In this latest installment of the #IamPaxChristi interview, we’re profiling Teresia Wamuyu Wachira, a Sister of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (also known as the Loreto Sisters). She is from Kenya and a member of the Pax Christi International Board. This series aims to highlight short conversations with the women and men who make up our movement. The interview was conducted by communications intern Marie Just in December at the Nonviolence in Africa conference in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Marie Just: How did you become involved with peace and justice work, and what was your first involvement in Pax Christi International??
Teresia Wamuyu Wachira: I first got involved in peace and justice work at the university in Kenya during my graduate studies. During English literature studies, I took a unit on “Women” and it was during class discussions that I came face-to-face with the stereotypical attitudes towards women – perception of women as ‘second class citizens’ and also the institutionalization of violence against women. I felt called to do something about this.
My first involvement in Pax Christi International was while I was studying my Masters in the UK. Valerie Flessati was my supervisor, and during this time I met Pat Gaffney and the late Fr. Giovanni Schudiero. The way they spoke and dedicated themselves as members of Pax Christi was impressive and this is what influenced me to be a member of Pax Christi.
MJ: During your time with the Loreto Sisters, can you tell us a story about a time that the work of the Loreto Sisters made a real difference in the situation in your country, or in the lives of people there?
TWW: Loreto Sisters are actively involved in education, mainly of girls. In the early 1900s, the Loreto Sisters ran schools for girls at a time when education of girls was not considered a priority. They did this against the African culture at the time that required girls to get married once they were of age and also to bring forth many children. As a result of going against such practices, some of the girls that got an opportunity to go to school are in influential positions in Kenya and across the globe, making a difference in the lives of men and women of our times. One of these girls that has left a legacy is the late Peace Nobel Laureate, Professor Wangari Maathai who has left a legacy of the care of our Mother Earth.
MJ: What does nonviolence mean to you personally and professionally? How would you describe it?
TWW: I believe that human beings are good and ultimately desire peace. When provoked human beings react in a particular way either peacefully or nonviolently. According to me, nonviolence is the way to go. However, this is not usually the first option when one is provoked. The easier and faster way is the way of violence. As a member of Pax Christi, when someone annoys me or acts violently towards me, this gives me an opportunity to practice what I proclaim to others – the way of active nonviolence. This means first looking at the situation, reflecting on it and making a decision on how to respond. Do I want to react in a violent way or do I decide to act nonviolently?
When I am faced with this dilemma – to act violently or nonviolently – it is like I have two things in my hand to choose from: one that will bring life and the other death. Often when faced with this dilemma in my daily life, I try not to fight back; I also try to choose my words carefully so that I will not make a violent situation worse. For instance, instead of blaming the other for the anger I feel, I just express that I am feeling very angry for what has just happened. I make efforts to try and get an opportunity to dialogue and reconcile with the other person as soon as an opportunity avails itself as I value good relationships.
Being a member of Pax Christi has really helped my outlook to life. When provoked, I find myself thinking: “Okay, I might be angry but I don’t want to react immediately.” Thus, as far as I am concerned, nonviolence is really about making choices; it is taking that prophetic step: “standing up and being counted” as one that is walking that ‘road that is less traveled’ – the path of nonviolence.
The more I reflect on what it means to act nonviolently, the more I am convinced that ‘nonviolence is at the core of our being’ – we all have the ability to act in a nonviolent way, but we have to work on it. We have the freedom to choose the nonviolent way which leads to life or the violent way that leads to death. Active nonviolence is therefore choosing the ‘road less traveled’ as it were. I believe that we have to be committed and consciously choose this path. Following this path is therefore not going to be easy; at times it will make us look and feel like a fool, especially among people who do not understand why we are acting this way. I believe that even when I am pushed to the wall, there is an option. The option is not to fight back in a violent manner but as it were ‘to turn the other cheek,’ to dialogue and see my own image in the other.
Therefore, in acting nonviolently, I believe we are following in Christ’s footsteps – Jesus who while crucified on the cross chose the path of forgiveness instead of the path of retaliation and violence.
MJ: How many years have you been part of the Loreto Sisters?
TWW: I joined the Loreto Sisters a long time ago immediately after my high school in 1975. The school was an all girls’ boarding school that was run by the Loreto Sisters. The sisters were very kind and lived an ordinary way of life and this is what attracted me to them and their way of life. I was seventeen years old when I joined the Loreto Sisters. I have already celebrated my Silver Jubilee as a Loreto Sister.
For my Master’s Degree I went to the UK in 1997. It was here that I got attracted to Pax Christi. Then I went back to Kenya, where I was appointed to be a principal of a Loreto girls’ boarding school with over 700 girls. I stayed in this school for four years and then left for the UK in 2007 to pursue a Ph.D. in Peace Studies at the University of Bradford. During this time I was in constant communication with Valerie Flessati and Pat Gaffney.
MJ: When we talk about supporting women, do you have an example of your work, when you focus on women’s issues? Do you have a story that you can share?
TWW: I do not have only one story because I have a passion for working with women. Years back when I was a student in the university, I was attending to women and youth. Today, I make a point of meeting them where they are, especially the women. I meet them in the churches because this is where a lot of women who may not have a lot of money or who are struggling financially gather. When I meet these women, I do not dictate to them what topics to discuss but allow them to select the kind of topics that they are interested in. Most of them are interested in topics that deal with youth. Currently the discussions and training have been mainly on how to mentor their teenage children, especially with the current challenge of youth radicalization. Another topic is on family relationships, especially considering the breakdown of family values in today’s context. Also the discussions are on issues of violence in the home, especially on gender-based violence, and how to address this without creating a cycle of violence.
Before joining the Pax Christi International Board in 2016, Teresia Wamuyu Wachira was an active member of Pax Christi UK. She has contributed to a workbook for key stage 4, PSHE and Citizenship, and for chaplaincy and retreat work, Peace People who Changed the World. Currently, she is a Senior Lecturer in Peace Studies at St. Paul’s University in Nairobi, Kenya.