An Instrument of Change

Martha Hargura Semat, a graduate of CTIE (Christ the Teacher Institute for Education) Nairobi, Kenya with a degree from Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota, was born and raised in Marsabit in Northern Kenya. Martha was raised in the Rendille tribe and her family were pastoralists that depended on agriculture to sustain their family needs and frequently moved from place to place in search of pasture for the animals. Pastoralists don’t believe in children’s education, in particular, a girl’s education because they are considered a source of labor and wealth when married off to a suitor regardless of their age difference. Often girls are married off as early as ten or eleven years to men as old as seventy years.

Martha grew up in a humble family of 3 boys and Martha, the only girl. She was the first born and was fortunate to pursue her studies despite the many challenges. Her education was not a guarantee and she shared she always prayed to finish her studies and be a tool of change for her people. Martha’s prayers were answered when she sat for her national primary education exams that she passed with high marks and proceeded to secondary level. She shared that she sat for that exam as a teenager and only 2 girls, including her, proceeded to the next level! Some of the young girls lacked school fees and others were married off at an early age. Martha finished her secondary school education and passed the national examination with high marks but had no hope of attending university, even though she had the qualifying grades. Martha began to look after her father’s few goats and kept on the faith that one day she would pursue her higher education and become a teacher! Martha believed in teaching and knew it would give her the chance to touch someone’s life and leave a footprint and bring change!

One day, as she was looking after her Dad’s goats, she met a Salesian of Don Bosco (the late Fr. PD George) who gave her the opportunity to go to Nairobi and pursue a course in computer studies.Without hesitation, she grabbed the opportunity and went to study at Don Bosco Boys Centre in Karen, near Nairobi, where she completed the computer course. After finishing the course, Martha was introduced to another Salesian priest, Fr. George K., who was then the Director of Tangaza College. He hired Martha to be a receptionist at the institution. Martha worked as the receptionist for two years. During her time there, she met Br. Paulo, the director of CTIE. Upon learning Martha’s story, he challenged her to aspire big and get back to her studies at the university level! Martha shared, “Br. Paulo rekindled my passion to pursue my studies in order to make a difference in my community!” She attended CTIE and expressed her financial need. Br. Paulo allowed her to join the institution and he granted her a partial scholarship to pursue her studies. Martha expressed, “I am indebted to him and also Sr. Jane who was the dean of students then at CTIE!” She found a home far away from home in CTIE. It gave her the strength to remain focused. Martha graduated with a degree from Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota in Kenya! She is 1 of some 1,200 alumni from Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota that reside in Africa. 

Post-graduation and after some time, Martha married  Sammy Semat, who not only is her husband but a great friend too. Martha shared with him her passion of being a tool of change in her society through education for the less fortunate. He listened and responded by giving her three acres of his family land to make her dream of having a school a reality! The physical school is not yet built, but Martha continues to share her dream and one day a school will sit on that piece of land. Martha and a friend went ahead and started a Sunday feeder school in her local church where young kids who couldn’t walk six kilometers to access a school get an opportunity to learn the basics and a meal for the day.

In 2018 Martha was involved in the Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota Joint Alumni Service Team that comprised of the CTIE (Kenya) and American alumni. They met great brothers and sisters. Martha shared her story and it’s now the dream of many more than just Martha!

Fellow teacher, Abby from Illinois, sat with me and let me share my story. Talking with her reminded me that dreams are valid and to never to let them go. My passion to give back to the needy and poor through education is a great example of living a Lasallian life! By bringing education and hope to others, I believe my society and the world will be a better place for all to coexist and grow regardless of their gender or status. All children are equal and need to be treated without undermining either gender. I believe that society will be different if the seed of education is sown to these children, and in generation to come, girls won’t be a source of labor and wealth through forced and early marriages but a resource and an instrument of change. 

