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African sisters make journey to Lisle
By Joan Broz | Daily Herald Columnist

Sister Beatrice Kayombo helps test a child for HIV. As a nurse, she is the only medical professional in her village in Tanzania.


Courtesy of Sister Beatrice Kayombo

Sister Beatrice Kayombo, right, has come to Lisle to continue her medical education. Local nuns are helping raise money so she can study to become a doctor.


Courtesy of Sister Beatrice Kayombo

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Published: 8/25/2010 3:24 PM

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Following their dreams motivated Sister Beatrice Kayombo and Sister Afra Mgwama to travel more than 8,000 miles to Lisle.

The two religious nuns came to Sacred Heart Monastery from their Imiliwaha convent in Tanzania, Africa. The monastery and Benedictine University collaborated to provide the opportunity and education.

The situation worked well because the two lived with the nuns at the monastery while attending classes down the street. In the process, both experienced their first snowfall, frozen food and found the Morton Arboretum "amazingly green and beautiful."

"In Tanzania there are trees, but no one cares for them," said Sister Beatrice. "We also eat everything fresh with no freezers."

Each came to the decision to pursue a higher education along different paths.

Sister Beatrice was one of 12 children in her family living without electricity or fresh water. From the ages of 7 to 14, she walked with her siblings three hours a day to attend primary school because there was no school in her village at that time.

Interested in the monastic life, Beatrice entered the convent to pursue her interest in nursing. With four years of training, Beatrice became both a nurse and a midwife.

"I was serving my community in a jungle area, but I was the only medical person there," Beatrice said. "With my limited knowledge, I was delivering twins and triplets and dealing with all kinds of complications. I tried my best, but knew I had to learn more to help my people."

At about the same time Beatrice talked to her prioress about becoming a doctor, across the world the sisters at Sacred Heart decided to sponsor two Benedictine sisters from Tanzania to study in the United States. Beatrice and Afra were selected from roughly 420 members to come to America to study.

"My mother was so worried," Beatrice said. "All we knew of Marekani (America) was what we saw on television. We thought it was wild with a lot of fighting and violence."

"Being here completely changed our image of Americans," said Beatrice. "I told my mother, 'You can find the very best people you can image here. People here are very good.'"

Sister Afra's educational path began with her family of eight siblings. She began school at the age of 7 and entered the convent at 16. There she studied six years in its novitiate program.

"I like to be with children," Afra said. "I want to educate parents that it is important that both girls and boys receive equal educational opportunities. I want to break the poverty cycle through education."

In Lisle, both sisters attended English language classes at Benedictine and at the College of DuPage since their native language is Swahili. When the two began at the university in their chosen fields, each was determined to do well. When Afra was told to drop a class she was not doing well in, she sought and received extra help.

Sister Beatrice was overwhelmed by the technology she found in her science classes.

"I know sciences are not easy, but I never saw all the kinds of instruments we had in class," Beatrice said. "My professor could tell I was having difficulty, and asked me to come in a half-hour early to each class and she prepared me for what I needed to know."

The two students are determined and grateful.

"I have never seen two students work harder than Sister Beatrice and Sister Afra," said Sister Judith Ann Heble, the prioress at Sacred Heart Monastery. "Many nights they were up until 1 and 2 in the morning studying."

Lisle residents Sue and Dick Lamb were able to provide the two nuns with opportunities to see what family life is like in America.

"They really became a part of our family," Sue Lamb said. "I believe that if they can find the resources, they will each do marvelous things for Tanzania. They are very excited to bring all their new knowledge back to the poor."

This summer, Sister Beatrice completed a master's degree in public health and soon will travel to the Poznan University of Medical Sciences in Poland. After the four-year program, Beatrice will be a medical doctor.

The Lambs and the sisters at Sacred Heart are part of a local group working to defray Sister Beatrice's educational costs.

"I humbly turn to people who might be able to help me reach my dream," Beatrice said. "Each could invest in me and contribute immeasurable good to the people of Tanzania that I will serve as a doctor."

Medical school in Poland will cost a total of $150,000. More information may be found at Donations may be sent to: Benedictine Sisters Imiliwaha Fund, 1910 Maple Avenue, Lisle, IL 60532.

Sister Afra will complete her master's degree next year in education and leadership at Benedictine University. She will return to Tanzania with a new dream - to have her own school for orphans. She believes children are tomorrow's nation and education is the key to opportunity.

Along the way, she and Sister Beatrice learned that dreams do come true.

• Joan Broz writes about Lisle. E-mail her at