I met Sister Annunciata Chacha when I was working with the Musoma Diocese and needed help with Jipe Moyo, a shelter that helps children, mostly girls, who have been orphaned or abandoned.
She had joined the Immaculate Heart Sisters of Africa, a Tanzanian order of women religious that was initially founded by Maryknoll. After working for some time on women’s issues, she was elected to her order’s council and moved to their motherhouse in Musoma. Because of her previous experience, we asked her to head Jipe Moyo.
Running Jipe Moyo is a big responsibility, and Sister Annunciata is very good at it, including at fundraising and finances. Unfortunately, as a result, she has had to deal with a lot of criticism from some of the priests in the diocese, who think women should not be handling money and make life tough for her. I admire how she stands up to that criticism and doesn’t let it distract her.
Sister Annunciata also prays with the kids and connects them with the wider world. After I moved back home to Minnesota last summer, one of my good friends here had to go on a ventilator and eventually died of COVID. I let Sister Annunciata and the girls know right away. The children were praying for Cindy, whom they knew because she had visited us in Musoma.
Many of the children at the shelter have experienced severe trauma — they may have been raped, escaped child marriages, or been beaten and kicked out of their homes for refusing to undergo female genital mutilation (FGM). Although illegal, the practice of FGM, sometimes called female circumcision, remains a common practice in this part of Tanzania, including in Sister Annunciata’s ethnic group. Luckily, she and her sisters were spared because her father, a catechist, could not reconcile it with his Christian faith.
Having had these traumatic experiences, the children need someone like Sister Annunciata who has tremendous compassion and empathy. She spends a lot of time just being with the children in small groups. They might be cleaning, gardening, sewing or making rosaries. When you are doing these things together, you can start talking about issues in a nonthreatening way. She does that so beautifully.
There were times, after hearing the story of a child who was raped, I went home and just cried my eyes out, but Sister Annunciata listens to those horrendous stories all the time. She told me, “I just take it to prayer and give it back to God because that is all you can do.”