Don Bosco Today Autumn 2001
Prepared to Share
Through Ellie's Eyes
It's a Bargain
Reflections on Priesthood
Never too late to volunteer
From the Street Looking in
Fr James Maher RIP
Fr Michael Doyle RIP
Those who follow Don Bosco must be constantly asking, as he did, "What more can we do for young people today?" In order to answer that question we need to understand the world in which they live. The dreadful events of September 11th in the USA have changed that world. The lives of young people will never be the same again. In the first place our hearts go out to those who lost their parents and relations in that disastrous event which they will never be able to comprehend. We cannot underestimate the trauma which the television pictures may have caused to so many young people as the realisation dawns that these were not play station effects produced by computer graphics but real suffering produced by deliberate acts of assassination. Beyond those who were closely associated with the actual victims there are the many young who will be living in the fear that a similar event could happen to them. The influence of unthinking adults may lead others to be alienated from their fellows who share their nationality but not their ethnic origin. While undoubtedly the USA will be changed forever by these events the repercussions impinge on the lives of all young people today. We think of the multitude of refugees fleeing from the threat of war. For young people facing their future today the world may seem a very confused place with all this talk of war. War, a word which once filled so many of us with terror, can have a similar destabilising effect on the youth of today. The first victims of the spiritual and cultural crisis gripping the world are the young. It is also true that any commitment to the betterment of society finds its hopes in them. In this time of great uncertainty Don Bosco's words have a special relevance, "Young people must know they are loved." The articles in this edition of 'Don Bosco Today' describe the practical ways various members of the Salesian Family show their love for the young. The stories of Brother Peter Simmons and Fr Joseph Merriman, who in their seventies, are prepared to give their time to African children, are both signs of hope to young people. The article 'Prepared to Share' is a moving account of how a family from the UK found their generosity rewarded in a most remarkable way. Let's find our way to offer hope to the young in these times of great uncertainty.
Fr Tony Bailey SDB
By Alison Burrows
This August myself and my husband Steve and our children Ellie, aged 11 and Luke, aged 8 were privileged to spend three weeks in Kenya as part of the Vides UK/Kenya project. ((VIDES - derived from the Italian for 'International Volunteers for the Education and Development of Women.')
We lived and worked in Namanga, a town on the border of Tanzania. The project involved thirty volunteers, 18 from the UK and 12 from Kenya. We taught each morning in Namanga Primary School and in the afternoon we organised games and activities for the children.
Although Steve and myself had always dreamed of having an opportunity like this we had to consider our own children and whether it would be right for them. It was not an easy decision for the Vides Committee. This would be the first time that a family had ever been involved in a Vides project. However, after much discussion and praying everyone agreed to take the risk. We will always be grateful to Sister Elizabeth for her trust and vision in allowing us to take part in this experience.
There were times during the preparation and planning that Steve and myself wondered if we had done the right thing. Our lives seemed to have been taken over by fundraising, lesson planning and organising the practical arrangements of immunisations and Visas. As parents we were taking an enormous risk. We didn't really know what we were letting ourselves in for or how our children would cope. We worried about them getting ill, having an accident or just finding the whole experience too difficult to cope with.
However our fears were unfounded. We watched in awe every day as our children never ceased to amaze us. At first the children of Namanga were very excited about Ellie and Luke being there. We had to rescue them on several occasions early on in the project. All the Kenyan children wanted to hold their hand and stroke their hair. But after the initial excitement Ellie and Luke took part in all the activities alongside the children.
They came to school with us each morning and took part in our classes. Steve and I taught Standard Seven English, an experience we greatly enjoyed. Although we have both taught for many years we have never been in the same classroom together and we loved it!
In the afternoon the volunteers organised various activities and some days we had over 600 children. I don't think Luke will ever recover from playing 50-a-side football. Ellie helped out with the little ones playing games, singing and dancing. I won't ever forget seeing her standing in the middle of a huge circle of children, a toddler on her hip, singing a song that they were all repeating after her.
As the days passed we watched our children grow in confidence and sensitivity. The poverty in Namanga is indescribable and they saw a side of life that not many children of their age get the opportunity to see. We spent time with them helping them to try and come to terms with the injustice they were witnessing first hand. Yet they met people who were full of the joy of life and love and faith and who were grateful for everything they had, which was very little, and it was infectious. Ellie and Luke never once complained about the fact that there was no electricity, sweets or comforts that they normally take for granted. They discovered each other in a new way, and we heard them laugh and sing and joke together. They understood that we were working on the project and they willingly shared us with all the other children They never once demanded our time or made it difficult for us.
They quickly made friends with the other children and Ellie walked to and from school arm in arm with girls her own age. Luke became a local celebrity when he wore his Manchester United top and everywhere he went people shouted, 'Hey Beckham, come, come.' The Head teacher of the school gave him the football scores so he was able to keep up to date with what was happening at the start of the season back home.
