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18 June

St. Elizabeth of Schoenau
1900: the first Brothers leave for Bom Principio, Brazil

Marist Calendar - June

Marist Bulletin - Number 180


A talk with Brother Sergio Vasquez Mora from the Province of México Occidental who has lived in Africa since 1985

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Report by Brother Onorino Rota

How did you come to be in Tanzania?
In 1976, Brother Basilio Ruedo had sent an invitation to the brothers to see if they were available to develop their apostolate in what we had once called a mission land. I was 30 years old and I wanted very much to work for the Kingdom. I volunteered immediately to go to live in the country that the Superior General had indicated to me. But I had to wait for several years first before my wish was granted. Someone said that this wait was due to the forgetfulness of people but I, instead, always preferred to think that God has his plans and his time. The answer reached me only in 1985 and so I moved to Ghana and since 1992 I have been in Tanzania.

Why Tanzania?
At that time, the Province of México Occidental had decided to widen its apostolate by taking one of the missions in Tanzania and so I went there. Now in Tanzania, which belongs to the Province of Afrique Centre-Est / East Central Africa, there are two communities: Mwanza, which is the centre of the interprovincial Postulancy and Masogna, which is a technical, agricultural secondary school. I am at Masonga and I work in the school with three other Marist Brothers.

What can you tell us about the educational situation in Tanzania?
Tanzania has seen a certain development in its educational system, but beginning from the eighties there has been a dramatic change of direction. Today a good part of the population can read, write and speak a little bit of English. The school system allows for seven years of primary education, four years of secondary education and two years of preparation for university. It is a long pathway that 70% of young people do not succeed in finishing. There are not many teachers and in the rural areas the proportion of teachers to students is one to one hundred. The two official languages that are used in the schools are Swahili and English. English is very important for those who wish to continue their studies, even though currently many teachers do no speak it correctly. It is not only teachers that are lacking, but also classrooms and desks… not to speak of laboratories and sporting facilities. Teaching materials include uniforms, shoes, notebooks, pens… and this is a great burden for the families: an expense that is usually around fifty euros a year, the equivalent of a monthly wage for a worker. You need to remember that the average income per capita is the lowest on the planet (40% of the population live on less than one dollar a day), and that the interest of the foreign debt supersedes by far the figure set aside for Education and Health, which corresponds to two euros per year for each inhabitant.

What can you tell us about religious education?
The situation in Tanzania is complex. There are more than thirty-six million inhabitants and they are subdivided into one hundred and twenty ethnic groups. From the point of view of religion, 35% follow Islam, 30% are Christians and 35% belong to traditional cults. The lack of personnel for religious education is widespread, such that in the majority of schools it is not taught. Because of this, one of our most important activities is in the area of religious animation, both within our schools and in other areas as well.

Can you be more specific about this?
I am an English language teacher and this is my main activity in the school at Masonga. I cover my lessons within three days of the week. During the other days my activity is external to the school as I provide a service as chaplain to the diocese. In practice, I try to be a presence in fifty-two schools of the diocese to sow a bit of good.

How can you organise a pastoral work in fifty-two schools in three days a week?
The diocese dos not have many priests and there are many young people, as in all African countries. Christianity does not have a tradition rooted in the people and in the majority of cases my actions consist of pre-evangelisation. There isnt any programme, there arent any structures, there are only a huge number of young people: they are the Montagnes of today. My work assumes various facets according to the environment in which I find myself. At times I give religious training, at times I organise courses in health education whilst sometimes I limit myself to organising sports activities… The thirst for truth that these young people have is to see things with their own eyes, but it is also the facility through which they drink from polluted springs.
This is particularly evident among the young who do not go to school and who, unfortunately, are many. Amongst them, 30-40% are suffering from AIDS, often practising polygamy and promiscuity. They do not have any values or points of reference. I find it difficult and it seems to me to be even excessive to speak of evangelisation; I would be happy if they were to reach a good level of humane living. Unfortunately, few people take care of them and hardly anybody in a systematic way.

The apostolate that you are covering is vast and demanding. Is there someone who can help you? Can someone else do this work with you or replace you?
I realise that the mission that I am fulfilling is demanding not only because the schools are very distant from each other, but also because to reach them I have to travel a lot of kilometres over practically impassable roads. Nevertheless, I am convinced that it is worth the trouble to be involved in this kind of work and I hope that others, after me, can continue what I am doing and widen the scope of my actions. For the moment I am working at developing leaders at the diocesan level. Often they are volunteers motivated by good will, but without training, with hardly any means and without the possibility of having any tradition behind them or even someone who could guide them. It is the tragedy and the challenge of all the new churches. But in this apostolate, I feel that I am in tune with Father Champagnat when he invited his brothers to be simply sowers, leaving to others the joy of the harvest.

What do you experience?
Often during the day, both when I am at school and when I am working as chaplain, I feel the happiness and the beauty of being a Marist Brother. This feeling gives me the serenity and the strength to keep going.
Another reality of which I am often aware is the presence of God who accompanies me when I travel the interminable kilometres in the middle of forests or when I find myself in the midst of problems that the people have to face every day. God is there, he goes before me, he accompanies me and he always surprises me. I thank God for all that he has given me and I put myself in his hands for the future. His plans are certainly better than mine.

Has there been any strange event that has been a sign for you during these years?
Yes, something did happen to me that was really strange. I arrived in Tanzania with a ruptured disc. It caused me pain. But above all else it prevented me from going where I wanted, especially in Tanzania where I had to go by motorbike over streets that naturally were not asphalted. I had a very serious accident: I fractured my legs and my ribs and I lost all my teeth… but no longer felt any pain in my backbone, such that I can now run about on the motorbike as I wish.

Thank you, Sergio, for your testimony.
May the Lord and our Good Mother bring success to the apostolic work that you and the brothers of the Tanzanian communities are fulfilling for the young people of your country.

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