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In her youth Sister Trifa De Souza did a lot of sprinting each Easter in Mombasa | Coastweek

TROPHIES: In her youth Sister Trifa De Souza did a lot of sprinting each Easter in Mombasa. As she grew up, sport became her passion. Very quickly she was a champion sprinter at the Dr Ribeiro Goan School (off Parklands Road, renamed Dr Ribeiro Parklands School) and later a star hockey player. "Over the years I received many cups and big trophies and over 500 small trophies, all solid silver."

Long serving Trifa De Souza marks 50 years' as a Catholic nun

By Cyprian Fernandes*  in SYDNEY Australia -- Sister Trifa De Souza (aka the "wild one") this year marks 50 years as a Catholic nun in the service of children, especially very young girls with sad backgrounds, in Kenya.

A champion athlete and a star hockey player once, today she loves Gor Mahia, Manchester United and is an ardent fan of the Kenya Sevens rugby team.

She may scowl or even look a little cross, but there is always a large smile on face and her arms reach out in warm embrace of all the children who need her and the many people she meets every day.

She is currently at the Edelvale complex in Nairobi.

The saintly Mother Teresa is said to have first received her calling to religious service at the age 12 and later again at the age of 18.
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It was then that she was convinced where her future lay.

As a child, she was exceptionally devout.

The same could never be said about Kenyan Sister Trifa De Souza.

As a child she was never devout.

In fact, she was quite the opposite.

Virtually every Roman Catholic Goan household gathered each evening to say the rosary.

Some ultra-devout worshippers used to kneel on cement floors for more than an hour.

The centre piece in every home, be it a single room or a several roomed house, was an altar with clay figurines of the family’s favourite saints especially St Francis Xavier and Christ on the Cross as well as several pictures of Mary with Jesus, the Sacred Heart of Jesus and several saints.

As a child, Trifa was not a fan.

She "fought" with her dad about saying the daily evening rosary, attending Mass daily and other religious functions.

As she grew up, sport became her passion.

Very quickly she was a champion sprinter at the Dr Ribeiro Goan School (off Parklands Road, renamed Dr Ribeiro Parklands School) and later a star hockey player.

She had a special partner in her sports adventures, her twin sister Nifa.

So a religious life was the furthest thought from her mind.

 

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Sister Trifa De Souza at Waridi Primary School | Coastweek

HAPPY TIMES: Some of her happiest times at Edelvale were when she was in charge of Waridi Primary School. She says she was "in heaven" with her 110 little angels. Many of her former children still keep in touch. Many are parents and bring their children to Waridi. She loved each one of them as if he or she was her own.
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When a priest pressed her to consider a life of the nun’s habit, she was quick to tell him:

"Not on your life."

Yet, for two years, that snap outburst tormented her and she was filled with a little remorse and a lot of regret.

Eventually, in the hope her action would be an exercise in futility and fail miserably, she wrote to a convent applying for admission.

The moment she placed the letter in a post box, she prayed that they would turn her down.

After all, life was pretty good.

She was the sports girl of the moment, loved travelling around the world.

East Africa to play hockey or run in the athletics, and there were lots of boys who were trying desperately to win her heart.

Being a reasonably sensible girl, she really could not see any reason to give it all up.

Imagine her shock when she received a letter from the Congregation of Our Lady of Charity accepting her.

"God has strange ways and what he wants He gets and on 25 January 1967 on the Feast of Conversion of St Paul I started my Postulancy in Redcote Convent, Bitterne, Southampton.

"At that time the Church was going through transition so life in the Convent to a certain extent was monastic.

"It was tough, the food, the weather, the rules all were difficult.

"We couldn't talk in corridors and there was I breaking all the rules and getting into trouble but enjoyed life without complaining," she explains.

"It was difficult leaving my family, my boyfriends, the wild way of life doing what I wanted to do climbing trees, watching football matches, other sports and taking part in athletics and hockey.

"It was most difficult leaving my twin sister Nifa.

"It took me years but I fought it and kept going.

"I entered the convent on January 25, 1966, was a Postulant for one year, then two years novitiate and four years later took my final vows in England.

"It was a tough, semi monastic life, strict rules, don’t do this, don’t do that but I was myself and with His help came through.

"I came to Kenya after that in 1979 saw so many changes, but it was good to be home."

Thus began her life with the Sisters of our Lady of Charity and with her fellow nuns began a devotion that was dedicated to helping very young children, girls who had run away from home or children brought to Edelvale by the social services.
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The nuns’ chief aim is instill a sense dignity, provide a sanctuary and provide them with an education and prepare them the wider world.

From first day in 1979, she has had three passions: prayer, children especially girls (her "little angels"), sport and an absolute joy for living.

There have been many tough times in her life but she rarely speaks about them especially those involving some of the older girls and predatory men.

Her heart was broken when her twin Nifa passed away and to this day half her heart is still in pain.

However her uncompromising trust in her prayer and her mission sustains her every day.

Some of her happiest times at Edelvale were when she was in charge of Waridi Primary School.

She says she was "in heaven" with her 110 little angels.

Many of her former children still keep in touch.

Many are parents and bring their children to Waridi. She loved each one of them as if he or she was her own.

 

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Sister Trifa De Souza | Coastweek

KEEN ON SPORT -- A champion athlete and a star hockey player once, today Sister Trifa De Souza loves Gor Mahia, Manchester United and is an ardent fan of the Kenya Sevens rugby team.
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All she ever wanted to do was to give the young girls she worked with their dignity back, make them feel loved and cared for.