We had many, many magic moments while we were there but we were all deeply touched by Swahlai, a young street boy about Luke's age. From our arrival in Namanga he was a permanent feature around the Catholic compound where we were staying. Luke taught him his magic tricks and he walked with us to and from our accommodation every day. As he walked he held mine and Steve's hand and did somersaults and swung around till we thought our arms would come out of our sockets. We couldn't help but compare his life experience with Luke's and, each evening when we left him, knowing that he was going to sleep rough, it broke our hearts.
One day he came to us very excited and he had in his hand five Kenyan shillings, the equivalent of five pence, which he had begged. Walking hand-in-hand with Luke he suddenly ran off to a local stall to buy two bananas, one for him and one for Luke. We were very moved by this, the fact that this child who had absolutely nothing was prepared to share half of what he did have so willingly. I'm sure it will be one of the most precious gifts Luke will ever receive.
As parents you try to nurture in your children a set of values that will enable them to live a good Christian life. And we were inspired daily by the actions, presence, energy and enthusiasm of the Salesians we met and lived with, especially Sister Eleanor, Sister Rosetta and Sister Lucie. We were overwhelmed by the sense that we were part of the Salesian Family World Wide. The Salesian Vides Volunteers were gifted and talented and had qualities that we would wish for our children. We could not have wished for better role models for them.
This experience had a massive impact on us as a family. We left England as a family of four, although we nearly came back as three. A Massai warrior offered us six goats for Ellie and we were very tempted! However, we are a very different family to the one that set out for Nairobi on August 6th 2001. We have shared an experience together that will have a lasting effect on us. In trying to share with people the wonderful experience that we had, we never seem to be able to do it justice, there's only four of us that really know what it was like and so the bond between us strengthens. We have been deeply effected and enriched and have seen our children grow and blossom and we are proud of them.
But I am reminded of the reflections of Kahlil Gibran in his book 'The Prophet' where he says that, as parents, we are only the bow and our children are the arrows, one day we will have to let them fly. Hopefully this experience will have been instrumental in the direction they will go.
By Ellie Burrows
When my mum and dad told us that they had the opportunity to go to Kenya to teach during the summer holidays I wasn't able to imagine what it would be like. I didn't know whether I would like to go or not. But then we watched a video of the Vides project the year before and, although I was still unsure, we all decided to ask if we could definitely go.
Before we went we had to have quite a lot of injections and take malaria tablets and sometimes I found myself worrying about what it would be like. But when I finally got there all my worries were gone. I can't express in words what it was like, every day we sang and danced and I remember laughing a lot.
The children were definitely the best part about it, they were so friendly and warm. I felt that I had known them for years. They also said very touching things. When we were in Daghoretti, which is one of the Shanty Towns in Nairobi we went to visit a Salesian school. The children sang 'Doe a Deer' for us and I got a big lump in my throat. The children walked around with us and one of the girls said to me, 'I want to be like you, everyone in Kenya wants to be like you.' After she said that I really appreciated everything I had. I made a really good friend called Evaline. She was great and she really helped me during the project. I keep in touch with her by letters.
I thought my brother Luke (aged 8) would be shy and nervous but he surprised me a lot. He was funny, confident and most of all the children loved him. He loved not having a bath but he wasn't too keen on the idea of Mass that lasted three hours. At home when we go to church he asks every ten minutes, "Is it nearly finished yet?" But in Kenya there is so much going on that I don't think he realised how long it lasted. The Catholic Maasai danced in and danced out and danced back in again. Everyone sang and clapped and played drums.
At first I was really shocked at the houses and the conditions that the people lived in. However, the longer I stayed there the less I noticed it, this then shocked me but my mum and dad helped me to understand that it was the people I was noticing and getting to know.
Although I enjoyed going to school with my mum and dad the best part of the day was the afternoon when we went up the hill to play. The first couple of days I felt worried for Luke because I think he was a bit frightened when all the children crowded around him trying to touch him. But they got used to him and he got used to them and Luke was at home playing football every day.
I helped with the little ones. They were so happy and excited that we were playing with them and they all had such beautiful smiles. The children loved to be picked up but as there are no nappies in Namanga I often ended up with a wet T-Shirt!! At home I think this would have upset me but there it just didn't seem to matter.
I will never forget my time in Kenya or the people that I met. They will always be my friends and hopefully one day I will go back. I didn't miss anything when I was there because I had everything that I needed.
