By Carol Hughes
Two Kenyan crusaders who are using dialogue and education to reform their country were recognized by DePaul with honorary doctorates for their distinguished careers and service to others.
Sister Ephigenia W. Gachiri, a renowned educator and activist who has dedicated herself to improving the lives of young women in Kenya, and Mary Getui, an established expert on the roles of religion, family and public health in Africa, were recipients of a Doctor of Humane Letters degree from DePaul. The Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, C.M., president, conferred the degrees during a Dec. 1 ceremony at Tangaza College in Nairobi, Kenya.
The award ceremony was part of commencement activities for an undergraduate degree program offered by the School for New Learning (SNL) in partnership with Tangaza College. Twenty-two students graduated with bachelor’s degrees in leadership and management.
Students put research into action
Students in the program, which is now in its fifth year, include laypeople and religious men and women who are chosen by their communities because of their leadership potential. Tangaza College, which is a Catholic institution, prepares graduates for ministerial and social work.
“This year’s graduates have dedicated themselves to serving others in social service organizations and religious communities. That level of dedication honors the work of our namesake, St. Vincent de Paul, who served and cared for those that society left behind,” Fr. Holtschneider said.
In order to earn their degrees, students in the program completed advanced projects, similar to a senior thesis, and put their research into action by implementing their projects.
One of the students in this year’s graduating class plans to build homes for low-income families.
Another graduate researched cross-cultural communication as a tool for effective leadership of women religious formation programs in Africa, while another studied the effect of institutional care on the parenting styles of young mothers.
“The leadership and management program at Tangaza enables students to pursue these valuable projects by teaching them how to think strategically and how to run a nonprofit business,” Fr. Holtschneider said.
The degree program was established at Tangaza College in 2006 with a grant from the Conrad H. Hilton Foundation. Its goal is to educate a qualified workforce, build the capacity of Catholic religious congregations to carry out their missions and contribute to the revitalization of Africa.
Distinguished Kenyans honored
The two distinguished Kenyans who received honorary doctorates at the commencement have also contributed greatly to societal changes in Africa.
Sister Gachiri, who joined the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, also known as the Loreto Sisters, in 1965 with the hope of educating young women. Sister Gachiri is widely regarded for her fight against the practice of female genital mutilation.
In 1998, she launched the Termination of Female Genital Mutilation project of the Loreto Sisters. Under her leadership, the project has provided support to survivors, protection to those at risk for forced mutilation and outreach to communities that practice the ritual. She also is director of the Abundant Life Centre, which in time will conduct many of the project’s programs and workshops, preparing trainers and offering counseling services.
“Through her work, Sister Gachiri has changed perceptions and secured women’s rights, often in the face of great resistance,” said Marisa Alicea, SNL dean. “Her efforts to educate both men and women about the need for cultural change are transforming Kenya into a more just society for women.”
Sister Gachiri has a doctorate from Kenyatta University, Nairobi; an MBA in education from the University of Birmingham in the U.K.; and a bachelor’s degree in geography from the University of Calcutta, India.
Getui, who was represented at the ceremony by her husband, also received an honorary doctorate. Guided by her faith, Getui presents a strong voice on some of the most pressing issues facing Africa, including the advancement of women and the HIV and AIDS crisis.
In 2009, Kenya’s president appointed Getui as chair of the National AIDS Control Council. Under her leadership, the council coordinated Kenya’s response to the AIDS crisis, ensuring Kenyans have access to testing, counseling and treatment, while educating them about how to prevent infection.
In recognition of her efforts, the government honored Getui as a Moran of the Burning Spear, a venerable Masai warrior title bestowed upon outstanding Kenyans.
“Dr. Getui is unrelenting in her quest for an AIDS-free Kenya, championing education and awareness and fighting stigmatizing attitudes,” said Alicea. “Through the National AIDS Control Council, she has empowered women to be advocates for their own health and has been an inspiration in our world.”
Getui has a doctorate in religious education from Kenyatta University, Nairobi; and a master’s degree in religious studies and bachelor’s degree in education from the University of Nairobi. She is an adjunct professor of the Maryknoll Institute of African Studies at Tangaza College and lectures at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa.
“Sister Gachiri and Dr. Getui are outstanding women of great faith,” said Alicea. “They have been servants to the suffering and champions for the advancement of women. They embody the ideals of St. Vincent de Paul and are excellent role models for the students in our program at Tangaza College.”