(This is much longer than a Blog should be – of course I hope you will read it in its entirety but it is divided into sections so you can dip into the stories which interest you)
On our first morning we visited the Sisters of Mamre – an amazing group of about 10 members of this (probably) unique order with the reformed church. They commit to rules of Prayer, Chastity and Community. Ringing the bell beside an almost hidden metal door set into a wall, I did not know what to expect. Through the door the first sight we saw was a garden of roses – truly an oasis of colour and beauty in a poverty stricken and apparently crumbling environment. We heard something of the work the sisters do, feeding 100 children with lunch each day – children who otherwise would not get a meal. We heard too about the difficulty of finding the resources to continue the work – ‘we have to have faith’ said the sister we were speaking to. We joined the sisters for prayers – simple mid-day prayers with beautiful singing preparing them to walk down the road and feed the children.
As we walked (it was lunch time at the school) some children joined us but many more took delight in greeting us with ‘Bonjour’, smiling faces and sometimes hand shakes. This is a welcoming and hopeful place to be, despite everything. I was struck by the room laid out for the children, brightly painted tables and chairs and by the meal – a good quantity of rice and beans and by the orderly way in which these 100 children of varying ages from 4 to 10 years old conducted themselves. �
Another visit was to the Akani Avako Children’s Home with the strap line Changing Children’s Lives. Here 120 children ranging in age from 3 weeks to 18 years are cared for, educated and trained. Some of these children have no family, some come from a background of abuse, some have families too poor to care for them.
The government insists that no child can stay for more than two years so social workers employed by the project spend considerable time and effort to find family members, to work with the family to ensure that there is a safe environment for them to return to. They then continue to work with the family to try to give the child the best start in life. This is recognized as being a centre of excellence and there is work going on to train other similar centres to improve the provision for all children in the country but resources are limited and progress is slow. You can learn more about Akany by visiting their website www.akaniavoko.org.
It is from here that some of the volunteers who spend a year at Llanfair Uniting Church Penrhys come. Improving their own skills, but perhaps more importantly adding immeasurably to to the lives of the community at Penrhys www.penrhys.com
Another Children’s Home – Topaz gave us a different experience. The older children were not on the site but we saw about 2 dozen small children aged 2 to 5 years – we were told they had been picked up from the streets of the city and I couldn’t help feeling that some of them were very disturbed as a result of their life experience. There was the little boy (2 or 3 years old) who needed to be picked up by any adult near him and who clung tight, arms round shoulders and face tight up against face – this was not a normal childhood hug. Or the little boy who on seeing his photograph on a digital camera had no reaction but continued to stare ahead even when other children, delighted at seeing the pictures pointed out to him who it was.
Our fourth visit was to a school for 3 to 11 year olds at Anganomasina. The headmistress had a new office – a shed smaller than most of our garden sheds. There was no running water on the site and the large water containers in each classroom had had to be filled earlier in the day by someone. The younger children wrote on slates and there were almost no text books. But these children were the lucky ones – they were learning to write (beautifully and neatly) to do maths (which seemed to be more advanced than the similar stage in Britain).
The work they did prepared them for entry to secondary school and whatever the school lacked in resources was made up in the caring, happy and ordered life of this community.
We also heard about the HIV/AIDS project run by FJKM. There are relatively few cases of the disease in the country though sexually transmitted diseases are not rare and this project concentrates on training pastors to deal with Taboo subject as well as offering some advice and support to victims.
But how could a partnership between the National Synod of Wales and FJKM really work – there were many questions ……….