#MyLasallianStory

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Service Together

I’m Gideon! An alumni team who is graduating on 4th of May 2019. I have been working with St. Mary’s University of Minnesota, alumni team in Kenya in serving a number of projects such as NGAO society of Kenya, and FOLKS (Friends of Love Kibera Slum) in ensuring that children from the slums go to school. Also there is lunch program provided on every weekends where by all the children gather together after lunch to be educated on some morals values as future leaders of the country. In NGAO, we do ABCD program i.e. Asset Based Community Development. This a program aiming at nurturing women’s talents. With this holistic program, I feel good to be part of the Lasallians team in ensuring that there is hope for the poor children and mothers in our societies. Just like the saying go! “a more educated society is likely to reduce dependent ratio” so feel good about what I do like Gideon.
Just to give a brief summary of whom Gideon is! I was born and raised by my
grandmother after the death of my parents. Stayed with my grandmother until 2014 September when God called her to rest. I still remember how life hate us from both sides so much. Being an orphan, I really had to work so heard to have a future! Nobody had no time for me and I was just left in the universe a lone. Today Gideon is a teacher by profession, who touches hearts, teaches minds, and transforms lives! All these could have not happened without Lasallians brothers! I didn’t know there are people who thinks about the lives of other until I joined my college which happened to be a school belonging to the Christian brothers here in Kenya (Christ the Teacher
Institute for Education).
To begin with what we do as young Lasallians in Kenya! Last year July I had the
opportunity to join the alumni team from USA for a community service for seven consecutive days. We visited the elderly people in Kariabangi (a small slum in Kenya) and helped with serving food and washing the utensils. A part from that a number of donations were also given out such as clothes, food, and beddings to support the elderly fathers and mothers who cannot be able to take care of themselves. What I still remember is the love for the children from the crew! It was awesome! I just image you could see how each and every one was sharing their best moments with the children. Giving them hope in life is always my key objective. I believe a good percentage of every child’s success relies on what they see and the kind of people they associate with in life.
As I plan to graduate this year! Already there is a team from the state that will be
attending my graduation, Patrice and Nancy! A big shout out to Patrice and Nancy for making it for my graduation. During this visit, as a team we will visit NGAO Society of Kenya and FOLKS to over a number of projects. Thanks to God for the good health and strength to work as team! Big shout out to the Christian brothers, De La Salle brothers for being there for us. May God bless what we do to the community, and continue guiding us through!

#MyLasallianStory

Gideon

It Starts With Love

How did I get called to the Lasallian Mission?

I am a ‘cradle Catholic’ and it was important to my family that I went to Catholic school. But, for me, school was school…I got up, I learned some cool stuff, I did some homework and, occasionally, I went to mass. School was just something I did and the whole ‘Jesus thing’ was there, but almost always in the background. It wasn’t until my time at Christian Brothers High School in Memphis, Tennessee that my faith and my education took on an important role in my life and helped me find my calling as a high school religion teacher.

If I am being honest, I was a real jerk and a kid with a really bad attitude when I first started high school. I cannot even imagine the stress and the hardship I put people through (I guess I can now that I am a high school teacher, ha). But the one thing that my teachers made sure I knew and understood was that no matter what I did or how bad my attitude was or how mean I was to other people, including them, I was loved. I was loved, pure and simple. Not because of anything I did (I cannot imagine I did too much right my freshmen year), but simply because I was one of their students and a child of God. I simply was and that was enough to be loved. This is the first thing we are taught and experience at any Lasallian school. And I know that God put people like Joe Hughes, Dylan Perry, Dustin Perry and too many others to be named, in my path so that I could remember how good I was and how loved I was. I cannot say enough about what this did for my faith, my education and my life.

I am so blessed to have learned and experienced that kind of love early in life, and I am even more blessed now that I can share that love with my own students at another Lasallian school, St. John’s College High School in Washington, DC.

So, live Jesus in our hearts…and share that love that Jesus has for you with everyone you meet.

#mylasallianstory

Spencer Macklin

 

Teach By Example

“Teach by example. Put into practice what you want your students to believe.”- Saint John Baptist de La Salle

When I was a sophomore in high school, I was an extremely shy kid. I only had a handful of friends and, like many 15-year-olds, I was insecure and lacked confidence. It was at this peculiar time of my life that I had a social studies teacher and coach, Coach Mann, who took me under his wing. He believed in me, taught me about the importance of hard work, and encouraged me to recognize my own potential. Unfortunately, at the end of my sophomore year, he passed away, and I never had the chance to tell him how much his mentorship meant to me.   

Two years later, when it came time to go to college, I chose Lewis University, with no knowledge that it was a Lasallian school or that Saint John Baptist de La Salle was the patron saint of educators. By the end of my sophomore year, I had decided to major in education, with the hope of one day inspiring young people the same way my high school teacher inspired me.

