CCP alumna appointed Safeguarding Officer at a Kenyan University

Today, an alumna of the our diploma program, Sr. Jacinta Ondeng, SSND, shares news on her appointment as a Safeguarding Officer and the start of newly developed course in safeguarding at a Kenyan university. Sr. Jacinta is a memberof the congregation of the School Sisters of Notre Dame (Province of Africa) and graduated from the Centre of Child Protection’s diploma program on safeguarding in February 2020. Below she shares with us her work in the field of safeguarding.

As a psychologist and educator at Nairobi’s Tangaza University College (TUC) owned by 22 member congregations of religious orders of men) and a constituent of the Catholic University of Eastern Africa, I felt the need to receive training in the protection of minors and vulnerable adults at the Pontifical Gregorian University’s Centre for Child Protection (CCP). I held the conviction that this training was relevant and much needed for our college students and the entire academic community. The plan for my return was that I would train the students – (most of whom are men and women religious) – through an approved three-credit course in safeguarding. I remain convinced that the development of safeguarding courses is pertinent in light of the global Church’s efforts to curb issues surrounding abuse and its cover-up. Courses such as the one now offered at TUC will assist the religious and clergy in their role as pastoral agents. Additionally, I had planned to conduct workshops for the entire college community on broad topics related to the safeguarding of minors and vulnerable adults. Since my return home, much has happened!

The latest news is that in March 2021, I was appointed as a safeguarding officer – along with two others – for TUC. Relatively new to the office but filled with zeal, as a team, we have embarked in the process of drafting a plan that will enable everyone in our academic community to create an environment that promotes the safeguarding of minors and vulnerable adults both within the college community itself as well as in other settings.

Prior to my appointment as a safeguarding officer, I worked closely with the leadership of the School of Theology (SOT) of Tangaza University College and the leadership of the Association of Men Religious Congregations in Kenya (RSCK) as interested stakeholders, in the development of a course on safeguarding of minors and vulnerable adults. This course is designed for our 4th year students in the SOT.  The course content is a little bit different from the common course on safeguarding taught to our students in the integrated institutes or schools. The SOT version has additional components that reflect a grounded knowledge for the ongoing formation of our men and women religious and, of course, future priests on matters of safeguarding as presented by the Church. One of the goals of this course is to work toward a change in understanding of what it means to safeguard minors and vulnerable adults within the Church by clergy and religious themselves. Among the main matters, this course works to break down is the constant denial by some religious and clergy that abuse of minors is not a problem for the Church in Africa.

I am happy to note that our first class (January – April 2021) is made up of 48 students both men and women religious from the departments of Philosophy and Theology. As the main instructor to this course, I am most grateful to the first cohort of students for their perseverance in and ability to adjust to challenges that come with being pioneers of any program. The commitment I have observed in these learners has been impressive and indeed my work with them has set the pace for the future courses and groups.  The current students’ feedback has been most touching for me. The students have relayed that the course has been an eye-opener on issues surrounding abuse in both the church and society.

We are most grateful to Rev. Fr. Professor Kevin Otieno Mwandha SBD (currently the head of department of Canon Law at the Salesian University, Rome) for his availability to join us on March  10th, 2021 as our first guest speaker. The students, formators. and others who followed the online presentation greatly appreciated his insight into Motu Proprio “Vos estis lux mundi.”

I look forward to the official launch of this course which has been delayed mainly due to the current global struggle with the Covid-19 pandemic. It is my hope that once the course is officially launched, we will be able to offer it as an outreach program in training other religious men and women in outlying communities. Furthermore, I look forward to the collaboration with the dioceses of Kenya in the continued training of clergy, religious, and laity on safeguarding of minors and vulnerable adults.

May I conclude by sincerely expressing my gratitude to Professor Fr. Hans Zollner, SJ and Fr. Antonio Carron O.A.R for their continued support whenever I have called on them for guidance on matters related to my work in safeguarding. Their kind hearts and mentorship have certainly been most invaluable. I am a proud alumna of the CCP’s Diploma in Safeguarding!

Sr. Jacinta Ondeng, SSND