"Pray for them," she tells me.

While Sister Trifa did most of her work in the office, the children were never out of her mind, her thoughts or constant prayers.

She also wore the mantle of a feisty fundraiser and made regularly safaris to the UK to twist a few ex-Dr Ribeiro students’ arms at various fund raisers.

And she is very good at it.

She has convinced the Nairobi Indian community to provide items of food including flour, sugar, rice etc, once every two months or so.

"Education, especially, secondary schools are very expensive and we need all the help we can get," she told me on the phone.

"She is off to England on another pesa for Mama maskini safari in a week or two.

However, don’t let her fool you.

There was always a little bit of God in her.

"She told me that before her races and hockey matches she used to have regular conversations with Him.

What is also true, she told me, she used to regularly "fight" with Him, when something pretty awful happened to someone she knew.

These days, she has even longer talks with him.

She said the other day:

"So you thought I needed a short holiday and you dislocated my shoulder.

"That’s OK, I could do with a break."

She says: "God created me to enjoy life, so I am enjoying life."

The single most unforgettable thing about Sister Trifa is that she is almost cheeky, yet sometimes naughty, but there is always an innocent twinkle in her eyes.

As a child she got up to all sorts of mischief.

Once when I wrote that she looked "serene" in a photograph, she was quick to chide me with "I am anything but serene".

Her school chums would say that she was something of a tomboy.

While at school she fell in love with athletics:

"At the age of 13, I ran 100 and 200 yards sprints and the long Jump and won.

"The winners usually received clothing items like socks, scarves etc.

"This gave me the urge to do well not for the prizes but to get to the top.

"When I finished school, a group of us (formed the famous Spartans athletics club) who were interested in running got together decided to run the relays.

We travelled to Mombasa every Easter to run at the annual races there and enjoyed our success.

In Nairobi, we took part in the annual Goan Institute Sports Day that took place every December 26 and it meant that we could not eat the wonderful Goan Christmas sweets and chocolates until after the races.

"On one of my first trips to Mombasa, I won the Godgodo Challenge Cup (for a winning a sprint race three years in a row).

"That gave me the urge to continue in athletics and the winning streak went on for years.

"I didn't give up until I joined religious Life.

"Over the years I received many cups and big trophies and over 500 small trophies, all solid silver."

One year, a few former Goan School students formed what was to be the most successful women’s hockey club: The unbeatable Collegians.

Trifa was a little scared of being injured but eventually took to the sport after her sister Nifa pestered her to join the team.

"The Collegians did very well with the support of many people of many shades.

"We played against the National Team consisting of all Europeans at the time and defeated them on a few occasions.

"As we came closer to Independence, Bertha Fernandes and I were selected to play for Kenya.

"During my time as a member of Collegians Hockey Club, I was chosen as Captain of the Collegians and I decided, with the help of other senior players, to take the team to Uganda where we did not lose a single game.

"A few years later, we took a junior and a senior team to Tanganyika and Zanzibar where again we drew one game and won the rest."

Trifa loves all sports "but my favourite was Athletics and Hockey second.

"I am still interested in all sports.

"My favourite international team is Manchester United (from that fateful day in February 1958 when 43 people including players, officials and journalists lost their lives), my local Team is Gor Mahia (because they are special).

"At the moment my favourite sport is Rugby and my Team Kenya Sevens is doing fairly well."

Her only regret is that these days, she rarely gets to see live sport unless someone takes her there.

Uhuru came on December 12, 1963, followed by Madaraka the following year.

"The celebrations were full of life with all people living in Kenya celebrating their freedom.

"The way I looked at freedom was that I was no longer a second class citizen because of my colour.

"There were other difficulties after independence when all jobs were Africanized and so those in Government jobs were forced to retire.

"I was given the opportunity by my friends the Kenyans who were in charge to remain but chose to retire from the Post Office with a pension of 10 Kenya shillings a month.

"I worked in various clerical positions.

"The Post Office at the time was Semi-Government.

"The salary I received when I started in 1950 was 100 shillings a month with an increment of Shs.20 each year ."

She was a joker at work, too. The twins combined to fool Trifa’s co-workers.
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They could not tell who was who because they were identical and dressed the same.

Today, she worries about the endemic corruption which is choking her country like an inoperable cancer. She fears for her beautiful country and people.

Seriously, though.

Trifa’s life is really only about the children and about prayer.

She wakes each morning at 4 o’clock and begins and ends the day in constant prayer.

"That is what keeps me going.

"If He should call me, I am ready," she says with that cheeky smile of hers.

As she says her prayers, her face is lit by the memory of the thousands of girls the Sisters of Charity have been able help and prepare them for a future in Kenya.

She has lived only for the watoto!

 

Cyprian Fernandes | Coastweek

 

* Cyprian Fernandes is a former Nation Chief Reporter and veteran investigative journalist who currently lives in Sydney Australia.

 Sister Trifa De Souza and the unbeatable Collegians | Coastweek

CONQUERING COLLEGIANS -- Sister Trifa De Souza and a few former Goan School students formed what was to be the most successful women’s hockey club: The unbeatable Collegians. "During my time as a member of Collegians Hockey Club, I was chosen as Captain of the Collegians and I decided, with the help of other senior players, to take the team to Uganda where we did not lose a single game. A few years later, we took a junior and a senior team to Tanganyika and Zanzibar where again we drew one game and won the rest."

           

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