As a young, aspiring educator, I found hope and courage in the life of De La Salle. He was a wealthy, powerful priest when he decided to renounce his wealth and position of power within the church to start schools for poor children in France. Almost everyone in his life questioned his decision, but he was motivated by a calling from God and a firm belief in the transformative power of education. Over the years, I have found myself thinking a lot about De La Salle’s decision to give up his wealth and power to start schools for marginalized boys in France, and his story has been a constant source of encouragement for me to live out my convictions; to practice what I preach; to teach by example.

A few years ago, after five years of working as a teacher and campus minister at Lasallian institutions, I took a leap of faith and switched careers, motivated by a long-held conviction to work on issues of food justice in my hometown of Chicago. Today, I work for an organization that builds gardens at Chicago Public Schools, empowering teachers and students to grow their own fruits and vegetables and learn about the importance of healthy eating. I also co-run a community farm that provides local, sustainably-grown produce for people at an affordable price. Though I am no longer teaching in the classroom, working with students is a significant part of my daily work, and I am still deeply committed to living out the Lasallian charism. I continue to draw inspiration from the life of De La Salle and the Christian Brothers.

A few years ago, I tracked down the number of Coach Mann’s wife and called her. I introduced myself and explained how I never had the chance to thank him for the positive impact he had on my life. She thanked me for calling and asked about where I lived and what I did for work. I told her my story and, with hesitation, mentioned my recent decision to leave teaching and pursue work to help create a more equitable food system in Chicago. She paused for a moment and said with sincerity…“he would be very proud of you.”

#mylasallianstory

Sean Ruane

Lasallian Since Birth Without Even Realizing It

“Live Jesus in our hearts, forever.” Since I was born and throughout my life, my family would end Grace before meals with “Live Jesus in our hearts, forever.” It was a family thing. I didn’t know where it came from. I never knew anyone else who said it; it was just something my family did. When looking at colleges, my dad gave me a brochure for this school in the bluffs in Winona, Minnesota. I didn’t really know what bluffs were, the cold of Minnesota wasn’t appealing to me, and I had no idea how my dad even knew about this school. Instead, I went to both my parents’ alma mater, Lewis University. It was that “one commitment [that] led to another in a way I did not foresee in the beginning.”

Lewis was amazing. When I went to Mass for the first time there, they ended with “Live Jesus in our hearts, forever.” I was speechless. The unknown family prayer had a much deeper meaning, and I realized this is where my parents got it from. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but something about that university was special. Along with the other Brothers, Brother Phil Johnson, Brother Tom DuPre, and Brother James Gaffney were amazing people and great role models. Although I studied accounting, and did fairly well, I wasn’t ready to work 60-70 hours a week. Plus, there was this volunteer program I heard about. Sophomore year was when I came up with this great plan. I’m going to be a Certified Public Accountant. After college, I will join the Lasallian Volunteers, get the Lasallian Scholarship, get my MBA, become a CPA, and make the big bucks in Chicago working for one of the Big Four.

The plan worked out well. Accounting degree – check, LV – check. I was sent to Philadelphia where I taught 3-8 grade gym. It was amazing. Teaching gym had this “it” factor that I could never put it into words. Something was different. Something was unique. I realized what it was while I was a Lasallian Volunteer.

It’s Lasallian.

It’s as simple as that. The learning environment, the care and love shown by the Brothers and Lay Partners, they’re Lasallian. Lasallian, for me, is all of that. Yes, it is educating children, especially the poor with Catholic values, but it is so much more. Even now, I have a tough time explaining it. Brother James Gaffney is a great example of what it is to be Lasallian. He truly cares about those entrusted to his care. He was somehow at every event at school and knew students (and their families) by name. Brothers Bud Knight, Leo Smith, and Eddie Koronkiewicz are also great examples. Their genuine love for what they do and who they serve radiate through them. All three are very different, yet so similar. They helped me to truly understand the mission of the Brothers of the Christian Schools.

These people and places were very formative in my Lasallian journey and who I am today. There have been many other experiences and opportunities that have shaped me, but I won’t go in depth here. Maybe another time I can talk about the 10-day International Marketing class at La Salle Barcelona, my 3 weeks in Rome for the “Walking in the Footsteps of the Early Christians” Jan Term class through St. Mary’s College of California (SMC), working in the Mission and Ministry Center at SMC, attending retreats at St. Joseph Camp at the Russian River, working at La Salle Manor Retreat Center in Plano, Illinois, and now teaching theology at Montini Catholic High School in Lombard, Illinois. All these commitments led to another which led me to Montini. And through all this time…Live Jesus in our hearts, forever!

