Being out with Sister Peg Donovan in a Jeep in the communities surrounding the VEMA Training Center is like being with a pop star. Catching sight of her Jeep the children run screaming from every home to cheer and receive a wave or a word from her as she drives by. Sr. Peg calls them her ‘peanut gallery.’
The VEMA Training Center provides vocational training for youth in tailoring and masonry; tutoring for children in preparation for and during primary and secondary schools educations; and pre-school classes for children 3-7 years of age. Health and development activities are held at the Center as well providing services that are not otherwise available. The name VEMA is taken from the Swahili words that describe the rural village-level program that Sister Peg began 15 years ago providing educational, development and health activities in the communities of Kalebezo.
Sister Peg presently lives with Susan Coopersmith, a former lay missioner who volunteers at VEMA and is like an assistant for Sister Peg in many administrative functions. She also serves as a project funding writer and computer teacher all rolled up in one. The training center is a development model of both integrated water gathering and storage methods and of the building and use of dry pit letrines. Young tailors and masons trained at the vocational school provide much needed services to neighboring communities including the uniforms of the schoolchildren and the solid well-constructed homes that have been built by the Center’s graduates.
Health activities at the Center offer classes in AIDS prevention to local youth; offers midwifery services at midwife ‘stations’ (which I visited) and have both a maternal/child clinic and conventional and complementary health services to those who come with moderate health issues. Women with high-risk pregnancies and anyone with difficult health issues are transported to local government health centers or local government hospitals as needed.
Sister Peg moves non-stop through her days even asking one of the students training as a tailor to repair a pre-schooler’s torn shirt. She is always on the go from 8 a.m. prayer with the children and staff at the Grotto of the African Mary, the Madonna on the grounds of the training center, to the time that the VEMA offices close late in the afternoon. Evening prayers and a bit of recreation end her long days. At 75 years young, Peg is not counting the years and hopes in the near future to be able to give less time to administration and more time to some special creative writing projects and home-visiting in the local communities.
– Sister Ann Hayden, MM