Gallo, Jacqueline Carey (2017). 'How do Catholic missionary educational institutions in East Africa affect the capability development of marginalized girls?: Findings from two East African education missions' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Cape Town 2017.


This paper investigates the pastoral care, values education, and capability development of marginalized girls in East African Catholic educational environments. This paper presents a compilation of rich and emerging data from two studies: 1) a Master’s level ethnographic study at one American Catholic missionary home for orphaned and vulnerable girls in Kenya, and 2) pilot data for doctoral studies at one secondary girls’ boarding school run by a Catholic congregation of women religious primarily serving marginalized Karamojong females in northeastern Uganda.

Unterhalter and colleagues (2014) underscore the lack of research in contexts of single sex and faith schools; therefore, we cannot determine if positive gains (and if so which positive gains) are being made in girls’ education and learning there. Hence they conclude that priority should be given to research that aims to provide a deeper, more substantive understanding of faith communities and their involvement in girls’ education (Unterhalter et al., 2014). Nussbaum (2000) warns that ‘secular humanists who marginalize religion tend to treat religion as an enemy of women’s progress...thus alienat[ing] people who could become...influential allies’ (pp. 181 – 182). Therefore, it would be remiss not to seize the opportunity of conceptualising these studies through the Capability Approach and approaching both religious educators and faith schools alike as allies in promoting quality girls’ education and challenging inequalities to support social change.

Data from the perspectives of Kenyan caregivers and American administrators alike at the Kenyan children’s home elaborate the misunderstandings and miscommunications between Kenyan and American views of pastoral care, values education, and ideal models of femininity. 

By exploring the pastoral culture and educational programming, the data demonstrate how the Kenyan home’s moral values inform curriculum, social norms, and 'moral contracts' and which, as a result of this, structures the experience of caregiving and schooling. Findings describe how conflicting moral values of caregivers create tensions over approaches to moral education, despite a shared aspiration for the home to be a model of Christian living. The findings reveal that Kenyan caregivers’ concerns about the challenges of raising girls in divergent value systems persist. Kenyan and American caregivers espoused stereotypical views of ‘other’ cultures and expressed resentment. Further, the way American missionaries perceived Kenyan girls, through a narrow, culturally informed understanding of what constitutes emancipation, isolates the girls from their cultural heritage and constitutes an injustice.

Two main issues are highlighted from these findings. First, how American missionaries’ own cultural perspectives affected the girls’ education; and, secondly, how a missionary institution can ever really serve the needs of the girls for whom it exists against a backdrop of amalgamated and competing cultural and religious perspectives. With the ubiquity of Western NGO activity in African social services and increased US government funding of faith-based initiatives abroad, it is necessary to understand how children’s values and cultural identities are formulated in missionary settings.

Contrasting data emerged from the doctoral pilot study in the northeastern Ugandan Catholic school. The contrast demonstrates a different understanding of the term ‘missionary’ and thus a contrasting view of values education and pastoral care from those exhibited in the Kenyan children’s home. To ‘be a missionary’ (an identity held by American administrators of the Kenyan children’s home) as compared to ‘doing missionary work’ (an active living of faith by indigenous members of the international religious congregation) assume divergent interpretations based on one’s cultural context and religious formation. The pilot study data presents an international and yet indigenous religious congregation who ‘do missionary work’ through education by encouraging an appreciation of an individual student’s autonomy in prioritizing affiliations and the development of a capability set.

Although the study of an American run children’s home in Kenya confirm early assumptions about the purpose of faith educational settings – that successful development should be about religious conversion or joining a religious congregation – the pilot study indicates that this is not always the case. The pilot study at the Ugandan Catholic school demonstrates that these early assumptions may be outdated as is evidenced by the school’s adherence to a century’s worth of Vatican decrees, formation of its women religious or outright rejected by southern theologies.

The interest this religious congregation in Uganda have already shown in altering their own discourse about girls’ development and transition out of the school – and how the school could best prepare them for it – makes the Ugandan Catholic school a very different community than the Kenyan children’s home (Gallo, 2015). Furthermore, it does suggest that the Ugandan Catholic school is really picking up on progressive agendas and, in the light of this shift, altering both their secondary curriculum and their sense of how local gendering (and usually marginalization) issues will affect capability development and transition.

This paper further validates Unterhalter and colleagues’ contention that in the studies available of faith schools, context is integral and no single intervention fits all schools (2014). This paper contends that it is the cultural orientation rather than the religious orientation of religious administrators that affects the prioritization of affiliation and capability development for girls in Catholic educational institutions such as those in my studies. This paper will exhibit how the religious administrators’ understanding, acknowledgement and orientation on postcolonial discourses and non-Western theologies (such as African Theology and Liberation Theology) heavily influence their enactment of the term ‘mission’ and the implementation of values education and capability development.

This paper’s goal is to use these two studies to better understand the contemporary context of Catholic missionary institutions in East Africa as the researcher continues a yearlong ethnographic study in the Ugandan Catholic school from the pilot study.

This work explores how findings can facilitate a new values debate within faith schools and education development discourses. Implementing the Nussbaum’s Capabilities Approach and the normative list of ten Central Capabilities, this paper evaluates how neglecting the cultural needs of East African girls in Catholic missionary environments can mitigate against their capability development and receipt of a ‘good education’. 

Keywords: secondary education, faith schools, orphaned and vulnerable children (OVC) girls, East Africa, children’s homes 

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