the charity of nongovernment organizations (NGOs) as well as to the orphans' extended families. I am grateful that the Peramiho priory was able to find generous benefactors to enable our sisters to serve these children to best of their ability.

The new orphanage's three family houses – each of which can house up to 16 children – offer a new home in a different style for the orphans who were under our care in Good Shepherd Orphanage's original home at a former “leprosy camp” in the the village of Morogoro-Peramiho.

Children in each house will live like a family under a house mother. The houses are built strong and well and are equipped with all that is needed, such as food, water and electricity. The kindergartners and preschoolers will be taught on the same property, which also contains four large classrooms ready to accept students for the English-speaking Montessori school. Primary-school (elementary) children will be integrated into the local primary school in the suburb of Songea, while secondary-school students will attend the school assigned them by the government. St. Scholastica Priory, however, plans in the future to expand the orphanage's Montessori school to include primary grades.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Abby in the Abbey: Teamwork

Well you can see that they took me for another haircut, but this time I think I look pretty cute!  The lady even gave me some “bling” on my tail and a very nice pink collar.  I’ve been pretty busy hanging out by the front office and helping to greet guests and I am even getting better about holding back my barking impulse.  Gosh, isn’t it hard to stop doing things that you just feel you absolutely need to do even when other people don’t like it? 

This picture is of me with some donations for the animal shelter that I helped accept yesterday for, of all things, CATS!!!  Why would anyone want to donate to those hissing, mean things?  One day I just wanted to say “hi” to one and I got a very nasty scratch for my trouble.  You know, it takes all kinds to make the world doesn’t it?  I always think that dogs are the best, but not everyone agrees with me, even in my house here.

The summer is passing by very quickly and I hope everyone out there is really enjoying their family time together.  Sr. K had some back surgery and she is moving more slowly than usual so I’m glad Sr. RM and Sr. LA are there for me too.  There is nothing like teamwork in anything you do in life.  Being able to depend on each other is just one of the best things there is!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Returning Home to Tanzania: Sr. Pia's Reflections on "The Best Years of my Monastic Life" Part One


(Sister Pia Portmann, Prioress of Norfolk and Swiss native, spent 27 years in the Peramiho, Tanzania Priory and recently returned to Tanzania for the dedication of the Good Shepherd Orphanage and School. A project that she helped begin as Prioress of Peramiho. These are her accounts of her visit.)
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
for his faithful love endures forever.

– Psalm 136:1

When I arrived in the Tanzanian capital of Dar-es-Salaam on May 5, 2014, I was excited to be back in the country I love and in which I worked during the best years of my monastic life – namely, the 27 years from 1980 to 2007.

The big city has changed enormously. The road construction and the increase in the number of cars and motorbikes make traveling in the city an adventure. When I arrived at the airport, I was amazed that Sr. Rosann Ocken, my successor at Peramiho Priory, and her companions were not waiting for me and Stefanie Wegner, my traveling companion from Europe and the project director of the Patrizia KinderHaus Foundation in Augsburg, Germany.
After communicating with Sr. Rosann, we learned she had been driving for more than two hours from our congregation's residence in Dar-es-Salaam to the airport, but was caught in the traffic. Due to this problem, we had to cancel our plans for sightseeing in Dar-es-Salaam the following day.

Sr. Rosann, Stefanie and I, along with our driver, Georg, left at 4:30 a.m. on May 7 for Uwemba, a town in Njombe District. We would stay overnight there with our sisters in our congregation's mission house there.

The long drive through this big country delighted me as it used to. Passing through Mikumi National Park (a drive of 50 kilometers) brought me a lot of joy. It seemed all the animals came to greet us on this morning – elephants, zebras, giraffes and antelopes. Even a lonely Africa buffalo greeted us from a ditch. He must have been wounded.



We traveled from sea level to the Southern Highland (elevation of 6,000 feet), which includes Uwemba, through the long and beautiful Ruaha Valley. Once a year, the little white, pink and purple flowers bloom and drape themselves over the bushes and trees like a veil. I had seen this effect only once before in my many travels to and from Dar-es-Salaam. But on this day, God’s beauty in nature provided this magnificent view once more.


We reached our mission in Uwemba at about 7 p.m. In this fruitful “Ubena land,” the Missionary Benedictine Sisters of Tutzing own St. Anna’s Health Center. The sisters meet the physical needs of the people in Uwemba and surrounding villages. They also run an orphanage, caring for 21 children from birth through age 2. These children have lost their mothers or even have been abandoned by them. The sisters try to find and contact family members so they eventually can be returned to their family or clan.


The mission also includes a girls' vocational training center that teaches dressmaking and cooking. I was impressed how our Tanzanian Missionary Benedictines have taken over this important work of reaching out to the sick, poor and suffering and educating young women to equip them to sustain themselves for a lifetime.

After visiting the sisters' ministries and remaining with them for a short time, we left after lunch on May 8 to drive the final 4½ hours south to Peramiho. St. Scholastica Priory, founded in Peramiho in 1901, is the oldest priory in our congregation. Through the years, our sisters there worked in schools and hospitals and carried on pastoral and social work in as many as 12 outstations. They also founded the first congregation of African Benedictine sisters, known today as the Benedictine Sisters of St. Agnes, Chipole.