I have been asked by my parish of Cassago Brianza(Italy) to give a witness my experience in Chad, which is one of the poorest countries of the planet! I will write about my 50 years’ experience in Africa.
In fact, writing my experience which will make me relive years of hopes, disappointment, precarious peace and true war …. besides years of hunger due to drought, would mean writing almost a book.
However the certitude of communicating the “Word of God” to the brothers requires unconditional love, without considering the hassle; but it has always filled my heart with joy and faith in the one who is the only and true Missionary: Jesus Christ.
On the 28th August 1967, feast of St. Augustine, we began our mission.
A French plane with two sisters of charity on board, Sr. Claudia Sottocornola and I, landed in the capital, today N'Djamena. Later, we had another one hour flight on the small plane of the company “Air-Chad” which took us to Sarh, situated in the south of Chad. Father Luigi Lomazzi welcomed us and then we followed him with our Citroen. We covered 200 km up to Goundi always on bumpy and muddy roads.
Around 45 Christians and one hundred catechumens were waiting for us, but even the people of the various villages were getting prepared to welcome us.
Doubtless to say, Father Lomazzi had high hopes in our collaboration! He immediately revealed to us his priorities: a maternity wing, caring for sick children and evangelization in the villages.
A year earlier Father Lomazzi had already organised a formation centre for catechists. This was our first and main engagement: learning with them to read and to write in the local language (the “Sarà”), with the help of a spelling book prepared by us.
A year later, the Sisters of Charity of our congregation helped us to build the maternity wing and to open a clinic for children and later even for adults.
Father Lomazzi was then replaced by another Jesuit, Father Angelo Gherardi.
In the meantime, as time passed by and through a well organized pastoral work, the number of Christians increased.
After having covered Km of sandy roads to visit the villages, to come in contact with the people and the traditional heads, many programs responding to life reality were suggested.
From the pastoral point of view, the territory was divided in seven sectors.
The adults who accepted the teaching of catechism, learned the Word of God by heart while the children and the youths learned in the first place to read in the local language. Thus the “educative catechists” were formed. With the henceforth completed “Sarà” spelling book, they taught three times weekly for two hours: one hour to teach them how to read and one hour to know the Word of God and prayer. Many catechists were formed at the “catechists’ school” both in the parish and in centres purposely organized even at the diocese level. This formation is still underway.
Every year from 200 to 300 neophytes are baptized in each parish. Even in the night of Holy Saturday, we have had in our parish 336 newly baptised people! As I have already mentioned before, Father Gherardi was the second Parish priest of Goundi parish. This is how he expressed his program: “The hungry and sick man can praise the Lord joyfully!”
During a Lenten retreat organised for the Christians, some men told us: “Taking care of the flowers and the branches of the trees, but not of the trunks is futile because even the trunks get sick and die!” Briefly, they were asking for a hospital! The population contributed. They engaged their energy to make bricks.
In1974 the hospital of Goundi was inaugurated and named the “Good Samaritan” with its 6 clinics established on the outskirts and a nursing school for the formation of nurses. Since then, every day, in the hospital of Goundi, many people visit hundreds of sick people while many others are hospitalised and surgeries occur in very big quantities.
Convinced of the words of Father Gherardi, three rural formation centres have been established for young couples. New methods are transmitted to work in the fields even though they aren’t motorised yet, scholastic formation has improved and women have the possibility to follow courses in literacy, cutting out, sewing and hygiene.
Due to lack of state schools, it has been suggested to open in the villages the so called “community schools” for the children; the parents are asked to offer a small contribution to remunerate some youths in order to teach illiterate children.
In these village schools we suggest to the teachers to feel free to add to their programs even agricultural formation that is adequate to the children which will help them love work and the land, the only mother which nourishes its inhabitants in Chad.
A “community” school has been opened in Goundi in 1993; it means to be rather a model for the small community schools. It’s called E.C.A.F. “Elementary community rural school” of Maimba.
Currently, my work is mainly to help in the school administration who targets to prepare the pupils to life. This year we have 253 pupils hailing from villages that are far from Goundi and who reside in Maimba.
The scholastic year lasts throughout the solar year especially to make the best of the rain season (from May to September) which permits the farming of the fields. The students live there and enjoy three short holidays: a week during the Christmas season, another week during Easter tide and two weeks in September.
But, given that rural work doesn’t permit any holidays, the classes are divided in two shifts.
Each class has a teacher and a rural educator. An agrarian director prepares a schedule for all the fields’ work.
During the dry season (September - May) the courses that follow the state scholastic programme, start at 7.30 until 12:30, while in the afternoon, at 15:00 the rural educators teach how to prepare the fertilizer for the fields. The herd of bulls (around 60-65) offers the manure for this production and the necessary straw is cut and gathered by the pupils from every class for their hectares to be cultivated; each class cultivates from 4 to 5 hectares of land – millet, peanuts, beans, sweet potatoes and pumpkins.
During the wet season the schedules are inverted: in the morning, from 7 o’clock onwards, after prayer they all go in the fields and in the afternoon they go to school until 18.00.
The meals are prepared by the same pupils, but unfortunately the diet is always the same: for breakfast and supper they eat millet soup added with some sugar, while the main midday meal consists of the usual millet soup with vegetable sauce, oil and dry fish and on rare occasions they have some meat.
The parents collaborate with an annual fee consisting of a sack of 100 kg of millet, 50 kg of peanuts and 23 euro. All the parents’ contributions and the fruit gathered by the students is consumed by the same students.
Christian formation is one of the main goals; in fact, we dedicate two afternoons weekly to catechism; on Thursday evening all the inhabitants of Maimba – students, teachers, educators with their families – are invited to the “family rosary”.
The actual parish priest of Goundi is from Chad, abbot Charles who was ordained priest four years ago.
Our Church is flourishing. The Sunday mass creates always a festive atmosphere; our actual 235 students participate joyfully and they fill one third of the Church. Even after the Holy Mass, the students of Maimba live a moment of joy because they can to the market where they perhaps meet either their relatives or their parents who offer them some gifts which they will surely and joyfully share with their companions.
And finally I would like to share with you some good news: around a year ago the Provincial Superior of the “Sisters of Charity” for the Central African Province has been elected. She is a citizen of Goundi and her name is Sr. Paola Nelumta. The name Nelumta means: “my joy”. I witnessed her birth and growth in the love of God, in the community of Goundi! Sr. Agostina Pozzi