And Far Away…Some Children Smile

By Fr Anthony T Pizarro CICM

No, this is not a publicity campaign using the ever-admired slogan on the bumper stickers of the one million or so tricycles that the city of Tuguegarao is known for. This is the story of how my belovedalma mater, St Louis University of Tuguegarao, has come to the aid of some people here in Senegal, of how SLU has extended its social awareness across the world to the people of this west African country.

Giving what I have received

Every October the mission month campaign sees the whole of SLU in a frenzy of mission-awareness and solidarity activities. There are conferences animated by Pinoy CICM missionaries on vacation; programs highlighting the uniqueness of each country, the differences between them but also the oneness of the peoples of the world; mission-awareness talks; prayer sessions and Masses for the intensifications of missionaries; letter-writing and card-sending to show support for missionaries; and of course, the collection of gifts and money to help the missions. I still remember my college days when the whole SLU community, from kinder to the post-graduate school, administration, faculties and students, would make this month an occasion for showing our concern for and solidarity with people different from us.

The activity I remember most vividly is collecting money. The campus ministry that I headed spearheaded this. As a community member I had my share of humbly shelling out (read: giving, donating, sharing) some of my weekly allowance for the missions. That meant one whole month depriving myself of renting videos and weekend gallivanting and drinking sessions with my collegebarkada. Mission-month then took the idea of sharing concretized in the adage of solidarity: ‘no one is so poor as not to give and no one is so rich as not to accept.’ That was eight years ago but the beautiful tradition of solidarity lives on in my alma mater. It continues with an increased fervor and awareness that it’s only in sharing a bit of what we have that we can help somebody really needy somewhere else in our small planet who is unknown to us.

Here in Senegal the objective is to share in the best possible way what I receive from the proceeds of the mission campaign in SLU. Knowing that what I receive could be the humble sharing of some small kindergarten pupil in Tuguegarao, it is then my task as a steward to let this sharing reach the most needy of the population with whom I work.

Mission in Dakar

My first mission assignment was in Dakar, the capital, a city of four million. We work in the suburban community of Guediawaye. The people here are very poor. There is a very high rate of unemployment caused by a massive exodus from rural areas. All of this causes juvenile delinquency, prostitution, drug addiction and other forms of corruption. In this desert of problems we try to plant some seeds of hope. Education and water are our aims.

Anne is twelve and in Grade Six in a private Catholic school. Her mother, a single parent and our part-time cook, was very sick for three months. Unpaid bills and debts mounted. Anne nearly had to stop her schooling. No way for such a bright and promising girl! With the help of SLU she’s now at least assured of continuing her schooling for two more years.

The same applies to Kine, a very intelligent girl aged 11, whose sickly and jobless father couldn’t make ends meet for his family of eight. She too is assured of two years’ tuition and allowance.

Water of Life

With a CICM confrere I was able to finance the construction of a deep well for the community of Malika. This is a small community of Muslim and Christian settlers from the provinces. As newcomers in the individualistic capital, the people belong to the great majority of the jobless and eternal job seekers. In a desert environment water is a prime commodity. Having no resources of their own, we decided to help them. A Benedictine monk who is a water-diviner helped us to find the underground reserve. With the help of SLU, we bought the materials needed and the people took care of the manual work. How wonderful to see a whole community mobilized for such a project. Fresh and pure water for the whole community!

Unfriendly weather

Next assignment is Podor, a town 500kms north of Dakar, near the border of Mauritania, where the temperature can climb to 45° and drop to 5°. Shortly before our visit very cold northerly winds coupled with out-of-season rains caused massive destruction to the small livestock industry and agriculture of the people. El Niño gave the final blow. The people had to live through aid from abroad while trying painfully and slowly to reconstruct from the debris.

Badji, 46, a Muslim, is the father of five. He came from the south hunting for a job. He found nothing in Dakar and landed here in the north. After finishing a six-month temporary job as a mechanic, he was jobless again. With an indefatigable spirit, he’s the epitome of the Senegalese luck-searcher. No way could he let his family back home die of poverty. The parish lent him the empty lot beside the church. He planned to plant okra and onions, a staple legume in Senegal, but had nothing to start with. With the help I receive from SLU I gave him some capital to finance the labor, fuel for the water pump, seeds, pesticides and some fertilizer. His hard work and fervent prayers were crowned with very productive harvests. After two successful campaigns he’s now financially independent. I plan to extend the same help to some other needy village farmers.

Next is Thomas, 46, an English-speaking Ghanaian. He and his wife came to Podor, leaving their three children behind, to look for work but declared later, ‘Senegal is as poor as my country.’ I knew him to be a very hard worker, a prayerful Catholic and full of wisdom coupled with a good sense of humor. He first ventured into haircutting but because of hard times couldn’t even make enough to pay his electric bills. He started a small poultry project with ten chickens. This did well. He then planned to go ‘big-time,’ which here means raising 100 to 150 chickens! Audacity needs capital. I gave him the needed boost so that he could realize his dream of providing chickens for his village. 45 days later the whole neighborhood came to buy them for the traditional Muslim feast of Korite, the end of Ramadan. Another story of nurturing the innate hope of bearing good fruits for life!

These are but a few examples of what I do to assure the good stewardship of the financial gifts I’ve received from my alma mater. The help from kindergarten pupils to young professionals in USL is channeled into education, community building and livelihood projects here that give life and nourish the hope.

Of course we are present among the people. We pray and witness to international brotherhood. But more than that, we try to be of concrete help to really unfortunate people in our surroundings. For me, that is the mission of the Church – to work and pray for the realization of the Kingdom of peace, justice and love here and now in this small planet of ours. These are but little efforts but nonetheless clearly shows that with solidarity, and the concrete manifestation of it through sharing the little we have, we can ease the burden – help carry the heavy crosses – of people more unfortunate than us. This is our Christian witnessing, that hope may live! This is the tradition of the university community of SLU concretized overseas here in this small country in Africa.

And for the help we receive ‘with love from Tuguegarao’ we say ‘Jerejef’, with many thanks, to your beautiful people!’