By Fr Brian Jerstice SDB
We all enjoy picking up genuine bargains and then talking about it with our friends. What about this, then? A jar of best coffee worth about five pounds for just 10p! Well, actually that's about what the hard working Kenyan coffee grower gets out of the five pounds you spend. That's why some of them have recently gone back to subsistence farming just to avoid starvation. We know that marketing, transport, processing, wholesaling and retailing all have their cost, but just 2 per cent for the farmer out of the final price hardly seems fair. This is just one of the reasons some people are taking to the streets to protest about the negative effects of advancing 'globalisation'. Sadly, the protests have often been hijacked by violent trouble makers, but there are good grounds, not just coffee grounds, for the disquiet. Liberia has the world's largest rubber plantation of over a million acres, plus many lesser plantations. For seventy years or so Liberia has exported vast quantities of top class rubber to the developed world, as well as high grade iron ore, palm oil and timber. Some of the rubber has gone into your expensive tyres. Yet Liberia, with its small population of two million, remains desperately poor. Though graft and corruption are partly to blame, the fact remains that big multinational corporations use their global influence to force down export duties and the price of raw materials. Meanwhile, we drive on good tyres to play in rubber-soled trainers, while the Liberian worker walks and his children play football in bare feet with rag balls, or even, with an orange!
Give and Take
Recently I was in Ethiopia where I met lots of lovely, lively children born in the dreadful drought years of the 1980's. Many must owe their lives to the international aid which came in response to the news by the global media. Our own Salesians were in the forefront of this magnificent effort to which you also probably contributed. Remember the red noses? In Liberia I have also witnessed and assisted in the distribution of aid from both governmental and non-governmental sources. Outstanding among the latter were Catholic Relief Services, with which Cafod fully co-operates. These efforts are very necessary and very effective. Yet, with Bishop Hamara of Brazil we have to ask questions. He remarked "If I help the poor, they call me a Saint. If I ask why they are poor, they call me a Communist!"
Trade is certainly a basic necessity for human progress, but how fair is it on a global scale? Innumerable studies indicate that the balance is grossly in favour of the richer nations. Robin Hood robbed the rich to help the poor. Is our global economy reversing this? Not exactly since we can see a lot of all-round improvement, but the returns conceded to the third- world producers are very lean. Just take the case of Tanzania, where I am working at present. Loans were received from the developed world to build roads which would improve production. The roads were built, production increased in some areas, but the returns for exports have drastically declined in proportion, while the debt and crippling interest rate remains. Only five percent of children finish secondary school here. Not long ago, the Guardian Newspaper of Dar-es-Salaam reported that the Government of Tanzania was spending more on servicing debts than on its entire education and health budgets put together, without actually reducing the debts. Since then Britain and others have made some concessions. It is also sad to see many huge sisal plantations abandoned here because of competition from the plastic polypropylene, which uses up irreplaceable petroleum and does not rot when dumped. The same applies to the previously flourishing jute industry of Bangladesh. Christ encouraged us to share. We do not have to give away everything we have built by hard work in our own country. What is at issue is the fair sharing of world's resources as best we can, giving first rather than last place to the weakest and most needy.
In September 1998 I took this cutting from a Tanzanian newspaper. The headline was 'Coca-Cola dumps Zambia'. The article began: 'Lusaka. The international soft drink giant Coca-Cola has suspended plans to invest 75 million US dollars in Zambia because of the governments failure to reduce excise duty on imports.'' Investment is rightly regarded as a good thing, but his quote is a chilling reminder of the power wielded by the multinationals, which are independent of any single government. Democratic governments, with an eye on the next election, fear economic failure. Add this to the prevalence of bribery of officials and you get a formula for manipulation of policies. In recent years direct foreign investment by the multinationals has grown four times faster than the gross national product of their countries. This creates a form of economic imperialism which can exercise power with responsibility only to shareholders. The old colonial powers, such as Britain, did derive profit from their colonies, but also felt responsible to some extent for the welfare and advancement of the people. Indeed it was to their own advantage to promote such progress. But now, who really governs?
Mark Twain on the Phone
When the USA was first linked from east to west by telephone, an enthusiast for technology excitedly broke the news to wise old Mark Twain: "Mr Twain, Washington can now speak to Seattle!" Twain was unimpressed. "Yes", he replied, "But what will Washington say to Seattle?" He put his finger right on the vital issue. What use will we make of it? There is no doubt that our technology does not always make us wiser. Another thoughtful American writer, Henry Thoreau, pithily remarked "We have become the tools of our tools". He was commenting on the 'can do, must do' mentality and hurry-scurry of modern life. He wrote that 140 years ago! What would he say today? We are swamped with time saving devices, but the big wail is 'no time'! Even the renowned American soldier of World War 2, General Omar Bradley, hardly regarded as a philosopher, could say "Ours is an age of technological giants and ethical infants".
