A Sister to All – Sister Victoria Anyanwu
S. Victoria Anyanwu brought healing and hope to the people of a village in Nigeria, Africa, this past winter.
Imagination is a powerful gift that unleashes creativity. It gives life to dreams; it is the source of innumerable inventions that have enhanced our lives. Imagination gives rise to saints, like Vincent De Paul and Elizabeth Ann Seton, who become prophetic as their practical outreach attracts others who also dream of ways to alleviate the burdens of the poor and oppressed. Sisters of Charity are rich in a tradition of charity where imagination retranslates itself according to the needs of the people most in need of a loving response.
S. Victoria Anyanwu’s imagination is inspired by St. Elizabeth Ann Seton who said, “Knowing as I do your heart’s full desire to serve our Lord purely, I can say nothing to you, dearest soul, but to keep well to what you believe to be the grace of the moment. … Only do your best as you always have done, and leave the rest for our dear God.”
Every two years S. Victoria vacations at “home.” Home is in Nigeria some 5,947 miles from Cincinnati. There she relishes time with her 102-year-old mother, family members and friends. She re-acclimates to the 99-plus temperatures and sets about diverse ministries expressive of the charism of the Sisters of Charity.
One of six children, she grew up in a family that always had an “open door” for all in need. The wisdom and witness of her mother, “always put in extra – for you never know who may come,” took root in her heart. Perhaps, that is part of the reason that in her journey of life, she found herself a member of the Sisters of Charity.
While visiting family in Nigeria, Africa, S. Victoria Anyanwu set up a soup kitchen and food pantry in her mother’s home for the people of the village.
S. Victoria imagines her vacation trips. “My dream is to make a difference for people who are suffering from hunger, thirst for good water, who are less fortunate in life, especially village women and children.”
Earlier this year she spent eight weeks of non-stop activity in a typical African village community in her homeland. The village has 10 to 20 minutes of electricity every two to three weeks. The roads are rough and dusty. Forests and bushes dot the land. There is no refrigeration for the fresh foods harvested from gardens and farms. Over 100 million of the approximately 190 million people in the country live on less than $1 per day.
The plight of the people is heartbreaking to S. Victoria. Families lack food and clean drinking water. People are in a quandary over how to assist bedridden members. Broken families are burdened with unruly children. Young couples are struggling in a society where women are poorly treated. Conditions seem to grow dire and people are more frustrated because of the bad economy.
S. Victoria took a week to assess the situation then set to work. Her mother’s home became the soup kitchen and food pantry. A town-crier informed women to come for a portion of the 10 bags of rice, beans, onions, salt, 10 boxes of tomato paste, and other diverse items. Christmas happened for those who came.
A health clinic was set up utilizing the services of three doctors, five nurses and a few young people to do registration. For $740 these remarkable people worked from 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. and saw 280 individuals. During that time, S. Victoria utilized her nursing degree to teach people how to improve their health, making small changes that can make a significant impact.
“I rescued a 17-year-old girl from human trafficking. In Nigeria this is seen as a professional job,” she says. “Some of the girls do it to get school fees because their parents can’t afford to send them to school. But this girl was an orphan. I bought her some clothes and for the first time she wore new clothes. It took about four days for her to open up to tell me her life story. I cried with her as she shared her heart with me. I contacted one of the schools with a dorm so she can live there while she starts school and can be safe. I paid half of the school fee and promised the principal that I would seek a way to help her pay the fees which are $400 for tuition and personal needs a semester.
While on a month-long trip to Nigeria, Africa, S. Victoria Anyanwu set up a temporary health clinic and utilized her RN degree to teach people how to improve their health.
“I share Christ’s love and the spirit of Elizabeth Seton with the people of Nigeria,” she continues. “I dream of bringing them healing and hope for their ongoing suffering and encouragement to face their present moment with no fear, to let go of the past that can block peace or light of the present. To focus on the now allows God to make a way where there is no way.”
And so I ask, S. Victoria, on your next vacation trip, what does your imagination envision? “First, I would like to help people gain access to good, drinkable water for the village,” she replies. “Second, I would include children in the health fair which I wasn’t able to do this time.”
A blessing of being a Sister of Charity is that you are never alone during your endeavors. Wherever a Sister goes, the Community is there in support of them. The day before S. Victoria left on her ministerial vacation, the Sisters offered a special blessing in the Motherhouse chapel. On some days she was exhausted but was still empowered by remembering the blessing. In many ways the Congregation supported her as she took our blessings with her.
S. Victoria, a food provider, health care minister, educator, evangelizer and bearer of hope, finds inspiration from St. Vincent: “Allow yourself to be led by the Lord. … Trust God and follow God’s example. Always act humbly, gently and in good faith and you will see everything will go well. … It is God who allows all this to happen, but believe that God will not leave a heavy burden on your back without sustaining you. God will be your strength as well as your reward for the extraordinary service you give God.”
Editor’s Note: S. Victoria Anyanwu ministers at Good Samaritan Hospital in Cincinnati and at Hammington Hospice.