Feminist Chronicles: Diary 18: Sr Theresa Camillo

Activism, Feminist Chronicles, Gender, Women, Zimbabwe

Women of cloth; that is what we used to call them. Often they were and still are misunderstood. People ask; why would a healthy woman choose to live a life of total celibacy in the name of serving God. Others think these women are living a lie, purporting to live a saintly life, married to Jesus yet they are not half as good as they seem to be.

When I was young, I was also of this mindset. I expected nuns to be perfect in their ways. My ideal nun was a gentle person, calm in temperament, never the one to get angry even when wronged, never one to shout even when exasperated and never one to punish mischievous children (and if punished we perceived it as cruelty). But now I realise that expectation was very unfair and unwarranted. After all nuns are human beings just like me and surely they are entitled to a little anger from time to time. Looking back at my expectations I realise they were outlandish, childish and very selfish.

Regina Mundi High School: Picture credit Tendai Madenyika a former student at Regina Mundi

Sr Theresa Camillo (Click here to see her image dressed in grey) is a catholic nun in the (SJI) Sisters of the Child Jesus Sect. She was the headmistress of Regina Mundi High school in Gweru, Midlands province of Zimbabwe where I spent 6 years of my secondary and high school. She recorded amazing pass rates for many years in her all girls’ high school. We did better than all the boys’ schools in the region such as Shungu and Fletcher academically yet she also nurtured in us the sportswomen, the basket-ballers, the hockey players, the soccer players (like I was), the great debaters, public speakers, musicians and dancers that we became.

Our motto mens sana in corpore sano‘a healthy mind in a healthy body’ was her preoccupation and she always wanted us to be fit in both mind and body. She taught us to eat all our meals hence meals were compulsory (and then we hated it). She also demanded that we walk briskly and purposefully from one point to the other, something I have made into a habit in my adulthood, after all loitering is a sign of complacence and laziness.

The main school block with the headmistress's office the first window to the right: Picture Credit Tendai Madenyika a former student at Regina Mundi

Sr Theresa was a loving woman, maybe even more loving than some of the mothers people left behind in their homes. She was a also a very liberal woman, accommodating of our very many misdemeanors, little temper tantrums and mood swings.  We spent 9 out of the 12 months of the year at school and she was the grounding force when we were developing from adolescence into adulthood at that boarding school. Imagine being mother to 700 teenage girls all aged between 12 and 19 years. Surely you would be pulling your hairs out each day until you had none left. But she did it. Each year she let out 100 students and took in another 100.

The fruits of the kind of women she nurtured are self evident. One only needs to look at the women who emerged out of the girls she received many years ago. She raised doctors, models, television presenters, beauty therapists, chartered accountants, human rights activists, occupational health practitioners, dentists, biomedical laboratory researchers, veterinary surgeons, engineers, pharmacists, medical surgical nurses, movie directors, lawyers, writers, lecturers, among other and some of them are wonderful mothers and wives too. Indeed she can boast of rearing numerous generations of capable women who are doing wonderful things for the development of Zimbabwean society.

The continuation of generations of women that are still being raised by that school is also the fruit of her work. In 2008 at 14 years of age, Makhosazana Moyo groomed at Regina Mundi was picked as the overall winner of the 2008 cover to cover short story writing competition. In the 2014 class of the US students achievers, three of the girls profiled for their amazing achievements, Senzeni Mpofu studying at Yale university, Rudo Esther Mudzi studying at Mt Holyoke university and Rumbidzai Vushe studying at Smith college were all from Regina Mundi. Thabiso Machingura in 2011 won awards in the American Black History Month write ups for her short story.

The Convent in which the nuns lived: Picture Credit Tendai Madenyika a former student from Regina Mundi

When we were still students guided by her, we began a youth HIV/AIDS awareness group called ‘Worth the Wait’ which advocated abstinence among young girls to refrain from sex. Today that club has been transformed into the ‘Youth Against Aids club.’ and it gives these young girls life lessons on how to protect themselves from HIV/AIDS.

As ‘Worth the Wait’ members we made this vow:

I make a commitment to God, myself, my family, my future husband and my future children to stay sexually from this day forward until the day I enter a covenant marriage relationship.

I made this vow in 1999 and I have done my damnedest to keep it, at a cost of course. I have been dumped unceremoniously in relationships for holding on to this commitment which many will argue is very old-fashioned but I will always be grateful to Sr Theresa for that value she inculcated in me. I have lost friends who I went to school with, to AIDS and I believe I am still here because of this vow which she taught me.

To date I carry two things that she always emphasised:

1. Greet visitors with a smile

2. Throw away all your litter in a bin

She has never been celebrated but I feel she deserves that history should remember her with pride, admiration and reverence for all she has done to uplift and empower the girl-child in Zimbabwe and beyond.