LWF’s Hélène Ralivao Fund awards first scholarships for women in Africa
A legacy to theological education and leadership development
(LWI) - The legacy of Malagasy Lutheran Church (MLC) pioneer woman theologian Hélène Ralivao will live on through a new program dedicated to women’s theological education and leadership development in Africa.
The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) introduced the Hélène Ralivao Fund (HRF) during an online meeting, 24 June, which was attended by the first 10 women to receive study grants. The students come from LWF member churches in Cameroon, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. They will pursue doctoral and masters’ studies in theology and in leadership development. All of them will study at church-run seminaries and universities in their respective countries or within the African region.
During the meeting, several of the candidates and LWF representatives paid tribute to Ralivao for her inspiration and commitment to theological education, gender justice and women’s empowerment. The MLC theologian was murdered in February 2020 in Madagascar.
“As the pioneer group of this scholarship program, we hope that you will be inspired to bring to light the barriers that prevent women from participating in God’s church where all—male and female—are called to serve together and exercise leadership with dignity and power,” said Rev. Dr Elieshi Mungure, LWF regional secretary for Africa.
Promote systemic change
The fund will provide scholarships for women studying theology in the LWF African region and coordinate research and resource development on issues related to the intersection between theology, gender and leadership.
Explaining the fund’s purpose, Rev. Chad Rimmer, LWF program executive for Identity, Communion and Formation said “the LWF sees theological education as a way to promote systemic change toward the full, meaningful participation of women” in the leadership of member churches. “The goal is to empower women in the church, build their theological, biblical, conceptual skills, mobilize them to share knowledge, and through that contribute to processes of liberation and structural change within society and the church,” he added.
Within the LWF, Ralivao was secretary for the Women in Church and Society (WICAS) network in Madagascar and in the regional Lutheran Communion in Central and Eastern Africa (LUCCEA), and a member of the Advisory Committee for Theological Education in Africa (ACTEA). She represented her church as a delegate to the LWF Assemblies in Hong Kong in 1997 and in Winnipeg, Canada, in 2003.
A charismatic leader
In her tribute, MLC Deputy General Secretary Ms Toromare Mananato remembered Ralivao as an outstanding woman of “faith and hope.” She spoke of “a charismatic and hardworking leader, who was dedicated to women’s theological education, and who never gave up on her dream that women’s ordination at the Malagasy Lutheran Church will come some day.”
Hélène Ralivao was a charismatic and hardworking leader, who was dedicated to women’s theological education, and who never gave up on her dream that women’s ordination at the Malagasy Lutheran Church will come some day.
Ralivao was among the first women students at the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Fianarantsoa in 1974. She went on to graduate with a Master of Sacred Theology from the Wartburg Theological Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa, United States in 1989.
Between 1971 and 1987, she served her church in different roles in the central region of Fianarantsoa. She started off as regional secretary and treasurer for Sunday school, youth work and church workers’ associations while also teaching at the theological seminary. From 1990 until 2009, she was national general secretary of the MLC women’s association. She was also general secretary of the Protestant women’s federation in Madagascar and founder of a women’s cooperative, among other roles.
Ralivao’s work included support to national, regional and global campaigns to end violence against women, and assisting orphans and homeless children. At the time of her death at the age of 67, she was a mentor and director of the ILOFAV women’s vocational training center, which she helped to establish in 1997.
LWF’s member churches and partners provide funding for HRF.
By LWF/P. Mumia