The New Imperialism
Nowadays the whole world is enveloped in a vast explosion of information technologies. The achievements are admirable and the potential for good enormous, but this aspect of globalisation also has its pitfalls. One of these is known as 'cultural imperialism', the domination of one style of culture over others, with close links also to economic imperialism. It tends to impose the consumerist materialism and life-style of 'the West' on the whole world, destroying the beauty and variety of age old cultures. Television is, as we all know, in the fore-front, dominated here in Africa by cheap American imports. The otherwise pleasant town of Moshi in Tanzania, where I live, is absolutely plastered with ads for Coca-Cola, even on street name boards. A trivial matter, perhaps, but symptomatic of galloping consumerism, directed especially towards youth.
The Bright Side
Let's look at the brighter side! I was fortunate to be in the UK during the Australian Olympics. It was a most encouraging example of what the human family can achieve in technology, sport, culture and fraternal spirit. Globalisation has many positive and promising aspects, as Pope John Paul has frequently observed. There is today a marked sensitivity to human rights and a strong sense of human solidarity, especially among the young people. The recent conference on racism in South Africa, for all its shortcomings, is a fine step forward, unthinkable not long ago. Too often concern for the oppressed has been sidelined because of commercial interests, as happened several years ago in East Timor. Oil interests have thwarted support for the oppressed Christian Africans in Southern Sudan. But hope is there, even very recently, in Sudan. On the vital moral front our Salesians in Africa, along with many others, are working hard and achieving much in guiding African Youth through these problems to a better future.
So little in their lives,
But still they smile.
So much in our lives
No time to smile.
Andrew was born in the early hours of a cold winter's morning in February 1964 - a gift from God!
He was a cheerful, contented baby always smiling, almost always anyway. As he grew up, he retained his happy disposition but, at the same time, he showed a maturity and sense of responsibility, rare in one so young. If anyone offered him a sweet, he would ask for one for his brother, his father and his mother, much to my embarrassment. Eventually everyone got to know that they had to part with four sweets if they were going to offer him one.
Andrew was still in primary school when he expressed his wish to become a priest. Naturally, I did not take him seriously. However, he did not change his mind and when he completed his 'O' Levels he reminded me that he would like to enter the Church. I still thought he didn't know his mind and insisted that he do his A Levels and then pursue a career in Law.
Having met my demands he again asked to join the priesthood. I convinced him that he needed to travel, thinking that if he saw the world he would surely change his mind about entering the Church. Once again, he acquiesced but on the condition that if he still felt the same on his return I would raise no further objections.
I remember so well his phone call from Nepal telling me that he had not changed his mind. However, there were a few more weeks of travel between his call and his eventual return to London. I lived in hope.
Despite all the obstacles placed in his path, Andrew made contact with the Salesians in the early 1990s. It was a difficult time for me, seeing him go to his monthly and then weekly meetings with Father Chris Heaps. I had very mixed feelings. Of course, I was being selfish. I wanted my sons always to be with me. I wanted to see them happily married, to have grandchildren. Besides, he had all the makings of a good husband and a loving father.
On the other hand, I wanted to be absolutely sure that the priesthood was really for him after all. Why does one need to enter the Church to do good? There is just as much opportunity to serve in other walks of life. Why did he have to join a religious community? I was filled with sadness. Whilst other Catholic mothers congratulated me and expressed the hope that one of their children might enter the Church, I could only think how much I hoped he would not.
I also suffered with Andrew as I watched his increasing anxiety. Would he be accepted or would he be considered an unsuitable candidate? But he was accepted and I can clearly recall that day in January 1992 when we drove him to Bollington. It rained all the way there and back, as it rained in my heart. I cried so much that I was unable to attend work the next day.
However, as the years went by, I realised that I had gained a family, not lost a son. Andrew seemed happy and content with his life. He has an aversion to studying but loves teaching his 'little kiddos' as he refers to his pupils and I have gradually come to accept that he has found his niche in life. All we mothers want is the happiness of our children. Seeing Andrew living a happy and fulfilled life means everything to me. His single mindedness finally won the day. The words of 'The Hound of Heaven' come to mind.
I've just read through my Mother's contribution. I find myself surprised at how much I had forgotten in my own faith journey. Yes, I remember the obstacles. I remember keeping the whole thing a secret from my Father, a Muslim, until after my pre-novitiate at Savio House. Yet, I must admit there were only certain periods of time, in my long process of discernment, during which I felt frustrated at not having the backing I wanted. For the most part I could see my Mother's reasoning behind her reluctance in having me join the priesthood. She wasn't the only one. I'd say most people were uncomfortable with the thought of me opting for religious life.
