Pablo Funes´ Chronicles from Chad. Meeting Fe y Alegría Chad
Mongo (CHAD) - 20/02/13
Sunday morning, rushing off to the airport to a new journey with Entreculturas. This time we are going to Chad, one of the countries where we started to develop our projects in Africa in 2004 and which is currently consolidated due to projects with Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), Fe y Alegría and a social center called CEFOD. I am on my way to Paris, and in this first trip I have time to read and recall the Chadian context.
Chad is located in what it is called "shahelian band", and there is a great difference between the desert region of the north and the Green and rich region of the south. The different results also from a north area with a Muslim culture and population and a south area with a mix of Muslims and Christians. According to the figures and indicators published in the major international agencies, Chad is one of the poorest places in the world, with around 60% of people living below the poverty line and with an agricultural subsistence economy very vulnerable to weather conditions. A place in which now, as in other countries in the area of Sahel (Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania y Niger), is living an alert situation due to the food crisis. As in all African countries, the Independence from France took place by the early 1960 and, unfortunately, they have been through years of conflict and of authoritarianism, which have negatively affected the development of the country. In 1990, Idriss Deby carried out a coup succeeding Hissein Habre who was in power since the independence. From that moment they lived under a dictatorship riddled with internal struggles, social fragmentations between different ethnic groups and tensions with neighbouring Sudan.
Progressively and before I know it, I arrive in Paris and start the new journey to Ndjamena. Again, another coincidence at the airport where I find Carlotta, responsible for finance in JRS International, who I am sure I will be having a good conversation with. We talked about many recurring themes we have been working on through the last months. In November of 2012 we were lucky for counting on Carlotta and on the responsible for the African projects JRS in Madrid, in order to work together to improve the efficiency of our projects. It was very interesting and now we know where we need to go forward. We spent a few hours talking, took a little nap, and we arrived to Ndjamena.
I spend two days in Ndjamena and I am lucky for being with Etienne, the new Director of Fe y Alegría Chad. He is such a great man and from the beginning we get along very well. We visit other friends and partners who we work in the city with. We start with CEFOD, a Jesuit social center that works primarily for human rights and for good governance through trainings, studies and publications. It is a reference center in Chad, everyone knows it. We spend a good time with Anoine Berilengar, director of the Center, who knows Entreculturas for 4 years. CEFOD is famous due to the number of people who goes in and out, to the meetings with other NGO´s, due to governmental conference, to its big library and to the number of activities. We have so many things to talk about, specially about a funding we have just appealing to the European Union for a Project on public awareness in several region from Chad to promoting Access to basic services, such as health and education.
We keep dreaming with Etienne about the possibilities of Fe y Alegría. We think about a technical school in Ndjamena, even about a program for nomadic children in the desert who normally don´t go to school. We dream about a stronger program for girls; in order to continuing the good job JRS has done in the country. Fe y Alegría Chad works in 25 schools from Mongo and Bitkine. It has taken great efforts to build up these schools in the country. We can´t stop here. It is now the time to dream about a Fe y Alegría in África, which work for education, for community involvement. Dreaming feels good and specially seeing those dreams coming true. We also talked about the reasons; about the steps we need to take, about keeping on working. Entreculturas plays an important role because it is a bridge between two continents and it makes it easy to expand the experience. Es uno de nuestros grandes desafíos en los siguientes años.
We had meetings with the Eupean Union; again we went to CEFOD, more paper works. We visited a Jesuit secondary school which ask for support, we met with friends from Manos Unidas, we saw a field to build a new school and said bye to a missionary Jesuit who after 45 years in Chad goes back to French, we packed the car with medicines that we have to take to the East, more paper work to obtain travel permit, dinner with JRS... A full agenda that prepares us for our journey to Mongo. Ready to meet, at last, Fe y Alegría Chad and its work on education.
A good start and very thankful for finding such good friends of Entreculturas in these two days in Ndjamena.
Mongo (CHAD) - 23/02/13
Along these days in Chad I thought about our gender work, our commitment to always remember the equality between men and women. I also thought about the session of the other day in Madrid, in which we saw what we have done all these past years in Entreculturas along with Fe y Alegría and JRS. Here, in the schools at Mongo, I have seen the commitment is also clear and how they are making great efforts for girls to continue attend to school. During the visit we have asked teachers, parents and workers of Fe y Alegría what are the main issues the girls face and we could talk about many different themes... They are not new themes but they place us in a reality of great injustice among those children. I was very shocked -maybe due to the doubts it makes me have-, for knowing how to develop this project in an Islamic culture, so traditional and different from ours. It is such a great challenge.
At the very first, we talked about women´s household chores. These are not easy task, specially collecting water and firewood, for many times it involves walking long distance. The girls since they are little do these tasks. The consequence is obvious, truancy and progressively dropping out of school. Another important theme, which Fe y Alegría sees it as the most important one, is the early marriage. They are very common in girls of only 11 or 15 years old. Once they are marriage, going to school is very hard and from that moment their main concern is taking care of their children. Once again, dropping out of school.
We also must consider that the education of the mothers is very low, most of them are illiterate; what makes it harder for little girls to go to school. The priority is their role as woman at home. And, finally, we talked about the little leadership of the women in the community, which is occupied by men.
