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Educating to reach out to the marginalised

E eventMonday, 25 October 2021

It is a great joy for our colleges in Madagascar to share this article with you about the ways in which we educate our students to go towards the marginalised members of our society, and about the educational initiative that has been set up to accompany them.

Saint Marie Eugénie’s words greatly inspire us, “Love never says, ‘enough’ ” (See ME, n°1511). It is love that pushes us to reach out to the marginalised.

During the Church’s most fervent liturgical seasons, i.e., Advent and Lent, the educators at Saint Joseph Ambohimahasoa College help the children to understand what it is to have a spirit of solidarity and to love others by making sacrifices to help the poor (especially those children who are not lucky enough to go to school, who sleep in the street, and who become beggars).

There is a box in each class in which pupils put the money they save thanks to their sacrifices. The pupils also try to raise funds during the important aforementioned times in the liturgical calendar. We then put all the money together, buy food and clothes and distribute it. The representatives of the pupils are in charge of the distribution to the poorest people.

It is often the case that, in our social environment, there would be Catholic schools. The parents of the pupils contribute to the teachers’ salaries. Nonetheless, poverty often prevents the parents from being able to pay for their children’s schooling. With the consequences of COVID-19, parents can no longer pay, and so far, it is the parish which contributes to the income of these educators.

That being so, Sr Emma (Director), together with the educational team, decided to help them. On Friday, January 8, we invited the educators to the Community. This was a good opportunity to wish them a “happy Christmas and New Year 2021”. The students then gifted a hamper to each educator. The educators were very grateful to have received the fruits of the students’ sacrifices. We are all supposed to experience mutual aid in communion with the poorest for whom Jesus Christ has a preferential love.

Another aspect of our educational experience is that we always foster a spirit of sharing in our students. With their participation, we bought chalk for schools poorer than ours. At school, many students learn to share their snacks with those who don’t have any. In this way, our students have become accustomed to sharing. In regard to spiritual life, each class is accustomed to devoting time to praying together for their friends who are in trying situations or who are in mourning.

And finally, we have made donations to people living on the margins of society, taking it upon ourselves to go out to meet them so we could assess their needs to be better able to help them.

 

WE CONTINUE OUR JOURNEY TO THE SOUTH OF MADAGASCAR

Our second encounter is in Andohanilakaka where a Sapphire mine is located. It is a new town. The population is almost entirely made up of migrants. People come from the north, east and west of Madagascar. We can say that it is a cosmopolitan population. But the most dominant ethnic groups are the Bar and the Antandroy, and this is the area where our educational practice is concentrated. We love spending our time here in these geographical locations.

It is important to know that religion and Education de la Vie et l’Amour – EVA (Education for Life and Love) are part of the curriculum in Catholic schools. Our school is open to all, provided that parents, children and young people respect the structure and programme set up within it. For middle and high school students, we have devoted a total of four hours per week to transmitting Christian and Malagasy values which are present in each specific objective and adapted to the age of the students.

Primary and nursery school children get a maximum of fifteen minutes of each.

Fihavanana is a value that is characteristic of our country. When a family is going through a period of mourning, illness or a time of grace, we share the news. This can be announced by the schoolchildren, the parents of the students, or even the person him/herself. Each time we say ‘Hello’ or ‘Goodbye’, we immediately ask for news. That’s how we know what’s going on in the neighbourhood or in each family. The teachers, in response, try to rally our students, generally belonging to the same class, or those in classes of the same level. For the others, it depends on the relationship they have with the person or persons affected.

How does the process work?

First of all, we inform every one of the news, whether it is good or bad. Then, we raise awareness among the relevant students. We then set a date to visit the corresponding district. We also raise money in the form of an appeal. We let everyone know the amount collected. It is then put in an envelope that we give to the person(s) concerned. What is most important for us is the union of heart and mind through prayer. We train our students to feel they are part of a class and to live that experience with a family spirit. The person in charge of each level is meant to animate it and ensure communion between its members. It is really to give moral support. We encourage each other in difficult moments and we rejoice with the pupil who has had a success or a blessing.

Here is a concrete example: Not so long ago, a delegate from the fifth-grade class became ill. She twisted her right foot during the Physical and Sports Event. She wasn’t able to go home in her condition. All the classmates looked for a way to solve this problem, but no real solution was found. Some of them went to meet the Sister in charge to explain the situation to her. The Sports teacher and a few students drove her to the doctor. Then they took her home. Some students bought her medicine. Before or after class, a group of students would visit her and follow up on the state of her health. They would take a copy of the lessons done in class, give it to her and explain to her what they had done and the exercises they still had to do. This student was very moved by the friendly gestures from her fellow students.

It is very striking to see the reaction of our young people. After saying ‘Hello’, they would sing a prayer for their classmate to recover but also for all the sick and suffering in the world. I like to underline that this young girl is studying in our school; her parents do not live with their daughter. She rents a house that is not far from the school. She stays alone. However, the landlord takes an interest in her studies and her life in general.

We have chosen this example because this young girl is one of the marginalised, alone and far from her parents. Her parents work in the sapphire mine, far from where our school is located. They can’t call her because of the isolated place in which they are located. They have to walk a long distance to reach a telephone. This explains why this pupil could not inform her parents about her accident in sports. Only her classmates and the owner of the house knew what had happened. She was in a lot of pain. Her only consolation was the solidarity within the school, the strong friendship with her classmates, and the encouragement of her teachers and of the owner of the house.