My own experience of priests had been a negative one. I had noticed how a number of priests looked out for the prominent members of their parishes, or for a certain clique of friends. Some priests acknowledged my desire to join the priesthood but gave me no support whatsoever in my search. The priest who tried to block my entry into a Catholic school because my Father was not a Catholic. Nevertheless, I was fortunate enough to come into contact with two saintly priests who at vital times in my life showed me what priesthood was all about through the example of their lives. What can I say so many years later now that I have been ordained? I'm not sure what can be said. I find the whole experience so new and so alien to me. My preference is still to be seated in the body of the church with the rest of the congregation. Having said that, when I break the body of Christ the experience is just so unreal almost one of disbelief.
I feel totally privileged and humbled by the whole experience of priesthood. At other times there is this sense of awe. So many people assume that, as priests, we have all the answers to life ? I don't! Often I feel totally ashamed at my own lack of faith when I witness the faith of other people living genuinely good and holy lives. How can I, in my weakness, minister to them? As a religious I find my own way of life constantly challenged by the remarkable lives lived by others. Indeed, a major challenge I see, in our multi-faith society, is how we can be priests not only for the Catholics in our world but also for those of other faiths who will look to us as examples of what the Gospel is all about.
However, my biggest concern is how do we represent the face of Jesus Christ to our young people who are tired of organised religion? I have recently taken up a teaching post at our school in Chertsey and Sister Kathleen Jones' words have echoed loud and clear to me so often in the last couple of months. She once said to me, "Andrew, it's not what you teach in the classroom but who you are in the classroom." I guess, for me, that is the key to my priesthood. If I am to make any kind of difference in the lives of the young people I come into contact with, then I must be a man of God. If I am then that will suffice for all those I meet in whatever situation I find myself. Any suggestions on becoming such a person would be most welcome.
Andrew Ebrahim SDB
By Fr Joe Merriman SDB
It was March last year as I was skimming through the Provincial's newsletter, my eyes lighted on the sentence: 'one of the serious problems the new Salesian East Africa province is facing is the shortage of older Salesians. So if anyone reading this letter would like to spend a little time in East Africa, please let me know!' I had always maintained I couldn't work 'on the missions'. I could never stand the climate or the food. This, however, sounded just possible. I wrote to offer myself to the Provincial as a reluctant volunteer.
Father Francis recommended I made a preparatory visit before anything was finalised. I decided to, 'spend Christmas with my sister in Uganda'. No need to tell anyone I was planning just one week with my sister and nearly three with the Salesians in Nairobi! I spent my first week with my sister and her Hospice Uganda Team in Kampala, and then a final week in Nairobi. I already knew of the tremendous work Hospice Uganda was doing, but meeting those professionals working to free dying cancer patients from their pain was deeply impressive. They constantly receive help from talented volunteers from abroad coming out for short stints. I arrived the same day as two optimistic young ladies from Cardiff University. Marion and Ann had chosen to do their final year 'elective' as medical students doing research for Hospice Uganda on cancer amongst children. Their vibrant cheerful energy seemed a real sign of hope. The Hospice Training Courses in palliative medicine, being given in Universities and centres all over the country for Ugandan doctors, nurses, counsellors and others, are laying foundations to bring pain relief to ever increasing numbers amongst those desperate, poor people.
Fr Gianni, the Rector of the Theologate and all the other Salesians (17 different nationalities) made me feel very welcome, as did Fr George, the amazing East Africa Provincial, when I caught up with him. All the work being done by these Salesians of many nationalities impressed me greatly. Before Kenya's colossal needs, so relatively few were achieving so much.
My request to be involved in the life of the community was acted on without delay. The day after I arrived in Uganda I was driven to see the Salesian work at Bombo. I was not just impressed but amazed at the size of the site which has been so quickly developed for vocational training. As Bombo is relatively remote all the several hundreds of students, male and female, 18 and over, are boarders. We were very surprised to find the charge per term for these boarders was only half that of a student at a large day school in Kampala. The aim was to give them the basic vocational skills in woodwork, metalwork etc such as they would be able to put to good use back in their own villages.
The Salesians doing their four year theology course at Utume, Nairobi where I stayed, come from some 15 different nationalities. English has to be the 'lingua franca'. The singing, in English and Swahili, by which all the prayers and liturgies were enriched was very beautiful and uplifting. No one seemed to notice the length of all the services. The important thing was that everyone was worshipping God with body and soul, heart and mind.
When I was at Utume, lectures were over for the Christmas break. This gave the different groups of Brothers so much more time to engage in their different apostolates. I was invited by Brother Joseph Miya (from Tanzania) and Brother Ajuh Remal (from Sri Lanka) to spend some time at Kabete, a government-run remand home. When we arrived, the dormitories round the small stony quad were unlocked and the 80 boys let out. How pathetic they looked in their meagre uniforms. Joseph brightened their afternoon with some tapes played loudly over the big amplifier he had brought along, and many boys jigged happily about.
