United World Project


Asante Africa 2018

22 October 2018   |   Kenya, ,

By Sergio Brena.

A fraternal volunteer adventure in Kenya. The Fazenda da Esperanza and the Turkana region. 

Asante (thank you) is certainly the first word in Swahili that you learn coming to Kenya, and the young people who came this summer for the project “Asante Africa” have had the opportunity to say it and hear it many times.

But let’s take this step by step. Who are the protagonists? Twenty young people aged 18 to 30 from various countries (Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Bolivia, Spain, Italy, Uganda and Kenya) and five adults who accompanied and supported the logistics. So, a very varied representation of different continents, with very different backgrounds, lifestyles and choices; from the seminarian to the non-believer, from the new graduate to the professional, all attracted by the idea of spending a month of their holidays to get to know the local reality and make their concrete contribution.

So, was it a kind of voluntary work? “Not exactly – the young people who organized the project are keen to point out – we could rather call it: fraternal volunteering. We didn’t want to come here just to do something for the needy. Rather, we wanted to build sincere relationships first between ourselves and then with the people we would meet in the various places we would go. Another girl adds: “For me it was also a chance to test myself, to discover myself and my potential.”

For those coming from a Western culture, being immersed in the African context, with all its richness but also with its contradictions and challenges, was a healthy shock. The young people visiting the Magnificat Project of the Focolare Movement in the slum of Mathare in Nairobi were impressed: “The moments spent in Mathare touched me. Seeing that these people have nothing, but they welcome you with a smile, especially the children, has plunged me into crisis. I started thinking about my life, about what I do, about what I could do,” said Federica from Pescara. But like her, many others… or rather: all of them! For example, Milena (Bari): “The day at Magnificat (Mathare) helped us to open our arms to unknown people and allowed us to love those who are different for what they are, without too many thoughts or words, only with a loving gaze.”

Perhaps also because of these strong experiences, the young people wanted to organize a moment of reflection on the “meaning of life”, helped by the words of Dr. Roberto Almada – psychiatrist, priest and member of the Focolare movement – connected via the Internet from Rome.

A second dimension to be faced was the challenge of creating authentic and profound relationships within the group itself. How can we avoid being superficial in our relationship with others? The young members of the organizing committee proposed to meet regularly every 2-3 days for a free and spontaneous moment of sharing. It should be noted that, despite growing fatigue, everyone always participated and gradually found the strength to share their deepest experiences: the joys but also the struggles.

Finally, the social dimension. “We have set ourselves the goal of building relationships of unity with the various communities that have hosted us and to which we have proposed to give our small contribution,” says one of the organizers.

“We began by getting to know Mariapolis Piero of the Focolare Movement, an international centre for formation, which promotes the inculturation of the Gospel in African traditions. We felt loved, welcomed. But the children of the Rainbow Nursery School present in the Mariapolis gave the extra touch, pushing all of us to go beyond the barriers of culture and language, to improvise games and spontaneous animation with them.

The young people left a permanent mark by painting beautiful murals that speak of integration and peace, visible to anyone who passes by the main street in front of the Mariapolis. They said: “The Mariapolis is a confirmation, it is exactly the ideal city, the “locus amenus”… a place that welcomes all those who are really free to love.”

The second part of the project involved the transfer by matatu (bus) to the “Fazenda da esperanza“, where for about two weeks they shared the lives of the guests of this centre, which aims to help people who have fallen into various types of addiction to change their lives.

“The experience here in Fazenda – says Ivan, head of the centre in Iriamurai (Kenya) – is based on three pillars that everyone is expected to live: spiritual growth through various daily moments of prayer and meditation, community life and work. The young people from Asante Africa have fully integrated themselves into our way of life, giving a beautiful contribution that none of us will forget.”

Of course, there were also moments of leisure and relaxation. Memorable football challenges: Fazenda vs Asante Africa. In the latest one the losers would have their heads shaved. How did it end? Let’s say that the Fazenda players got their scalps!

The last part of the project took place in the Turkana region in northern Kenya. They say. “As soon as you land in the small airport of Lodwar you are struck by the almost desert landscape. It takes more than 4 hours to cover the 120 km of runway that leads you to Kakuma. Rare vegetation, huge thermitaries as big as columns, sometimes a few workers of the Chinese company that is building the road. After a long time, we saw the first settlement: huts built with branches, clay and some old bags. Here the conditions are even more extreme. Absolute poverty and scarcity of water are striking, which must also be sought by digging into the sand of dried-up rivers. Yet when we arrive the women of the parish welcome us with a traditional dance that engages us and makes all of us dance and jump! It is difficult to describe the explosion of joy they express. Here we will be at the service of the local community, working concretely on the arrangement and repainting of some of the primary school classrooms and of a hospital ward. When we started working at the school we had the wonderful surprise of finding the children to welcome us for a greeting. But from the beginning they want to help us to set up “their” school; doing so for all the days we stayed there. The work at the hospital is even more tiring and there are no children to cheer us up. We also doubt that we will never be able to finish it. But what a joy when we saw it finished just in time. We start with the gratitude of the people and with the invitation to return next year.

Listening to their testimonies we realize that there are still many things to tell, but the most important and unanimous is: “Thanks to this land that has welcomed us and that has allowed us to live an extraordinary experience. So, let’s say it with them: “Asante Africa“!