Hope Amid Chaos

The Holy Family School, located in a rural area north of the Parish of Mbikou, Chad, was established as a nursery school in 2007 by the Sisters of the Poor, Handmaids of the Sacred Heart. In 2014, thanks to the generosity of donors, students went from studying under thatched canopies and moved into new concrete structures. Patterned, woven mats covered the floors and chalk boards were installed They even began using desks -- one can only imagine their excitement!

Currently, there are nine grades in the school -- they now complete the primary academic cycle, with 380 students. The school facilities recently needed a facelift. Our Missionary Childhood Association stepped in to help: the classrooms were repainted with the addition of local patterns and caricatures of children playing and studying to add some visual interest.

From the opening of the school, parents have subsidized the salaries of the teachers. This is a problematic way to pay the educators because most parents in the area are subsistence farmers and have very little themselves. Some cannot afford the school fees for their own children and struggle to maintain their family's basic needs.

Sister Ana Medina, Director of Holy Family School says, "The school environment has allowed us to see how delicate and vulnerable the condition of children is, and hence the urgency of providing them with a broader educational system, which is not limited to completing a school program and only teaching them how to read and write. There is a pressing need to support the integral development of children, encouraging them to learn what is essential in life by offering the possibility of attending school as a dignified place for meeting and developing one's physical, psychological, and intellectual potential; forming the children's vision of life, habits, and choices, encouraging them to respect and take responsibility for their lives as a point of reference; reorienting the idea of 'success' from having a degree with no skills, to acquiring skills and experience through their work and effort commensurate with their personal reality; and developing values and attitudes to gain responsibility of one's own life."

Sister's hopes for the students are playing out amidst growing violence in the area. The Chadian government described "bandits" as being responsible for mass killings on the country's nearby border with the Central African Republic, killing herders, farmers, and their families. As they pray for peace, local Catholic lay organizations are demanding answers and action from the government.

What can we do? First, pray. Then, act. Support the Missionary Childhood at propfaithboston.org; help give the children the chance for which Sister hopes.

- Maureen Crowley Heil is Director of Programs and Development for the Pontifical Mission Societies, Boston.