A small group of boys gathered round me and were interested in the book of photos of Kenyan wild animals which I had. Kelvin, a slight Masai boy of 13, translated my words into Swahili. Kelvin really impressed me. I opened my guide book at random. In this, his third language, Kelvin read more fluently than many inmates I have taught in one of HM Young Offenders' Institutes in England. He asked me "Can you get me into Don Bosco School?" I was delighted to learn, six days later, that the Court had re-united Kelvin with his family who had not known for the past six weeks what had become of their son.
Dreadful as conditions seemed at Kabete, perhaps the boys there, with a roof over their heads at night, were better off in some ways than Nairobi's 50 to 60 thousand street boys. The Salesians are one of a number of organisations trying to help just a few of these 'boys'. The Salesians have, in fact, a graded system of four stages over a period of four to six years, by which a street boy can transform himself into a highly skilled tradesman: joiner, carpenter, plumber, motor mechanic etc - if only he can persevere. At Kabete the older teenagers, do their final two or three years without finding any money other than a Government demanded exam fee of about £50 each year. There is no such thing in Africa as universal free primary education despite big international government meetings pledging to bring this about rapidly throughout the world. School fees have to be found, and how can desperately poor families raise these sums?
I was introduced to a group of street boys by Deacon Augustine Sellam, a Tamil from India, and so met a 14 year old called Stephen. He had had some schooling, spoke English well, seemed very pleasant and intelligent. He had been in a Salesian establishment only to be taken away by his mother who then forgot all about him when she got a new man. I asked Stephen what he'd done since I'd left him the previous day. "Nothing", he said, "and it was very cold last night." Looking at the thin jacket over his T-Shirt I was sure he was telling the truth. Again I was asked "Can you get me into Don Bosco School?"
To fund all the Salesian operations I saw, there must be a world-wide army of generous donors. Carefully selected youngsters are given educational opportunities by having their school fees paid. Regular checks are made to make sure the child is continuing to work hard and to really progress in their studies. If anyone reading these lines would like to help these children, the contact is given at the end of the article.
What I have just seen for myself for the first time, at the age of 71, has certainly shaken me. The problems everywhere in Africa are immense but so is the vitality, the resilience, the ingenuity and spirit of initiative of so many of the people. The children there know, as children here rarely do, that education is their only way to escape from the restrictions of their grinding poverty.
Before I left Nairobi last January 9th, Fr Gianni and I had identified several ways in which I could contribute to the educational work in and near Don Bosco Utume. Fr George the Provincial gave his blessing to the proposals. I left England in mid-August, I will now be able to complete a full academic year with the 45 young Salesians preparing for ordination over the next four years.
I hope there will later be an epilogue to this story, but that's not for now. The next year is going to bring fresh challenges to me even after almost 50 years as a Salesian. Over last Christmas I lost half a stone in under four weeks. That's why I'm sure I'll be relieved to return to the UK late next May! I trust that then both God and myself will reckon it is a year well spent.
By Brother Peter Simmonds SDB
Born in Tunbridge Wells, Kent in 1927, Peter became a Salesian in 1953, he came to Cape Town in the following year. He was instructor, teacher and finally principal of the Salesian Technical High School. After its closure in 1976 he directed the Salesian Press. In 1989 he set up the "Learn to Live" programme for street children ...........
During the late 1980s the phenomenon of street children was becoming increasingly evident in several of the larger cities of South Africa. The Salesian Institute in Cape Town was at that time a schoolboys' hostel. Outside of school hours the boys enjoyed swimming, football and other recreations in the grounds of the Institute. Some of these activities could be observed at a distance from outside the entrance gates. Thus it sometimes happened that small groups of street children would watch wistfully from outside while other more fortunate youngsters were obviously enjoying themselves inside the grounds. They were not a little surprised when, instead of being chased away as was their usual experience elsewhere, they were invited in off the street to join in the fun!
Once contact had been made and they realised they were welcome as among friends, they started to come regularly to use the swimming pool and the football pitch on a Sunday afternoon when most of our hostel boys went home for the weekend. With the development of trust and confidence, it became evident that the basic needs of these youths were care, shelter and education. Several night shelters and hostels had been opened in the city but daylight hours were still being spent on the streets. Many of the youngsters wanted education but had been too long out of school to be able to face returning. In meetings with various non-governmental organisations serving street children it was suggested that some sort of informal education programme was needed, The shelters would welcome some constructive and educational occupation to take their young charges off the streets during the day. So it was that with the assurance of the support of the shelters as well as the expressed desire of the youngsters, the Salesians decided to respond by setting up an educational and rehabilitation programme. But where?
