Monday 27 May 2013

Rwanda – The School of Peace, a bridge in a country that has known too many chasms.

The Community of Sant’Egidio has been active in Rwanda for some time. The first initiatives that make up San’Egidio’s presence in Rwanda were launched a few years ago following the 1994 genocide. The first services offered by the Community were those aimed at orphans and homeless children, victims of the genocidal violence and of the subsequent displacement of people.

Today Rwanda has changed. It’s a relatively stable and organized country, whose economy enjoys Chinese-level growth rates. There is less poverty and the wounds of war appear to have healed.. Sant’Egidio as well has planted deeper roots. A beautiful home for the Community has been built in Kigali. On the other hand, in Butare, life in the street is only a memory for those children who, supported by a remote adoption system, live in Sant’Egidio’s shelter home, a berth that provided them with human warmth and opportunities for the future.

However, even in a country which is experiencing change and is coming out of the dead end of underdevelopment, poor people still exist. New socio-economic fault lines have replaced the old divisions based on ethnic identity which have been abolished by law.  The rich and the poor live side by side, with merely a hill between them, but are separated by a destiny that seems unavoidable. Just as yesterday the Community endeavored to overcome all ethnic-based antagonism and any residual hatreds, today it is engaged in mending the social fabric to create a bridge in a country that has known far too many chasms..  

This is what is happening in downtown Kigali. where the Community’s home is located. In these premises for the past five years the Community has been holding two weekly sessions of the School of Peace – the Thursday session is for the homeless children while the Saturday session is for those who have a home and attend a public school – in order to make available the same destiny of education, coexistence and prospects to all.   

The Saturday session of the “School of Peace” - Ishuri ry’Amahoro in kinyarwanda – is particularly aimed at the children of the women who, organized into cooperatives, are paid low salaries by the Municipality to take care of street cleaning. It is towards the hill where the home of the Community is located, the Kiovu cy’Abakire – the rich people’s Kiovu – that the boys and girls from the Kiovu cy’Abakene – the poor people’s Kiovu – walk. It is in this coming together, in this overcoming of one of the new fractures of this country, that one can catch a glimpse of a different and new future, guaranteed to all. 

The School of Peace thus becomes a precious bridge between two neighborhoods which, though separated by a mere hundred meters, run the risk of becoming distinct or even opposing  worlds. In the end, it represents the possibility of there being only one Kiovu, the Kiovu of the Rwandans. 

Friday 17 May 2013

Pasquale, old and alone, only asked for a postcard, but he gets the visit of two friends of Sant'Egidio

A couple of days ago, on the italian magazine "La Stampa",  the journalist Massimo Gramellini published an appeal by Pasquale Bono, old and alone, who "does not ask for money nor caresses, who can even do well. Except that someone out there remembers his existence" by sending his best wishes for his name-day, on March 17. (READ MORE)
But there was no need to wait so long. It is enough to read the newspaper, a few phone calls to friends in other cities and Valeria and Bianca, of the Community of Sant'Egidio in Naples, took the car and went to Santa Maria a Vico, a small town in the province of Caserta to meet Pasquale.
Here's what they wrote:

"It 'was an moving meeting. His "house" is located at a stone's throw from the main street of the village, on the mezzanine floor of a quite modern buildin . After ringing the bell he soon opened the door and invited us in.
He was in his pyjamas and when we told him that we had read his letter in the newspaper he was moved and invited us to come in with a wave of his hand and then, pointing to his mouth, made us understand that he cannot speak: he had a serious stroke 15 years ago which caused him a paralysis of the right side, so he has a withered arm, drags his leg and in fact, he is almost unable to speak. He did not know that his letter had been published, he sent it last week to some newspaper as  the  Stampa to the Mattino and to Avvenire (which is his favourite newspaper). In the entrance besides the TV and hi  armchair, there were many old copies of Famiglia Cristiana.  He likes reading .. Therefore he knows the Community of Sant'Egidio from newspapers and TV and he wanted to know many things about what we do in Naples, where we are and so on. His "dinner" was on the kitchen table: two very small baked apples on a crumpled paper towel. He writes with his left hand with a very old computer and also with a vintage Olivetti ...
He was born in Procida, lived in Naples for some time, and has lived in S. Maria a Vico lived for twenty years. He is divorced, has several photographs to the walls, I think of his wife and daughter, but did not want to talk about that…. He's only 64 years old and only receives  a pension due to his handicap (250,00 EUR), not because they have recognized an additional amount because he can "eat and walk." We went to the newsstand on the corner to get him a copy of the newspapers that we had spoken about and when we came back he had put on another shirt and sprayed perfume in the house ... He ever sees no one and goes out very little. When we said goodbye we proposed to exchange phone numbers and he sadly made us realize that it would be useless since he would not be able to talk on the phone, then thought for a moment and he smiled and mouthed the words ‘to text’. ... of course, he could text sms!
On the 17th we will be back to celebrate his name-day, and then on June 6th is his birthday, we must celebrate a good party.
It 's very nice that a man who is alone, ill, and who cannot speak, can manage to get his voice to someone! Thank you for letting us know about his letter. "