Sacred Heart School is located in the District of Antsirabe and in the region of Vakinankaratra on the High Plateau of Madagascar. We are in the village of Manandona. In this village, there are eleven public schools, three middle schools and two high schools. We try to educate our students to be open to others and to always imagine a better future. Every year, during important major Church feasts, we organise a community initiative. Moreover, the children of the district receive annual aid from the Missionary Childhood Association. This is because we consider it important to teach them to not always receive but to also give “as there is more joy in giving than in receiving”.

Before the end of the liturgical year 2020, we, the teaching staff, put a lot of thought together into how to live Advent 2020 with our pupils. We sought to help them think broadly and to love others, since it is at school that children and young people learn to live as part of a society. In today’s world, we tend to live on the principle of “every man for himself”. In order to face the challenges of our time we educate our young people above all to love our time and our Church. This is why, after a long debate, the teachers, as well as the class representatives, decided to make an appeal for L’Enfance Missionnaire (Missionary Childhood), so that our gesture of solidarity and friendship would go beyond our borders, towards children from other countries. Our small contribution will make our friends happy. For this reason, during the month of November, the General Supervisor and the person in charge of the school lobbied every Monday to encourage our pupils to offer the little they have to help others or those who are poorer than they are. Each class leader, then, solicited his or her class to contribute to this project. Each class has its own “kitty” to collect the daily donation from each student. It is moving to see the little ones occasionally offering their snacks. They feel that the little sacrifice they make contributes to the well-being of others who have nothing to eat. On the 17th of December 2020, the Christmas Mass for the school was organised. We put together the efforts of each class. During the offertory, each class representative danced with joy as they brought the collection box of their class. The faces of the participants were marked by an immense joy. We, the educators, were also delighted to see their gratitude and contentment at giving a part of their lives to the Lord and to others. After thanksgiving, we offered the funds we had raised to the Chaplain of the Catholic school of the district so that he could offer it to the person in charge of L’Enfance Missionnaire (Missionary Childhood). In our country, on New Year’s Eve, families visit each other, and have a family meal to wish each other a happy New Year and to wish the parents the best for the coming year. We celebrate together the “ASARAMANITRA” as the Malagasy say. This year, the pupils of 5th class organised a small party at school to mark the 2021 New Year. During the meeting, the pupils suggested that a poor person be chosen so that they wish him/her a happy New Year and bring him/her something. After a lengthy discussion, they decided to visit a person from a nearby neighbourhood. They found a grandmother, aged 93, who lives with her grandchildren. They encouraged each other and rallied together so that each one could bring what they could offer (such as potatoes, manioc, noodles, white rice, soap, money...).

Sister Antoinette, a representative for EVA (Education for Life and Love) and head of the Lycée went with them.

In receiving this donation, the grandmother was truly touched by the gesture of these young people. She had tears in her eyes when presented with this unexpected gesture from the pupils. She thanked them and wished them a better future. She encouraged the young people to continue their studies with wisdom and courage, to always look at those around them in need, to develop these gestures of solidarity in the society in which they live. She insisted a lot on the fact that today our country needs these young people and their love, as a good example to those who only think of themselves and their own families. Madagascar needs young people with kind hearts like them. The students in turn were all happy to share what they had collected, to receive the blessing and encouragement of an elderly person like her - such a blessing is important for the Malagasy people. They left with light and joyful hearts. We were all delighted to see the joy on their faces as a result of this experience of sharing. We ended the meeting with a prayer.

For us, it is this way of living, through concrete gestures of friendship and fraternity, which makes us belong to the same body - the Body of Christ. We know that the students are sensitive to the realities of the society of which they are members and that they have a taste for helping those who are weaker or poorer than they are.

It is not only students who try to open up to others and to the marginalised; educators are equally concerned with making their contribution to the education of young people. It is a custom for our school to choose each year a day per semester (in January and May) to visit the parents of the students. Each educator visits some of the parents of his or her class. The aim is to seek ways together to improve the student’s life and studies. It is a precious moment to meet and talk with the parents about their children’s education and conduct, and also to examine what can hinder their development and studies. During the meeting, each leader takes the opportunity to suggest solutions to school problems and to pass on the latest school programme, or the changes made following the monthly teachers’ meeting.

It is often the case that problems encountered with education is due to the infrequency of meetings between the parents and school, and to a lack of understanding between young people and their parents in the face of globalisation. Parents are happy with the visits to their homes because they are usually very busy with the daily concerns for their family - finding food or clothes. They often have no available time to go and talk to the educators at the school. After the visits, the school organises an evaluation and appraisal so that the day of the visit is not a waste of time but a constructive experience in which, together, they may look for ways to improve our education and address daily realities. During the appraisal, the council of teachers take the decisions which are meant to strengthen our teaching. It is up to them to point out if there are students or parents who need to meet with the school director. For us, these home visits are very important for the development and support of students and parents. It also reduces the problems encountered in the school and in the families.

In short, in regard to the education of our young people today, everyone including pupils, parents, and educators alike, has a noble duty to fulfil. Educators, however, have a great responsibility insofar as young people will build the society of tomorrow. We must explore the means appropriate for the individual characters, way of life and possibilities of each young person, to enable them to feel responsible for their neighbours and peers.

 

SISTER EMMA IGNACETELYNE

Referent Sister for Education of the Province of Madagascar

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