Simon was born 26 October 1974 on the shores of Lake Victoria, fifteen hours drive from Arusha in Tanzania, to parents Kaswahili Nyanda and Rose Paschal. He was the fourth born of seven: six boys and a girl. In his growing years Simon was very actively involved in the homestead farm life – the growing of maize, beans, sweet potatoes, and the herding of cows and goats. He recalls being very close to his mother as a child and enjoying carefree time to play. However, he also recalls going hungry when drought and consequent famine struck the family.
In 1985, at age 11, he commenced primary school at Rubambangwe village, to which he walked the 11 kilometers barefoot each day. Again he recalls the difficulty of being at school when the hunger of famine times was felt. At age 19 he commenced studies at Chato Secondary, 20 km from his home, staying with a friend of his father. An achievement at this time was being made prefect in charge of production, due to his hands-on knowledge of farm life. His family did not see the importance of schooling and wanted him to work on the farm. He compromised by working at home on weekends.
In 1996, Simon commenced at Kadoka Teachers College (30 hours drive from Arusha) where, over the three years, he says he formed close and intimate friendships with some male and female classmates. In 1997, he met the then Brother Bob Aron who was promoting vocations to the Christian Brothers. Simon said to himself, “Let me see what living with wazungu (‘whites’) is like; and as I don’t have an offer of teaching yet, I may as well have a go.”
So in 1998, Simon moved into the Christian Brothers’ Pre-Novitiate (now known as “Shams”) in Arusha with Bob Aron, Frank Chappell, and Vin Ives. He found it strange being in a large bedroom, all on his own. The prayers seemed a bit much and he did not like getting out of bed at 5am to milk the cows on the property. What he enjoyed was the classes with Frank and Bob, especially the story of Edmund Rice. He was impressed with the simplicity of the Brothers, their friendship with him and with one another, and the glimpses he received of Brotherhood. He recalls being with Amandi Mboya, Cornel Mwiru, and Peter Manjala, together with Philip, Ferdinand, and Charles who did not continue.
In 1999, Simon decided to discontinue the formation process to reflect on whether the Brothers’ life was really for him. He rented a room, and got a job at the Uhai Centre as an educator in HIV/AIDS awareness. During that year he was saddened by the death of his mother. Frank Chappell accompanied Simon in the discernment process, which led to his successful application to enter the Novitiate in Tamale in early 2001.
Aside from the heat of northern Ghana, Simon enjoyed the Novitiate, and he retains an appreciation of the guidance of Tim Lockwood and Bob Aron. He took his first vows as a Christian Brother at Shams in December 2002. At the beginning of 2003, Simon joined Amandi Mboya, Daniel Lyimo, Peter Manjala, and Archard Ruyange at the house at Engosengiu to form community under the guidance of Frank O’Shea. It was a precious time for him as together they lived out Religious Life in a distinctively African way. There was pressure from the local people who saw them as resources in emergency situations. The ministry of the community was teaching at the local primary school.
In early 2006, Simon became part of the first community at Embulbul before moving to Karen to commence studies for his degree in Education. Towards the end of his studies, he moved to Otiende in 2008, becoming community leader in 2009. After graduating in May 2010, he moved back to Embulbul where he is community leader and teaching at Beausang Secondary. Simon says he enjoys being of service as community leader. Among the challenges he has faced as community leader are: making decisions that will not please everyone; finding the courage to speak the truth and to challenge Brothers; and being junior to some in the community who had already made their permanent commitment as Brothers.
So what motivates him to make his own Final Profession of Vows? Simon says that firstly he has the conviction within himself that he is happy to be a Brother among Brothers; secondly he enjoys the opportunity of ministering as teacher to disadvantaged youth; and thirdly he wishes to respond to that call in 1998 to fulfil being a disciple of Jesus.
What are his hopes for the East Africa District? Simon responds: “Firstly to achieve sustainability for our Brotherhood, including formation, and in ministry. I want to be active in enabling our East African District to stand on its own two feet. And secondly, I want to be part of taking fuller responsibility for our life of Brotherhood, especially when the wazungu are gone. Who will do it if I don’t?”
Interview and photos by Russell Peters
Republished July 2011
Adapted from East African District Newsletter no. 150.