The only part of the Institute rather under-utilised at that time, since the closure of the school in 1976, was the former school chapel. This was a separate building in the Institute grounds and could conveniently be replaced by an indoor chapel, adequate for the requirements of the Salesian community. Perhaps the well-appointed building could be more effectively used for the new apostolate by converting it into an educational centre for street children. It was not an easy decision but once made, the pipe organ and the granite altar were sold to other churches to raise funds for the project. The side chapels became small classrooms and the organ loft made a useful woodwork shop!
Since funds for salaries were practically non-existent, the first group of qualified teachers were virtually volunteers: a Christian Brother, a Loreto Sister, a Dominican Sister and two other teachers, all sharing the same concern for the welfare of the street children and all anxious to help, as also were many part-time volunteers who cooked food for them, led them in games or gave them individual tuition.
January 1990 saw the opening of the project with some twenty-five boys and five girls; most came from the shelters, but about a dozen attended direct from the streets on which they were living. Numbers steadily increased but also fluctuated owing to the instability of the children's life. Donations from various benefactors made it possible to provide the children with soup and something to eat before departing in the afternoon.
Some of the older youths attending the programme sorely needed shelter but could not gain access to the children's homes. To meet this need Don Bosco Hostel was opened in 1991 and caters for up to 24 otherwise homeless youths. Today it is more than just a hostel; it is in fact a comprehensive eighteen-month structured programme working in a therapeutic environment, helping street children to develop life skills. They may follow courses in our 'Learn to Live' craft training workshops or attend outside skills training programmes. On completion of their time in Don Bosco Hostel, each youth is ready for employment and if at all possible will be re-united with their family.
Meanwhile the former schoolboys' hostel was gradually phased out releasing space in the Institute for bigger and better classrooms for 'Learn to Live'. Younger pupils are prepared to return to the regular school system wherever possible. Older ones graduate to skills training courses in our metal, wood or leather workshops. In each of these, the students learn to make saleable articles and are enabled to become entrepreneurs. A holistic approach to their individual needs ensures that ongoing all-round education is continued together with craft training in the workshops.
In addition to these projects involving about 100 youths at any one time, the Don Bosco Centre now offers the 'Sixteen Plus' Outreach and Development Programme for young people of age 16 to 24 who regularly live on the street. A full-time co-ordinator and dedicated volunteers provide a resource and network facility. Counselling, support, recreational activities and legal assistance are all offered. Street youth are motivated to improve their lives and 30 or so are prepared each year for induction into Don Bosco Hostel.
The Salesian Institute is recognised as a leading facility for the rehabilitation of young people on the streets of Cape Town. No government funding is forthcoming however, and the projects still rely on the generosity of well-wishers who, like Don Bosco himself, appreciate the plight of homeless and neglected youth and are only too pleased to play a part in saving them from the hazards of life on the street.
If you too would like to give a chance in life to more children 'from the street looking in' please send a donation using the form enclosed in this magazine and it will be sent directly to Brother Peter Simmonds.
James was born in Templemore, County Tipperary, Ireland, in September 1914. Before he was two years of age James and his family left Ireland. They moved to Scotland and settled in one of the poorer suburbs of Glasgow. Tragically, like the young John Bosco, James lost his father while he was still a very young child. The untimely death of her husband must have placed a terrible burden on James' mother. It must have been the near impossibility of trying to care for a large family with little or no money that led James' mother to arrange for him to go and live with his aunt Katie. Initially, James' secondary schooling wasn't all it should have been. But again, like the young John Bosco, James was fortunate to be befriended by one of the local clergy, a certain Fr James Fletcher, who helped him to make up the education he had missed.
In 1931, James was accepted for the junior seminary at Shrigley Park in Cheshire. James successfully completed his secondary studies and made his first vows as a Salesian in 1935. James had always dreamed of being a missionary in 'far away places with strange sounding names'. In 1937 James sailed for the Far East, to the newly established Salesian mission in Siam, present-day Thailand. He worked enthusiastically and very successfully with the young people of that oriental paradise. Tragically things were to change dramatically for the worse. With the outbreak of the Second World War and the subsequent Japanese occupation of Siam, paradise was soon to become a hell on earth. James and several of his fellow Salesians were interned in a Japanese concentration camp. James rarely, if ever, spoke of these years of darkness. As an Irish citizen James could have gained his freedom after two long years of imprisonment; but with characteristic generosity he chose to stay despite the most atrocious conditions. He did this to look after another young Salesian with a British passport, a young man whose mental equilibrium had been severely damaged by the horrors of the camp.
James was ordained priest in Siam in 1945. After all he had experienced in the war he needed a good rest and the opportunity to reconnect with his family in Scotland. He spent the next four years working in Britain. He then returned to Thailand and stayed there another six years. But the trauma of his years as a prisoner of war had taken its toll and James knew that his days as a missionary were over. He returned to the UK in 1955.
