“I am grateful for this empowerment and I hope that I can make a positive contribution to preaching through the media.”  

“It was really a fruitful time for me; I wish that other Sisters from our congregations could also have this opportunity.  God bless everybody that made this course life-giving.”

“I hope the participants will be able to gather again for a follow-up program in order to share their experiences.”

These were among the comments of Sister participants as they concluded the two-week workshop, “Communication and Evangelization: DSI – 2.0 Connecting Dominican Sisters in Africa”.  Twenty Dominican Sisters from 19 congregations and 13 countries of Africa took part in the program sponsored by Dominican Sisters International in Johannesburg in July 2013.  DSI is grateful for the collaboration of the Order’s General Promoter for Social Communications, Eric Salobir OP (France) and his colleague, Fr. Gilles Lherbier (Diocese of Military Services, France).  A previous article, “‘Africa, Rise Up!’ - Preaching and Social Media”, summarized the initial week of this two week program.

At the conclusion of the first week, the weekend provided another opportunity for participants to use the skills of effective interviewing, writing and photography. On Saturday, the group visited Sandton City, a major commercial, business and entertainment hub of South Africa that includes Nelson Mandela Square, a library, 300 shops, restaurants, theaters and hotels. Participants interviewed and photographed staff and a variety of shoppers and visitors to the “City”. Upon return to Koinonia Centre, Sisters worked in teams to develop a newsletter based on their experiences.  Later that evening, Sisters organized an evening of cultural celebration. In traditional dress, Sisters shared songs, dances and stories from their various cultures. With refreshments provided by Koinonia Centre, the evening was enjoyed by all.

Sunday involved an excursion to Soweto, the largest Township in South Africa and a key site for the anti-Apartheid struggle. Following Mass with the parishioners of Regina Mundi Church, Sisters visited other important sites in Soweto including these: the Hector Pieterson Memorial (Hector Pieterson, age 13, the first student to be killed during the 1976 Student Uprising in Soweto); the homes of Nelson and Winnie Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu on Vilakazi Street; Kliptown, where in June 1955, an unprecedented Congress of the People developed “The Freedom Charter” which articulated the social principles incompatible with apartheid.  After a picnic lunch in Walter Sisulu Square in the heart of Kliptown, the group visited the Apartheid Museum.  Established in 2001, this museum, the first of its kind, illustrates the rise and fall of apartheid. A special exhibit on Nelson Mandela was particularly moving because, during the workshop’s days, Tata ("Father") Mandela was teetering between life and death.

The second week of the program involved continued work on and shared critiques of the newsletters that Sisters developed.  The next skill on which Frs. Eric and Giles focused was making effective videos, especially for use on websites.  Sisters had the opportunity to use this skill when the group visited Radio Veritas, its Director, Emil Blaser OP, and other staff members.  In addition to learning about the ways in which radio ministry is an opportunity for preaching, Sisters had the chance to interview and film many of the staff members of Radio Veritas.  Everyone was very grateful for the warm and generous hospitality of Fr. Emil and all the staff.  Based on the visit to Radio Veritas, Sisters worked in teams of two and prepared short videos designed for website publication.  After the teams shared their video interviews in a plenary session, the presenters and other participants offered both affirmation and critique.  Again, the process was a helpful learning exercise for all. 

In light of the fact that strengthening the networking and collaboration among Sisters in Africa was one of the goals of this program, Frs. Eric and Giles helped participants to create Facebook accounts and a Facebook group through which they can stay connected, share social media projects and other information.  This Facebook group will also facilitate networking with the DSI Secretariat in Rome.

The final project of the program was an interesting exercise that had the Sisters working together in four teams of five persons each.  Each team created a “Product Box”.  To begin, the team identified an imagined project, service or organization. Having received a rectangular cardboard box about 18” X 12” X 4”, the team decorated the box to express the purpose, goals and activities of the project.  Each team then developed various media that promoted and explained the project represented by the Box.  The culminating event was a “press conference” hosted by the team during which they used photos, videos, brochures or news articles that they created to present the concept represented by their “Product Box.”  This final exercise of the program was an opportunity for participants to demonstrate and integrate social media skills learned during the program.

In addition to the knowledge and skills that participants acquired during this program, the days together were an opportunity to build relationships among Dominican Sisters in Africa. Working in teams for program exercises, praying together and experiencing a community spirit strengthened connections among individual Sisters and their congregations.

As the comments at the beginning of this article and participant evaluations indicate, Sisters appreciated this chance to develop new skills and to explore social media as a vehicle for preaching the Good News.

Toni Harris OP
DSI Staff Person On-Site in Johannesburg
(28 August 2013)