Valeria and Bianca

Tuesday 14 May 2013

Kenya - Sant’Egidio and a dream of fraternity and peace

During this season of ethnical and identity polarisation in Kenya, San’Egidio made efforts to nurture a dream of fraternity and peace which is the longing of every Christian community, but also the ideal reference for the very Kenyan population.
The National Anthem speaks of Undugu (fraternity, in Swahili) and Amani (peace). The national motto is Harambee, meaning to work together, with a high and noble aim, to come together, to attract for the sake of each and everyone.
Still, Kenya faced difficult times, of mutual opposition and violence: its citizens were divided and fought one another. This was the story of the presidential elections 2007, and of the subsequent clashes, which caused almost 1,000 dead and 600,000 internally displaced people.

Such an outcome was feared also for this March’s elections. The Kenyan society and the faithful of every religion hoped and prayed for a civil and peaceful confrontation. The communities of Sant’Egidio organised prayers and marches for peace.
The final result of the poll was declared at the end of the month. And, while many considered more prudent to move towards their own home villages, in order not to be found in an “ethnically wrong” area, when the definitive results of the ballot were proclaimed, the youth and the adults of the Community gathered together in Nakuru for Easter, to be together beyond any ethnical of political difference.

Luckily the confirm of the election at the first poll of the new president, Uhuru Kenyatta, was accompanied by few isolated incidents and some protest, but without risking again widespread clashes. For better or worse, it was a victory of reason, unity and peace.
Sant’Egidio lives such a tension to unity and peace along the whole year. It happens in the different places where it is - Nairobi and Nakuru, but also Eldoret, Kisumu, Mombasa, Homa Bay - in the may services given to the poor regardless from their origin, story or religion: about ten Schools for Peace started in these years, whereas in five towns there is a passionate friendship with the elderly, and in Nakuru and Eldoret the female prisoners of the local jails are visited.

The service becomes commonality of spirit, ideals and dreams, above all, beyond any ethnical temptation, becoming the choice of working together for a country united by a common destiny between different population and traditions. This is the way to built a civilisation of coexistence, a future of fraternity and peace that the fathers of decolonisation imagined 50 years ago for their countries and the whole continent.

Thursday 9 May 2013

Central America – Responding To Widespread Violence, Beginning With The Very Young

The Community of Sant’Egidio is facing the increase in widespread violence in various parts of the world.  According to recent statistics, the most violent areas of the world are the Mesoamerican states, particularly Honduras and El Salvador.  The number of homicides committed in these countries is greater than the deaths caused by the civil wars of the 80’s and 90’s.  In El Salvador, there are 79 homicides per 100.000 inhabitants, in Honduras there are 92, whilst, for example in Italy, the data points to 1.1 homicides for every 100.000 inhabitants.

The link between the drug trade and the increase in violence in this region is evident, as is social exclusion and inequality.  However, we must not underestimate the mentality produced by the decades of conflict: the only way to resolve any issue was through the use of weapons, enforcing the law of the strongest.

The Community of Sant’Egidio is operating in Central America to oppose this mentality.  With this outlook the Community’s presence in supporting children is increasing, with clearer objectives for training and “humanizing” young people.  But also adults who have been seduced by violence and are struggling to find a way out.

El Salvador
New Schools for Peace have been opened in the outskirts of El Salvador.  High School students are involved in educating and instructing people about peace and legality, in areas in which these topics seem too difficult to deal with.

This is our challenge in El Salvador.  Since our arrival this has been our dream, to redeem humanity.  The same dream as William Quijano, of the Community of Apopa (see photo),  who was murdered by the maras (local youth gangs), in September 2009.

The work of the Community of Sant’Egidio also involves the mending of the incredible damage that has been done.  To bring reconciliation to those who have been caught up in a spiral of incontrollable violence. Community members regularly visit prisons, bringing food and clothing and talking to the prison inmates about the possibility of a different kind of future.

The Community is also growing in the most violent areas of Honduras.  Murales have been painted on all of the Schools for Peace.  The theme of the murals is peace, powerfully underlining that it is possible to live in another kind of climate, a climate of peace.

The City of Mexico is a boundless, enormous urban area, where challenges seem so big that they cannot be faced.  Yet the Schools for Peace continue to grow in presence.  We now have 4 schools:  Santa Julia, with their street children, Santa Ursula, Pueblo Quieto and Olivar del Conde.  These are all poor areas where criminality is closely connected to drug trafficking.  Young people are easy prey for these gangs and the familiarity young children have with arms is horrifying.

We need to patiently, continue to build a new familiarity with all of these people, through the words of peace, friendship and trust.  A familiarity which can overcome fear and aggression and, staring with the very young, can lead to finding an answer to the huge problem of a hard and violent world.