No one could have imagined where Sr. Virginia’s newfound passion would lead.
After retiring from her longtime education ministry, Sr. Virginia Honish, SDS (formerly Francis de Sales) was honored with the Milwaukee Archdiocese 2010 Service in Education Award. The following summer, she made her second trip to Tanzania to tutor local Salvatorian Sisters in English. The language course was designed to help Sisters pass national exams so they could advance their education to qualify for government nursing and teaching jobs.
After her visits to Tanzania, Sr. Virginia came away with a sense of despair for villagers struggling to survive. As an agrarian culture, Tanzanian people live off the land. A sad cultural reality is that some parents allow their daughters to be trafficked for sex in exchange for food for their families. Our Tanzanian Sisters educate their local people in better ways to plant, grow and harvest their crops to feed their families and sell the surplus at market. The Sisters’ 20 year-old tractor had been repaired many times and was no longer adequate for their vital working-learning partnership.
With endorsement from our U.S. Provincial Leadership team, Sr. Virginia launched a personal letter-writing campaign. What soon became known as “Sr. Virginia’s tractor project” is a testament to her spunk and strong ties from her 30-year ministry as a Milwaukee-area Catholic school teacher and administrator. She wrote to former students, parents of former students, and others she believed would grasp her vision to help our Tanzanian Sisters break a desperate cycle that erodes the dignity of their beloved people.
Sr. Virginia’s research showed $67,000 was needed to purchase a tractor with a plow and wagon. Her campaign that began in December 2011 raised more than $70,000 in less than six months. One year later, the new tractor and implements were servicing the villages of Masasi, Mekulani and Tundura. Next to the Sisters’ motherhouse in Masasi, the Salvatorian priests and brothers’ fully equipped garage and trained mechanics from the village keep the equipment running smoothly.
Sr. Virginia calls the response to her appeal humbling, and credits creative, grassroots giving. She recalls, “Families sold lemonade in their neighborhoods; children saved babysitting money or sent in birthday cash. Donations came from people who knew how important a tractor was in their own family’s life; some, in memory of loved ones who had lived on farms.” Along with many financial gifts came heartfelt notes and letters. Sr. Virginia cherishes each and every one.
Throughout her fundraising endeavor, Sr. Virginia continued her ministry as care coordinator for our sisters at the Salvatorian Sisters Residence in Milwaukee. Drawing on very different gifts than those that spurred her on for the tractor project, Sr. Virginia brings the goodness and kindness of Jesus wherever she finds great need.