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The life of the Brothers in Africa

09/08/2006: Côte dIvoire

Brother José Luis Elías works in a school for 300 students in the Ivory Coast, to where he was transferred in 2004 from Granada, where he was a teacher and coordinator for a group of catechists. After the tragic events that took place there in 2004, the Spanish Government facilitated the exit of the Spanish: but the missionaries opted to stay. Brother José Luis speaks to us of his life among the Ivorians.

What work do the Marists carry out there?
We have two schools: in Bouaké and in Korhogo, a city of 100.000 inhabitants, located in the north where I live. There are six Brothers, four of them Ivorians. As Marists, our task is education, although we also take charge of pastoral animation and collaborate with the parish in the catechesis of confirmation and with youth groups.

What is the crisis that faces the country?
In 2000 there was a coup detat that ousted some political parties. In September of 2002, another coup caused the current division in the country: the north occupied by the rebels and the south loyal to the Government. The desire for power among the politicians and the rebels and the economic conflicts of the great powers prolonged this situation for four years.

How did you live through the events of 2004?
I had been there less than two months. On the morning of November 4, Bouaké, the capital of the rebel area, was bombarded and immediately the news reached Korhogo. We saw the people rushing past the school, running towards their houses or looking for their children in the schools. We were able to calmly organize the evacuation of the boys. In the afternoon two aeroplanes came and dropped their bombs. Then, water and electricity were cut off for ten days, but there were no other setbacks. After one week we resumed classes, without water and without light. We were able to recover a sense of normality and take in the students who were wandering the streets.

Was there a lot of panic?
No, I do not believe so. In community we tried to maintain calm. We were able to inform the superiors within two or three days. Later we had encouraging news about our Brothers in Bouaké: the helicopters had flown over their school but then went away, maybe when they saw the children who went out to have a close look at them.

What is the present situation?
The mandate of the president has been extended until October 30. They have forced him to accept a new first ministry of consensus that a Government of national reconciliation has formed whose main mission is to prepare for the elections. On the surface, everything is all right; but the reality is that four years have passed without any real agreement. There are plenty of fine words but also political obstacles when steps are taken toward reunification. Nobody wants to lose the status quo acquired by the revolution. The country continues to be divided in two halves, although most of the population is in the south. In the north the economic difficulties are enormous; the uncertain situation prevents any serious work; until February the possibility of taking official exams was blocked, which discouraged the students who preferred to look for some kind of work or wander the streets; others cannot study at home due to a lack of electricity, many girls are forced into marriage by their parents, divided families and orphans are plentiful, the food is scarce in many homes.

Do they receive help from the Government?
Before, the State subsidized 90 % of our pupils, but since we are in the rebel area, that help was suspended in 2002. We receive contributions from SED and private individuals, as well as from cities like Granada. That money is dedicated to provide schooling for those who are short of resources and to buy bread and milk for more than a hundred students and a large group of children who have nothing.

Is the presence of God recognized among the people who are suffering?
Human existence, creation, cannot be conceived there without the supernatural. This makes more evident the daily presence of God among us. It is also certain that this divine presence continues to be for many subjection rather than liberation, bound to magic and traditional sacrifices. Religions like Islam, Christianity and new sects are everywhere. I give thanks to God for the constant protection that I have been able to observe during my time in the Ivory Coast, whether in those difficult moments or on the occasion of my trips and displacements.

Periodical ‘Vivir’ - 30 July 2006

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