#mylasallianstory

Denis Block

Coast to Coast

When I was applying to college, I only knew three things: I wanted a school with a good education program, I wanted to stay in Illinois (this will be funny later), and I wanted to be at a school with small class sizes. When I visited Lewis University in Romeoville, Illinois, I knew it was the right place for me. The fact that it was “A Catholic and Lasallian University” really didn’t matter; in fact, I had no idea what “Lasallian” meant.

As I went through my first two years at Lewis, I was happy. I made friends who I knew would be lifelong. I started education classes my sophomore year, finally studying what I wanted. But it wasn’t until my junior year that I really came to appreciate the fact that I was attending a Catholic and Lasallian university. I was invited to go on a retreat called Koinonia, with the promise of the chance to “discover God, yourself, and others.” I can honestly say that attending this retreat was life-changing. I went on to lead the retreat three times after that, and each time the retreat brought me something different in terms of God, myself, and/or others. In my last semester at Lewis, I student taught. I think I was Lasallian at this point, but I didn’t quite know it yet.

As graduation approached, I thought about applying to be a Lasallian Volunteer. I had heard about the program several times from my friends who were applying, as well as from alums and grad students. I went back and forth, and ultimately decided I still wasn’t ready to leave Illinois.

A few months after graduation, I felt I had made a mistake. I was definitely being called to be a Lasallian Volunteer. As soon as the applications came out for the next service year, I started filling one out. I applied, I interviewed, and I was accepted to the program. They told me they thought I would best fit in a science and math teaching position at an all-boys middle school: The San Miguel School in Providence, RI.

Before I knew it, I was visiting. I immediately knew this was where I was supposed to be. The sense of community and love at The San Miguel School was astounding.

I attended LV orientation and really learned about St. John Baptist de La Salle and the Lasallian mission. When I officially started teaching at San Miguel, that mission was put into action. Here was a school who was giving a quality education to under-served boys. It was exactly what De La Salle imagined and wanted. It wasn’t long into my first year as a volunteer that I knew I would be staying for a second year of service.

As my second year as an LV was coming to an end, I wasn’t ready to leave. I felt that teaching at a San Miguel School was exactly where I was called to be. One day, Brother Lawrence Goyette was passing by, and he mentioned that he was about to go visit Concord, California, where they were getting ready to open a new San Miguel School. Well, I had always wanted to live in California… so I applied, interviewed, and ended up getting a job as a founding teacher at De La Salle Academy. Time to move across the country!

I taught there for four years, and once again, it was a place that De La Salle himself would have been proud of. I grew the most as a Lasallian educator while working there, and teaching those boys filled my heart with such joy.

So, there you have it… I’m Lasallian from coast to coast, as well as in between.

#mylasallianstory

Carly Myrtle

It’s Forever

“Lasallian.” I heard this throughout my arrival at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota as a first-year student. Lasallian this. Lasallian that. WHAT IS LASALLIAN. Unknowingly, this practice that nobody could define for me would be a defining practice in my life.

The first course I took at Saint Mary’s introduced me to Brother Pat Conway, my first ever interaction with a Brother of the Christian Schools. His nourishing zeal for the Lasallian order was inspiring to me. I was enticed during every class as we learned how Saint John Baptist de La Salle and all those who followed him did, and still do, so much for children. Learning about De La Salle’s dedication to children was inspirational. He is literally SO awesome. SO AWESOME.

Fast-forward to the end of my first year at Saint Mary’s. I was selected to attend the first Lasallian Leadership Conference. Unbeknownst to me, I agreed to attend an international gathering. 35 Lasallians meet in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania at LaSalle University. This conference exposed what “Lasallian” means to me today — the pure joyfulness of people from all cultures, backgrounds, and beliefs, working together to support the most marginalized of kids and their families in the hopes of growth.

This experience was my guiding practice throughout the rest of my time at Saint Mary’s. As I approached graduation, I was worried how leaving the SMU community would impact my life. My graduate school experience at Arizona State University showed me not to worry. I was introduced to San Miguel High School in Tucson, Arizona where I was able to continue my connection with the Lasallian experience through supporting high schoolers.

Since completing graduate school, I have moved to North Carolina to work as a program director for a child and adolescent mental health treatment center. Despite being away from a physical Lasallian location, my experiences and the Lasallian mission are close to heart. My connections are so far and wide that I feel at home, like I did when I first was introduced to Saint Mary’s.

It’s hope. It’s zeal. It’s forever.

#mylasallianstory

Samuel Kreutzfeldt