Created in Ceará in 1982 and with various activities Brazil now gathering around 600,000 members, the Shalom Catholic Community has for 13 years maintained a home in Antsiranana, northern Madagascar. Considered one of the poorest in the world, the African island country has 25 million inhabitants. Life expectancy is low – only 40 years – and only 2% of the population has access to running water.
Antsiranana’s house has been coordinated for eight years by the Bahia-born missionary Vanda Santos, 46, who decided to adapt to a local reality a project that was already being carried out by the Shalom community in Brazil. “When I got here I saw the lack of children. There is a public school. But it is not like Brazil. It is necessary to pay an annual amount which for the people here is somewhat expensive. Many families can’t afford it, ” she explains.
This kicked off Vanda to implement a local version of the Shalom’s Joseph of Egypt project. “In Brazil, children go to school one shift and the other to the project. The people there help to do the exercises. Children have singing, crafts and religion classes, ”he compares.
Since Madagascar families cannot afford to take children to school, the community has decided to set up a small school, which has been operating for almost seven years. Divided into three classrooms, 98 children participate in full-time activities on weekdays. The activities consist of the literacy process, as well as craft and drama classes and a prayer group.
In addition to Vanda, six other missionaries work in the house: five Brazilians and one Malagasy. On Saturdays, they serve about 150 children in the neighborhood and are supported by their relatives. “The mothers, the neighbors, our prayer group. Each one tries to help a little ”, she celebrates.
To keep the house going, missionaries have to face some challenges. “We don’t have partners to help us financially,” laments Vanda. According to her, the money would help especially in feeding children, which turns out to be very costly for missionaries. However, providing a snack is considered essential because it represents, for most children, the only food of the day.
“We have a pupil here who always takes something home. He brings a disposable plastic bottle and a little bag. When it’s rice with ground beef, he eats half and takes the other half home in a sachet. One day I asked why he took it home. He said it was to give brother, ” she says.
Vanda reveals that the missionaries’ relatives also help by sending some money. Even so, it is difficult for money to get home because of the country’s poor banking system.
“I have so many dreams”
Despite the difficult reality in the African country, Vanda still has time to dream. She wants to turn the house maintained by the Catholic community Shalom into a school. “A school of fact and law, but children do not have to pay. With a recognized curriculum, all recognized,” she says.
And the dream doesn’t stop there. “My first dream is this school. The second is an outpatient clinic,” she says. “The children here are very sick. They have no sanitation, they have no structure. I have so many dreams that I don’t even know what to tell you,” she jokes.
The help that comes from afar
Part of the demands made by Vanda and her colleagues receive strong help from Brazil. The Shalom Catholic Community organizes regular expeditions to Madagascar. The next expedition is scheduled for November and will add 24 people to the home mission team.
“Here come some people in healthcare, like doctors and people who work in other areas who spend about two weeks. They help in a wonderful way,” says Vanda. “But apart from these expeditions, we welcome people who want to spend two or three months to help us in some way. Because there is no shortage of work here.”
The work done by the Shalom community in Madagascar was recognized by Pope Francis, who visited the country in September this year and greeted the missionaries and children of Antsiranana’s home.
“I was not on the Pope’s visit, because it was at the time I was in Brazil. But it was very good. The brothers who went said it was wonderful. He talked a lot about mutual help, caring for each other. that we have. To us, he gave a very big injection right. He restored our hope. Our hope has indeed been restored. “