Sister Rachel Kunkler, M.M. celebrated her 60th Jubilee as a Maryknoll Sister on February 12th, 2017. Sister Rachel Kunkler with a group of youth in Tanzania who named themselves “Chapa Kazi” which literally means “Hard Work.” Another free translation would be “hit the deck” or “get the job done!”
For the past forty-three years Sister Rachel has lived in Tanzania, East Africa. She is definitely a multi-task person and presently, along with Sister Noreen McCarthy, is a consultant for women and youth groups in rural and urban Iringa Region where they arrived almost twenty years ago and initiated the “Chapa Kazi” group. Presently the Sisters are consultants for women and youth groups on alternative energy – solar lighting and windmill water pumps; business and marketing skills for economic projects. They do HIV/AIDS counseling and prepare young, economically poor women for secondary and post secondary education, which includes tutoring, getting scholarships, and keeping contact while they are away at school.
It is easy to understand why in 1995, the President of Tanzania honored the Sisters with an award issued by the Ministry of Labour and Youth Development for their work in the Iringa Region. They had worked with seven groups in four districts.
Their original Chapa Kazi group eventually built eight houses for themselves plus a kindergarten and day care center. They also sent a young woman away to study and how to teach in their kindergarten. These young people are a mixture of religions, Catholic, Lutheran and Muslim as well as a mixture of tribes, Wabena and Wakinga. Sister Rachel said, “They kept reminding us that we had once mentioned solar lighting….they work hard and they keep us working hard!”
Sister Rachel entered the Maryknoll Sisters in 1957 from Loogootee, Indiana. She was in pre-medical studies in St. Mary of the Woods College. In Maryknoll, Sister Rachel finished those studies at Mt .St. Vincent’s earning a B.S. in Biology. After language study in Tanzania, Sister Rachel taught biology, chemistry and other subjects for nine years in three secondary schools. When her students were coming back to teach, Sister Rachel changed her teaching to lay leadership training for small Christian communities in the Arusha diocese. For twelve years the Sisters visited all the parishes and over two thousand leaders were trained in the Center. At the same time they had a small farm with ten young people working in animal husbandry which helped make the Center self-reliant. They were able to turn this Center over to Tanzanian Sisters from Kilimanjaro and respond to the government invitation to work in the Iringa Region.
Sister Rachel was a delegate to four General Assemblies of the Maryknoll Sisters as well as serving full time one year as the Regional Research and Planning Coordinator for the Tanzania Maryknoll Sisters. In 2008 she celebrated her Golden Jubilee, fifty years of giving her life for others, stretching her imagination and talent to meet urgent needs in mission.
Sisters Rachel and Noreen take their turns staffing the house of hospitality in Nairobi, Kenya for Maryknoll Sisters in Africa for retreats, meetings, medical care, etc. However, they will be in daily contact by cell phone with the folks in Iringa and will go back every two months for a week or so.