While talking, I have focused on taking pictures to the girls. It is not easy. At first, when I take the camera out they look down, they hide or get very nervous. I am surprised. But a joke is enough to see their smiles once again and to be asked to take pictures. The color is amazing; the contrast with this land is so arid. There is a great number of girls in the schools, more than I expected. When I as Valerie, director of the project in Bitkine, about the great achievements of this project which started in 2011, she answered me quickly: "There is a clear increase in schooling and participation of girls. This is thanks to our project ". I keep taking pictures of the girls in the schools, I want to make sure that the girls I am seeing are at the school and now our challenge, Fe y Alegría Chad´s challenge is keep working for the girls to be in school, to enjoy the freedom of education. I have almost 40 close-up views of girls, I don´t know their names but I know that each of them is very important for Entreculturas.
Fe y Alegría Chad is developing many different activities to guarantee the girls continue to attend school. Perhaps, the most important of all is the one from "REC" team in the field of awareness. It is a 5 person team, one person out of them focus on visiting the communities and work with the parents about the importance for the girls to attend to school. Committees of mothers also take place in such a way that she progressively end up taking care of their children. It is a slow work, "here the childhood last until the age of 10 ", as Joaquín Ciervide, from Fe y Alegría Chad said, "from that moment children become adults and taking care of the tasks ".
There are great challenges in which we have to take into account a very traditional culture. Some themes are very hard to work, such as female genital mutilation, early marriage; even people who have been living here for 30 years try it unsuccessfully. There is no magical standard formula for this. It is not easy, but what is clear is that Fe y Alegría is making some progress toward gender equality.
P.S.: Here I share some pictures I talk to you before... http://www.flickr.com/photos/72324329@N02/sets/72157632839912838/show/
Mongo (CHAD) - 25/02/13
At last I know FyA Chad! We are going on our way to Zoni, a rural network school in which three classes have built in 2012. Adef, responsible for Service of Fostering Community, is with me. Adef knows quite well Entreculturas, for not so long ago he was in Spain at the presentation of the book "Educación y participación: un sueño posible" (in English Education and participation: a possible dream). He asks me about Isa, about Valeria, Jorge... we talk about Mongo, about Madrid, and it is clear the importance of the international network Fe y Alegría, which is referred in many parts of the world, a group of friend working for a cause: Education for all.
We arrive to Zoni and we were welcome by the director. He first offers us tee and then we talk for a while with the rest of the teachers from school. What strikes me the most is the identification of Fe y Alegría people and how proud they are. We visit the school and the three built classes. A great job has done. They are simple schools, but very well built. You can also see Inés' action in this place. She is an architect who last year try to improve the construction model, mostly by developing a manual that is being very useful for new constructions. We visit other classes which are not built yet and which under a thatched roof, they try to teach, none other than, the calculus of the area of a triangle. I think that the important thing here it is not the building, the classes, but what the teachers are capable to teach. And here it is one of the major keys of Fe y Alegría, teacher trainings. There is a common issue to train these teachers, that is to say, they haven´t gone neither University nor secondary school. They are only known for their knowledge and thanks to a good training they can teach better and with a higher quality. There is so much left to do, but that is another challenge of Fe y Alegría, one of its revolutions.
We keep seeing other schools. The desert is overwhelming, quite landscapes, perfect harmony, surprised by the color of the women who go for firewood and water, with their veils with countless color. The camels, small donkeys which move slow and men wearing an immaculate white turban. While talking I let myself be led by this landscape, so new for me. Adef talks the whole time about the importance of participating in the "village", that is to say, ensuring that the people feel the school as theirs, and ensuring the school it is a driving force of development. In the project of Fe y Alegría the community is involved in all steps, for it is a question of constructing together, of doing something together. Another Fe y Alegría Chad´s revolution.
We visit three more schools: Golonti, Koffilo y Gourbiti; out of this first network of 17 rural schools. They were all similar, with a stronger identity that goes beyond the cartel with its name. In all of the classes the students are mostly Muslims, the rest are probably Animist and perhaps some Christians. In harmony and without conflicts. Fe y Alegría is there without thinking about the religious difference, knowing that the important thing, the real mission, is the education for social transformation. I am not surprised. I insist on this issue while talking to the teachers, to the workers of Fe y Alegría, "You all have to teach this example to the world...We are used to hear about terrorism and radicals Muslims, but here there is an example of tolerance, of working together, of cultures which learn how to understand each other".
More revolutions: The classes in these last year have been filling with girls, is such a great step; You can also see a few woman teacher and this will increase progressively. We have ensured the existence of school gardens in many schools, which is useful, on one hand, to obtain resources to pay the teachers, and on the other hand, to integrate the environment in the school. Latrines have built in several schools to reduce illness and to improve hygiene. Father partnerships along with mother partnership were established to worry about the education and the attendance of their children. There are also radio program through which we try to train teachers and to raise awareness to the community. In reality, they are small steps but from my point of view, this is a revolution in the way of understanding the education in Chad, in Africa. A radical change through which, based on social justice, we walk towards a high quality education for the poor people.
Entreculturas has been in this dream, in this revolution, since the very first. And we keep walking with them, sharing joys, but also sharing issues. And now it is the moment to bring revolution beyond this, to cross frontiers and to offer them in those places of the world where they need this kind of education.