A call to action
The seeds for All-Africa Conference: Sister to Sister (AAC:SS) were planted in 2000, when Sister Margaret Farley, RSM, professor of Theology at Yale University, was asked to participate in a White House Summit on World AIDS Day.
Sister Margaret then gathered with African and North American theologians to explore how theologians could help with the HIV/AIDS crisis in Africa. The meeting was organized at the initiative of Yale Divinity School, which sought and received the support of U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
African women religious theologians suggested a conference of women religious and leaders to address the ongoing HIV/AIDS pandemic.
Collaboration with sisters in Africa
A meeting with women religious in Africa followed later that year (2002) in Nairobi, Kenya. Sister Margaret was joined by Sister Eileen Hogan, RSM, who holds masters’ degrees in education and counseling. During the meeting, African sisters suggested creating the All-Africa Conference to empower women religious through education, training, and networking.
Participants concluded that breaking the silence and ending the fear and shame associated with HIV/AIDS were urgent priorities to reduce the incidence of new cases. They stressed that treatment and prevention are only possible when people are comfortable enough to ask for help. The collaborative group identified three key goals:
- Empower women religious through education to provide exceptional caregiving and counseling to those living with HIV/AIDS.
- Build trust for Sisters serving the HIV/AIDS community so that people are comfortable being treated without fear or shame.
- Grow a network of women religious who can provide comfort to one another as well as spiritual and professional support.
Expanding the focus
Sister Margaret and Sister Eileen spent the next 15 years meeting with African women religious, helping them host conferences and workshops to address their needs in training and education. They realized the training model—equipping sisters from many congregations to learn with, train, and support one another—was a roadmap for empowering sisters to navigate a broader range of issues.
Stress management, aging, coping with grief, human trafficking, technology advancement, and COVID-19 are among the many challenges sisters have managed by uniting congregations to create and adopt solutions. The model even served as a springboard for a partnership with Uganda Martyrs University to create a degreed counseling program.
Rosemary Jeffries, RSM was named Executive Director in 2016. Sister Rosemary quickly worked to establish AAC:SS as a recognized 501c3 nonprofit organization. The inaugural Board of the new organization met for the first time in early 2017, with Sister Margaret and Sister Eileen as two of six founding Board members.
A new position, Senior Program Officer, was created in 2021 to enhance leadership in Africa. In that role, Sister Eneless Chimbali, SBMV provides an invaluable local presence in Africa and works closely on all aspects of leadership with Sister Rosemary.
History in the making
AAC:SS continues to reach additional sisters and congregations with support from foundations, religious communities, and people of good will. The AAC:SS Board closed 2022 with a clear strategic plan to guide activities through 2026.
With collaboration as the cornerstone, AAC:SS continues to work with sisters in Africa to prioritize mission sustainability, leadership development, technology, mental health training and delivery, and theological formation. As other challenges arise, AAC:SS is prepared to help sisters create resources and empower them to be leaders in the communities where they live and serve.