Oblate Voices is a JPIC blog that follows stories of hope and is about how Oblates and associates live and experience mission work in the spirit of the Oblate founder, St Eugene De Mazenod of responding to the needs of poor and most abandoned around the world.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Oblate Bishop Pastoral Encounters: Challenges in Education Sector in Western Province – Zambia

In his monthly newsletter, Oblate Bishop Evans Chinyemba OMI of Mongu Diocese in Zambia writes about many school infrastructure challenges and lack of basic educational opportunities faced by teachers and students in rural areas of Western Province.

By Bishop Evans Chinyama Chinyemba, O.M.I., Bishop of Mongu, ZAMBIA

Banabahesu, in my outreach to the parishes I take time to visit any nearby school, whether community school, government school or mission school. I am always well-received by the teachers. In Lukulu we gathered with the pupils and teachers of Lukulu’s St. Columba’s Secondary School. I realize the many challenges our schools go through, yet the staff and the pupils do their best in raising the standard of the school. In Mitete district, I met with a teacher who is at a school that began in 1942 and is still housed in a grass-thatched house. In a place called Kashinangombe, the only two teachers at the school are faced with the challenge of fetching water from Dongwe River. At some schools that go up to grade 7, there is only one teacher. 

This is the case of Kakenge Mwalye of Senanga and many other rural schools. Who can forget the story of the one teacher at Mbumi managing the whole school, while the second teacher is out on duty in Lukulu.  My pastoral encounters with the teachers who teach in rural schools make me aware of the importance of a good quality education. In many parts of our rural Barotseland, schools are very understaffed. Teachers have no decent accommodation. Classrooms cannot be termed 'classrooms that motivate teachers and the pupils'. Yet, I admire the teachers who have the courage to be in these schools. I am even more impressed with the courage of the pupils who find themselves walking long distances to reach their school. 

In some cases, I interact with pupils from various grades and I am interested to hear them read something. At times, it is difficult for even those in grades 7 or 9 to read and it is always a cheer when one in grade 4 volunteers to read and reads well. I will not forget the weekly boarders who, during weekends, travel home sometimes half a day’s walk to get their weekly food supply. Banabahesu, these are encounters that keep me asking why should it be like this in our situation! In the midst of all these challenges, one at times finds some determined young girl or boy who desires to complete their education and become a doctor or someone important in society. 

I am reminded of young Karen Kalukango who is in grade 6 and decided to write her name on her exercise book as Dr. Karen Kalukango. Impressive! This is a sign of hope that despite the many challenges pupils go through in rural areas, an eye for the future is seen. I promised to continue checking on her every time so that her dream is not extinguished.

My other encounters are those I have with young mothers. These are very young girls who are supposed to be in school yet most of them are either married or having children with no hope or desire of ever getting back to school. The future of our rural places will always remain a challenge since we do not have many people who finish school and are therefore not able to think of developing their places. When you ask why they getting married at such age, you get various answers. The common one is: we are grown up and it is time to get married. Traditionally, when they say they are grown up, they know what it means to naturally grow up. In our world today especially in rural areas, there is competition to see who gets married first and who has a child first. The second response is we are old enough. Why should I not get married or not have a child since my peers are married or have children. Once in a while you will find someone who says I dropped out of school and got married because I had no support to see me through. Well, we have been talking of the girl child and the question of marriage. 

Yet in my encounters, I also meet boys who are supposed to be in school but have decided to marry because everyone is doing it. How can a boy get married and manage a home!  Here we are, the girl child and boy child are at a crossroad. Banabahesu, my encounters are not only with young girls and boys who are married, but also with their parents and guardians. I have spoken in all our parishes of the need for parents and guardians to make sure that their children go to school. Let the children blame themselves for not having taken education seriously, than in the future blame their parents for forcing them into early marriages. 

