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December 14, 2010 - Sister Linda Hill, 1985 graduate of Aquinas and 1988 graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Nursing, was called, early in life, to the convent. In 1976, Hill began her education at Aquinas College with the intention of studying pre-med in order to eventually become a medical doctor. However, she recalls, God had different plans. After two years of traditional education, she felt inspired to discontinue her path toward doctoral status and join the Consolata Sisters of Walker. Hill’s desire to live a life of service for God and others as well as “share the gift of faith” enabled her to deviate from the traditional course in order to follow her heart. Hill’s devotion to the church, however, did not eliminate her passion for the medical profession.

After two years of theological study in Italy, Hill returned to Grand Rapids to continue her education at Aquinas. Her desire to pursue a medical degree was still evident, yet had changed direction since her experience with the sisters. Deciding to pursue a degree in biology, Sister Linda began to study the human body in order to utilize the tradition of the Consolata Sisters who wish to “bring consolation through the healing of the sick.” After her graduation from AQ in 1985 with a bachelor of science, she pursued additional education in the field of nursing. In 1988, ten years after she was initially called to service, Sister Linda graduated from the University of Alabama with a bachelor of science in nursing and the knowledge she needed to begin mission work overseas.

In 1988, Hill was sent, through the guidance of the sisters, to the Consolata Missionary Sisters Province in Kenya. Soon after arriving in Africa, she began to study midwifery, due to the serious medical complications faced by Kenyan women when giving birth, and soon became a registered midwife through the University of Nayrubi. Though the prospect of being one of only a few Americans in an underdeveloped African country may seem difficult or frightening to most, Hill relishes the opportunity to aid the suffering and demonstrate God’s love throughout the world. “Consolatas go where nobody else wants to go,” she states, and adds that they intend “…to bring the gospel to those who have not yet heard.” As Hill continued her work in a hospital in Wamba, the remoteness of her location became apparent. Working in the only educational institution in the north of Kenya, she chuckles and admits that the hospital attached contains “200 beds in the middle of nowhere.” Despite this disadvantage, the nursing school, of which she was placed in charge in 1990, remains a viable source of education and medical assistance.

After years of loyal service and education, Hill had found her passion. As she describes her many experiences at the nursing school in Wamba, her face lights up with the delight of one who has followed her calling and fulfilled her dream of service for others. The students at the university seek to better their lives and the lives of their family through education. All of the 150 male and female students live in dorms at the institution. Although their education necessitates spending an entire year away from the support and love of their families or hundreds of miles of distance between the villages of their birth, they are dedicated to the betterment of their society. Hill understands the students’ sacrifice and notes that many of these young adults “are the only breadwinner in the whole family.” Therefore, the tuition for the university is often supported through benefactors or the work of students at the hospital after they earn their degree.

Though most of Hill’s responsibilities are now administrative, the personal nature of the school, as well as the location, widens the scope of her job description. The school, which serves as a home and a safe haven for students, is not just an academic institution. Each day, Hill and the additional staff members “coordinate, organize, and plan the life and studies of 150 students.” This is not a simple task. The university itself is 400 miles from the nearest shopping center and shopping trips, which are required to purchase supplies due to the lack of local food and resources, require a week long commitment. As a registered nurse, Hill teaches anatomy and physiology and is the only American professor at the school. On top of her administrative and organizational tasks, she also provides emotional support for students who attend classes 11 months out of the year. “I’m their mother actually,” she comments, and continues to explain the extreme commitment of the students who have traveled far from their birthplaces and comfort of their culture in order to earn an education. This idea, which is not common in many African countries, requires a strength and drive that is praised and understood by Hill.

These young adults, in contrast to American students, often go home to families who live in grass huts and continue to practice polygamy. Women, who are bartered for in order to form marriage contracts, have little to no rights in Kenya. Therefore, male and especially female students are in awe of the technology, forward thinking, and education that are made available to them through the European and American teachers at the University. Hill notes that they have “one foot in tradition, and one foot out” and commonly want to take their degree and practice elsewhere. After experiencing Western culture and adapting to modern conveniences such as the internet and cellular phones, many of the students have no interest in returning to their underdeveloped society. Here, Hill adds regretfully, is “the negative side of education.” When this desire occurs, she will often encourage her students to work in their villages in order to aid in the development of their society. The lack of technology, especially in Kenya, might result in the graduate of the Wamba nursing school becoming the only medical personnel in the whole area. However, Hill believes whole heartedly that education should be utilized to give back. The passion to serve, the driving force in her life, is thus instilled in the hearts and minds of her students.

With the hard work of support from Hill, the Kenyan students are earning an education which will enable them to contribute to their community through medical aid as well as gain an image of positive self worth. The female students, who are provided an incredible opportunity to become something other than wife and mother in Kenyan society, participate in what Hill lovingly advocates, “upgrading the status of the woman” in the area. The school as a whole has also benefited from her dedication, as it has updated its staff from Licensed Practical Nurses to Registered Nurses due to her experience and knowledge in the field. Now, with an educated and practiced staff and students opening their eyes to new possibilities, the school has truly become a cornerstone in the Wamba community.

Hill’s dedication to education, as well as her service to those in need, earned her a notable distinction at the 60 year anniversary of the University of Alabama. To mark the occasion, the University celebrated 60 of their alumni “for their distinctive leadership, innovation, and service in the fields of nursing and health care.” As a “Visionary Leader,” Hill has undoubtedly demonstrated the ability to make a difference through education, hard work, and following one’s calling. In order to follow her dreams, she traveled across the world to help those in need, and is truly making a long lasting and notable difference through her work in Africa and her influence in the United States.