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A girl called ‘Resurrection’

May 11, 2017
Sister Jean Evans, RSM

In the 1980s I lived and worked at a Catholic Mission situated about an hour’s drive northwest of Pretoria, South Africa. Along with eight other Sisters of Mercy, I lived in a village of about 40,000 Tswana people. At the time South Africa had a strict policy of racial separation called apartheid (apar-tate). Italian Stigmatine priests had built a high school and asked the Sisters of Mercy to staff it. The school was named Tsogo (So-ho), that is, Resurrection High.

From 1975, two pioneer sisters commuted daily from Pretoria, beyond the Apies River and over the Suiderberg mountains to an area reserved for Tswana people. Some years before, thousands of Tswanas were forcibly removed when the White Afrikaans government declared certain areas around Pretoria for whites only.

When I arrived in 1984, I was put to work in the high school teaching physical science and a course called biblical studies to 10th graders. We lived at the mission and most afternoons, I accompanied several sisters and lay teachers to a more remote area where we offered afternoon classes for adults who hadn’t completed their GED.

At the mission there was a severe water problem. The village had no municipal water services, just a few wells that served most of the population sporadically. There was also no sewer system. People got by with outhouses, known locally as “long drops.”

With a student population in both schools totaling well over 1,400, the lack of restroom facilities was a huge challenge. However, one enterprising sister managed to get a grant to have a block of pit toilets built – complete with roof, concrete flooring, individual compartments, and separate sections for boys and girls.

At the end of the year, high school students took their exams in the large community hall of the Skills Training Center. One day in the middle of an exam, a junior girl ran out of the exam room. The gardener saw her running down the dirt roads of the village. She looked quite distraught. When the principal heard this, she jumped into the car to find the girl.

The newly built ablution facilities sat on a stretch of grassy land about 40 yards from the front of the high school. That morning as some first graders were walking across the yard from the primary school, a few youngsters heard the sound of a baby crying and alerted the teacher. Within minutes, some of the high school boys had left their classrooms and were standing around the toilet building trying to isolate the cry and find the baby.

Without blinking an eye, an eighth grade boy jumped into the waist-deep excrement, reached around under the concrete floors and found the baby girl still crying, still alive. Meanwhile, the sisters were called and one of them, Red Cross – trained, began doing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on the infant while the other sister broke speed limits to get the newborn to the nearest hospital.

To the amazement of everyone, the child survived. Meanwhile, the principal had found the traumatized mother in the village and brought her to the hospital for treatment. Sometime later, when asked her baby’s name, the new mother replied, “Tsogo.”

“We have been born anew to a living hope in the resurrection of Christ, a heritage that can never be spoilt or soiled…” (1 Peter 1:3-4).

Evans, RSM_Sr. Jean - web 100x125Mercy Sister Jean is vocation minister for Sisters of Mercy West Midwest.

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