Banabahesu, our encounters also inspire me. The spirituality behind self-sustainability moves us towards finding other ways of improving our parishes. In St. Martin de Porres parish, the Out Station of St. Peter around TBZ annually cultivate maize which they sell to supplement the finances of their Out Stations. How I wish many of our Outstations could borrow this idea especially those Outstations that have good land.

My other encounters are those with some retired civil servants. Having labored as teachers, as police persons, as nurses and other jobs, the retired officers are ready to offer their time to the life of the Church.

Banabahesu, I am grateful for these many encounters, which teach me a lot about how diverse our diocese is. As already noted, many of these encounters are difficult for they call us to reflect together what best we should do. May Mary our Mother, who has journeyed with us in the month of October, continue to guide us through and through.

*The full article originally appeared in the Mongu Diocese monthly newsletter – October 2015

Friday, October 23, 2015

South Africa: Oblates in frontline ministry in Soweto and Khayelitsha (Cape Town)

By Fr Seamus Finn, OMI

Fr Seamus Finn, OMI recently participated in a mining meeting in South Africa hosted by the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town. While there he visited several local Oblate communities.

During my recent visit to South Africa for an event on mining, hosted by the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, Thabo Makgoba, I had the opportunity to connect with three different oblate communities in South Africa. These visits provided a great opportunity to connect with oblates in frontline ministry and mission, to learn about their missionary priorities and challenges, and to celebrate with some members in the local communities.

Alvin Ryan Tshuma OMI, Siyabonga Dube OMI 
and servers in Khayelitcha
The first stop was to an initiative that is very fresh in Mitchell Plain on the outskirts of Cape Town and in the nearby township of Khayelitcha. I had a chance to visit the area where four young oblates are in mission and debrief with them on my reason for being in the area and discuss their work over a very tasty pizza. They also talked about their memories and relationships with Oblates in the US province, specifically with Oblate Frs. Jim Datko, Bill Clarke, John Staak, Paul Waldie and Tom Singer.

On Sunday I had the opportunity to join in the celebration of the Eucharist in a township chapel. It was a very small corrugated iron construction building, squeezed in between a number of domestic dwellings. There was one single file aisle available, which made the different processions and collections that are usually part of the Catholic experience of Mass very interesting. That is saying nothing of the music, movement and swaying that were part of the celebration.

In Johannesburg I visited the well-known Soweto area and on the northern side of the city, the Alexandra township where oblates have maintained a missionary presence for decades, and the retreat center and novitiate at Germiston. The stories that form part of
Left to right: Zweli Mlotshwa OMI, Bufana Ndlovu OMI,
Seamus Finn OM
these missionary endeavors and the oblate characters who came from places like Lowell, MA and Inchicore in Ireland who were part of this long-standing missionary effort are legend here. Their courage and creativity in the face of grinding political oppression and oppressive police and state force, and ingrained and deep racism is inspiring.

Twenty years after the release of Nelson Mandela from prison and the beginning of the new South Africa, the wheels of development appear to have come off the bus. Unemployment is persistent at over 25% with no clear path to address this debilitating experience for so many. The absence of a substantial opposition political party has allowed the African National Congress (ANC) to dominate the space and control most aspects of society.
Bronze statue of Nelson Mandela
near downtown Johannesburg
Political corruption and graft are expected in every transaction and few institutions have the strength or the presence to respond strategically to these issues.

The country’s energy policy remains very dependent on coal mining and burning and this continues to contribute to very dramatic public health and social challenges that have not been addressed. This, after making great strides in addressing an HIV-AIDS epidemic, made catastrophic by a misguided government policy. The forthcoming global meeting on developing both sovereign and global responses to the issue of climate change puts South Africa at the center of a number of pivotal debates.

The effects of this very tragic and repressive period in the recent history of South Africa are present across society. They are more prevalent and obvious when you visit a township and see the grinding poverty and violence that is deeply rooted. To watch these young oblate missionaries in each of these townships continuing a religious and gospel presence, pastorally comforting the afflicted and aged, and standing in solidarity against oppression and indifference was encouraging and hopeful.