As a consequence of all that he had suffered, James had come to find the demands of institutionalised community living very difficult to cope with. He needed his own space, and a certain freedom. His experience of doing the occasional parish supply had given him a particular liking for parish work. James was to spend the next 30 years or so working in different parishes first in England and then in Scotland. It was in 1968, following the tragic death of one of his nephews, that James moved to Dundee. He was to work with great success in the parishes of St Patrick and St Pius X. On his day off he would usually travel over to Glasgow to visit his aunt Katie, who had been so tragically bereaved. He would also visit his cousin, Kathleen, and her young daughter, Clare, for tea. This was the beginning of a loving friendship that would support and sustain him for the rest of his life. It was in 1996, after a serious bout of illness and when he had turned 80, that he retired to Patterson Towers in Falkirk.
Fr Chris Heaps, who was James' Rector for the last two years of his life spoke appreciatively of him, "I am grateful to have known James a little. He was one of the most 'alive' people I've met. I have been inspired by a fellow Salesian, a man who lived the Gospel with a large, generous, and a young heart."
Perhaps because he had experienced the very worst that men can do to each other, James always focussed on what was good and positive in others. He was always so appreciative of what others did for him. Maybe it was because James had looked death in the eye that it held no fears for him. He was delighted to reach his 86th birthday - it was an unexpected bonus! He accepted his final illness with characteristic courage, serenity and good humour. Faced with the prospect of surgery for prostate cancer he wrote, "I prefer to fade away rather than submit to being 'cut up'. Kathleen and Clare are already getting ready for a period of nursing. They will probably have a wee cry for me, but they know I will be happy to meet the Lord."
May he rest in peace.
Francis Preston, Provincial
Michael was born in the small mining village of Esh Winning near Durham, the first of seven children. According to his sisters Michael was the favourite of the family. But I can hear Michael saying, "They would say that wouldn't they." He studied at our missionary college at Shrigley, near Macclesfield. Then apparently decided that the priesthood was not for him and went off to London to work at Kensington Palace. After a short time in royal service he came back to the Salesians and was professed in 1939. He studied philosophy at Shrigley and then taught in Bolton from 1942 to 1945. He then studied Theology at Shrigley for a year and taught at the same time. There followed two years studying theology at Blaisdon. In 1948 he went to Lyons for a year to complete his theology. He was ordained in Blaisdon in July 1949. His family came down from the North East for his ordination.
Michael then began his teaching which was to last 35 years. First at Farnborough then Cowley, Oxford, then Farnborough again. In 1965 he became Headmaster in Farnborough. In 1970 he became headteacher of Thornleigh College, Bolton. A responsibility he held for 14 years. As a headteacher he was hard and hardworking, clear in what he was trying to achieve. Appreciative of those who were prepared to work with him, blunt when he felt he had to correct. Quite a few pupils have said "You knew where you stood with him."
I often recall his saying to me after he had retired that his only regret was that he had not shown sufficient appreciation of his staff. A statement which I read, not as an admission that he had failed to appreciate his staff, but that staff appreciation was always very much on his mind. In fact one of the teachers who taught under here, as a young teacher, wrote to us this week saying,
"He expected the most from his staff, but he always gave them great encouragement and help. He taught me to say thanks no matter what. It was in such small detail that Fr Doyle excelled."
After retirement from headship Michael embarked on another demanding and important stage of his life. He took provincial-wide responsibility for Salesian schools. While ever the pragmatist, he had the vision to look ahead to see what might be coming. The work Michael did in this area has proved to be of immense value to the province.
Then came a serious illness five years ago, when we all thought he was going to die. He recovered, but never completely. He was left in confusion, with most of his recent memory wiped away. For these five years I kept in touch with Michael. I have thought long and hard about the injustice of such an illness.
In the face of such incomprehension it is tempting to write off these five years as lost years. But that would be unwise. Unwise for many reasons. Unwise because it would fail to recognise the love we have witnessed in Michael's life these last five years. He became lovable, and has been dearly loved by the staff at the Alexian Brothers, and that has been a precious part of his life. Unwise because it only subscribes to the heresy of judging our lives by our work, that great Salesian heresy of the need to prove oneself by work. Unwise because it fails to recognise that caring for the elderly and the sick has now become an essential part of our Salesian vocation.
On a personal level caring for Michael has changed me. In some mysterious way I got closer to Michael in his sickness than I ever did in his active days.
But in some ways these last five years have been for us a form of grieving,
Grieving for Michael of the bright and ready wit,
Five years of losing the man we had known.
Seeing the dullness creep into his eyes,
Missing the repartee, so typically his own.
As his efficiency became so irrelevant,
We witnessed his new gentleness.
Michael with no work to hide within
A man becoming a child again.
How they loved their Fr Michael,
All unreasoned anger purged away,
Unpressured by life's history
How he was loved, and every day.
May he rest in peace
Tony Bailey SDB