Citizens of the world… in Kenya. The voices of the young people of the Gonzaga Campus returning from the international solidarity camp
by Serena Termini
PALERMO – They hugged young and old from the other side of the world, giving smiles and sharing their daily life. These are 40 people – including students, teachers, and parents of the Gonzaga Campus – who, last 28 May, met the children and young people of the “Bishop Mazzoldi School” of the Evangelizing Sisters of Mary in Kenya as part of a humanitarian sharing camp. Located at the crossroads between three slums, the sisters have set up two schools to try to respond, through educational projects, to the poverty of the most vulnerable people in these areas. Sometimes school is the only way to keep them away from a future of labour, sexual exploitation, or solicitation in the mesh of organized crime dedicated to drug dealing. Full of emotion and with great enthusiasm, two students -Lucìa and Francesca- recount their experience.
“It was a wonderful experience – tells Lucìa, 14, of Spanish origin – which I would like to repeat again next year. Seeing these children, despite the conditions of poverty in which they live, so joyful and happy with the little they have, prompted me to reflect a lot. I remember, when inside a sheet metal shack, a 45-year-old father – who was disabled due to a serious accident – told us how only one of his 5 children went to school for free because he had been a victim of sexual abuse. We also had the good fortune to share a small part of the life of these peers of ours, while building some great friendships. Recently, another beautiful thing happened: I called a Kenyan girl who is going through a difficult time on the phone, giving her words of comfort. It’s really very important to me that we can keep these ties.”
“With my notes I was able to recollect, stage by stage, the people I met and the extraordinary moments I experienced in Kenya – tells 17-year-old Francesca La Cavera, who also studies Chinese in the STEM high school route. I learned what humility and awareness of one’s limits in difficult life situations are, by listening to and touching the lives of some people: from a 4-year-old child to a 60-year-old person. From all of them I learned that, despite the problems, one can and must smile at life, making the most of everything one has. I was very struck by the great generosity of a lady we met inside her shack who offered us some tea. Returning to Palermo made me re-evaluate everything I am and have in my life, pushing away what may be useless complaints and trivial thoughts”.
There are also those who, immersed in the light and colours of Africa, have experienced, together with other young people, some significant moments of spirituality amidst songs, music, and prayer.
“As the Jesuits have always taught me – continues Sara Longo, a former student who is now studying Educational Sciences in university- we must never stop looking for ourselves in the places and with the people we meet. In particular, I have dedicated myself a lot to kindergarten and primary school children. The first day I entered their class it was as if they had been waiting for me forever. With them but also with the older ones, I shared moments of joyful spirituality and prayer that I will always carry in my heart. Even in the saddest situations, they have taught us that we must always keep and grow the hope that they transmit with great positive energy through songs, music, and dances”.
The young people in the group were surprising in their ability to adapt to a reality so distant and different from theirs. So tells teacher Linda Ogana, originally from Kenya and a long-time resident of Palermo.
“Our young people have put themselves in the game – says teacher Linda Ogana – adapting to a way of life that is considerably different from theirs. In fact, they adapted to the food without complaining, slept in dormitories and even accepted the rationed use of the internet. All this has allowed them to experience intercultural exchanges full of strong mutual enrichment with greater intensity. I remember with great emotion when I read in their class the letters from Italy that my fourth-grade students had written. The gratitude expressed by these young people is something I will carry with me for a long time. Once back in Palermo it was inevitable to start a reflection on the concept of ‘superfluous’ that characterizes our Western society”.
“This is certainly the consolidation of a dream and a strong revolutionary desire, cultivated for many years,” says with satisfaction Father Vitangelo Denora – a Jesuit and Director General of Gonzaga who, in 2017, served a year of missionary service in Kenya. “In fact, I believe that for the growth of young people, the meeting of people who live in the most wounded realities of the world is truly of considerable importance. In our case, the evident misery that emerges, in all its drama, in the slums of Nairobi contrasts very strongly with the great vitality and solidarity that exists among the people. To witness this first, in a wonderful way, are the boys and girls; small children play with little only in the name of the spirit of complete sharing, r knowing no exclusivity or individualism. They also give great importance to school, which they consider a great life opportunity that makes a difference compared to others. In the slums they are very poor but then, when they put on a uniform, the older ones accompany the younger ones to school, filled with joyful gratitude.”
“In the days we lived together, removing all kinds of barriers and prejudices – continues Father Vitangelo -, there were wonderful intercultural exchanges full of humanity between young people and children from two different continents. As citizens of the world, we need to know the most authentic humanity without masks and without defences, as this helps us and makes us question ourselves deeply. In the mission of our international school, we are not only oriented towards cultivating relations with the Northern hemisphere but also, as in this case, with the enormous wealth of values that can emerge from the Southern hemisphere. With the “Mazzoldi School” a bridge has now been consolidated which we will keep alive in various forms and, of course, by continuing to organize these trips with an original and revolutionary educational approach”.