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Twenty two years ago, the late Cardinal Thiandoum asked the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor to come to Senegal to serve the people of Mary Immaculate Parish – and to welcome and accompany women and girls who faced difficult times.

Many of the women and girls are unable to pursue their studies and thus are left illiterate.

In response to this call, and in keeping with Mother Frances Schervier’s love for the poor, the Sisters decided to build a center to help meet the needs of a population with no resources. They called it The Frances Schervier Formation Center after their foundress.

Located in Parcelles Assainies, a middle class, ethnically diverse suburb of Dakar (Senegal’s capital), the Formation Center is managed by the Franciscan Sisters and lay Associates who work together. The Sisters’ objective in creating the Frances Schervier Formation Center, was – and still is -- “To help the woman and the young girl to fully achieve their role of wife, mother and citizen by strengthening their abilities through formation; to exert, in a responsible manner, their rights and duties within the family, the Church and the nation in order to facilitate their integration into active life.” In Senegal, in spite of progress that has been achieved concerning the rights of women and the young, so much yet needs to be done.

Momenti di formazione al Centro Francesca SchervierMomenti di formazione al Centro Francesca Schervier

The women have very full days; they are engaged in the small businesses of the neighborhood market, and in their domestic chores as mothers and ‘social regulators’ providing for their families’ needs, and particularly for those of their children. Young girls are often victims of school exclusion, abuse, sexual and economic exploitation, genital mutilations and so forth. The Center develops activities for women’s promotion and for social, cultural and religious formation. It is about activities such as cutting and sewing, dyeing, cooking, painting, embroidery, health, crochet, literacy courses, French and English courses, conferences or talks on topics such as abuse of women.

The Center welcomes girls and women without any distinction of race or religion. It participates in their education and educates them about AIDS, sexual diseases, precocious pregnancies, abuse of women, and other dangers to which they are often exposed. The Little Sisters of the Catholic Maternity who offer a formation on self-knowledge and sex education, are also among those active at the Center.

alt Through these activities, the Center gives to every person who feels abandoned, neglected and rejected by society a sense of their dignity. For many years, the Center also has served girls from the Guinea Bissau and refugee women (3 with their babies) from Mauritania (two countries adjacent to Senegal).Every year, since its opening, the center has served between 100 to 110 students who range from 15 to 25 years old -- a total of 2,420 girls and women. Most of them come from families with no resources.  The formation lasts four years.

At the end of the program a diploma is issued. About 500 students have finished their formation and received their diplomas. Some girls are afterwards hired as monitors and they give some courses at the center.

Challenges And Future DirectionsT oday, after 22 years, the Frances Schervier Formation Center faces new challenges:

  • The visibility of the center and its methods of communication.
  • The language used and problems understanding the listeners.
  • The mastery of the legal texts on human rights in general and on women and girls’ rights in particular.
  • The presence of some of the women’s children. Some efforts have been made to take into account these cases in terms of communication with the group of the monitors.
  • Negotiations between work schedules and the students’ formation schedules.
  • The reduced accessibility of the center during the winter season because of flooding.
  • The development of some alliances with other organizations to offer more services.
  • The state’s acknowledgement of the diploma.
In the future, we plan to strengthen what the girls and women have acquired through the formation, and learn from their experiences and good practices concerning the care of people in difficulty. We also hope to reinforce the formation team by adding specialists such as sociologists, psychologists, physicians and social workers. The Center also plans to continue – and to increase – its participation in special events for the promotion and protection of the rights of women and girls. alt

We also seek to formalize the partnership with state-controlled institutions and /or civil society organizations, and to organize some meetings between the religious and lay people working on human rights issues.

Comments From Former Students…

Some of our students and former students wanted to add their thoughts and experiences to this article:

Célestine Ndeki shares her story: “ I learned to know the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor of Parcelles Assainies very well! I was having troubles with my parents because of my precocious pregnancy. My dad put me out of the house. I had nowhere to go. In the evening, I went to the Sisters to spend the night there. Sister Francesca saw my condition and welcomed me. I remained with the Sisters’ for one month, fearing at every instant that my dad would come to insult the Sisters for having welcomed me. After some months, my baby was born and I named it Frances, in gratitude for the charity, love, and the charism of Blessed Frances Schervier. My relationship with my dad was always difficult; I was alone,as my mom didn’t have the right to talk about me. Sister Francesca followed my family situation, and she understood that my parents didn’t care about me. So she decided to sustain me during my three years formation at the Center. I thank God for putting the Sisters on my path. My formation ended and I received my diploma. I was full of joy and gratitude towards the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor for everything I had received. I desired to bring my contribution to the life of the center. This is why I accepted the Sisters’ request to work as monitor in a second year class. Thanks to the Sisters, I learned to live my life as a young mom and to put in practice their teachings.”

Véronique Gomis, adds: “I started my sewing training in a shop; however, my desire was to get some specialization courses to improve my skills. As it happened, the Sister responsible for the Formation Center and the monitors needed to have some blouses sewn for St. Eugene School. During that time, I saw that the monitors gave some courses in a pleasant manner to the students. I was also attracted by the behavior of the students and by their effort to build a relationship of friendship… So, after I ended my three years of formation, the Sister needed an assistant monitor and I accepted the job with pleasure. I was happy to offer my availability for this work that I like very much. But another proposition arrived: a Sister from another Formation Center needed a monitor. I went, but I was a bit sad to leave this school where I was formed and educated in a manner that I will never forget. I owe all the gifts that I received to Blessed Frances Schervier, an outstanding person whom I come to know through the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor. What encourages the monitors in their work is the knowledge that some of the former students have created their own businesses. For example, Miss Louise Gaku won the prize for best dressmaker of the suburb of Dakar! The Sisters and the monitors not only form all these women and girls, but they also try to make of them responsible persons who are respectful of human values and who contribute to the well-being of their society according to their capacity.” In the end, as Sister Elisabetta La Manna noted, “We, the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor, give thanks to God for having allowed us to begin and to carry out an apostolate for the good of the people through the realization of a big project for the economic and social promotion of women and girls in difficulty.”

Reflections...

“When I began to attend the Frances Schervier Center’ I was very young and shy. I remember having been impressed by the simplicity, the cordiality and the availability of the Sister in charge and the monitors to both students and parents.”

“My years of formation helped me grow in my understanding of the responsibilities of a young girl and in the desire to always have a better knowledge of the way to take care of myself and to have good behavior.”

“I learned cutting, sewing, embroidery, dyeing, crochet, painting and cooking. After four years of formation, I got a diploma that allowed me to easily find a job. Given my expertise and good behavior, Sister Elisabetta asked me to work on a project that she had just begun to further develop at the Formation Center.”

“While I was studying, and after my work as a monitor, I benefited from my relationship with the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor, the charism of Blessed Frances Schervier, and my involvement in the vocational camps.”

“I thank God for having put me on the path of the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor and for allowing me to continue my involvement with them.”