Dressed in simple blue uniforms, easy-to-remove shoes, trimmed fingernails and luminous smiles most of the pre-school children were busy on their individual mats solving puzzles and learning numbers. In a tight cluster of three children, a teacher is gently reviewing simple English words. I fell in love with these little ones right away. Everyone is busy, everybody participates and everyone looked like they were having fun. I certainly did as I accompanied Sister Celeste Derr in a visit to the school she directs for 100 children in Mwanza, Tanzania.
Both morning classes at The Sacred Heart of Jesus Montessori School of Mwanza each have about 25 children whose learning experiences alternate between self-directed activities and more intense teacher-led group work. After the morning classes are dismissed there is time for tea with the teachers and then the afternoon classes begin with a gathering under the trees to sing their national anthem.
The children seem to thrive in the school responding well to the individual attention as well as the time to work on their own at their own pace and to learn from each other in groups. They are bright and eager to interact with each other, with their teachers.
Once the final child leaves the school yard, Sister Celeste has time for administrative tasks and in-services for the teachers are also provided. Later in the afternoon, Celeste begins her volunteer tutoring of HIV/AIDS orphans who are assisted through a scholarship study and support group program run by Joanne Miya, Maryknoll Lay Missioner.
Sister Celeste is a person who does a lot of work, moves slowly, deliberately and with a gracious heart through her day and gives the credit to others for anything accomplished along the way. So with a heart full of gratitude, I give Celeste an A+ in appreciation of her tireless work, her spirit of dedication, her warm hospitality and her sense of a kindly humor. Watching Sr. Celeste quietly talking with the children or working with the teachers was like watching this quiet, gentle woman conduct a choir in a minor key in which each one finds their own unique voice.
– Sister Ann Hayden, MM