Jeuggdienst Don Bosco (Belgium)
Back in August some of our communities in ZMB have experienced the third year of the programme of animation of the ‘Playgrounds’ which a group of Belgian Volunteers of Jeuggdienst Don Bosco (Belgium) animate in our province.
The whole idea of the programme of animation of the playgrounds goes back to the General Council 26 when Fr. Joseph Czerwinski met with the provincial of Belgium during one of the recreation times at the Pisana. The conversation between them was most probably frank and straight-to-the point because, judging by the fruits, one can say ‘it was providential’. I say it is providential because, in the exchange, both groups benefit: the young people of ZMB and the volunteers themselves.
After the meeting in Rome, Fr. Joseph returned to the province and asked me to meet him one day to give me details of the possibility of a partnership between ZMB and the Salesian province of Belgium in order to coordinate efforts in the animation of our oratories. At first, the idea wasn’t all that clear, and in order to get more information, Fr. Joseph asked me to get in touch with the provincial of the Belgian province, which I did. The provincial from Belgium referred me to Bro. Guido and to Katrien Gruytiers. The first contact with the organisation was made through the email service, and I must say it was pretty fast, cheap and convenient for both parties. By November 2009, we agreed upon a visit from Bro. Guido and Katrien. The main purpose of their visit was to have a look at some of the communities in the province that could benefit from the programme as well as meeting the provincial and myself (as youth delegate) in order to ensure that the presence of the Belgian volunteers would be effective and useful to the youth groups.
Bro. Guido and Ms. Katrien’s trip to Zambia, although short, helped us to revise the criteria for the acceptance of volunteers as well as to reach a common level of understanding of the expectations of this particular voluntary organisation and those of the province. We need to remember that among the voluntary organisations that work in partnership with our province, there are different approaches to the whole issue of the voluntary service. Until now we have been accepting volunteers who stay mostly for a period of not less than a year and who are able –as far as possible – to assist us in the professional/technical field. The experience with Jeuggdienst Don Bosco was to be a totally different type of voluntary service: this was about youth animation and the training of leaders, and not so much an involvement with machines and tools.
The first group that came in 2009 was sent to the communities of Bauleni and Chingola; although the programme prepared for the animation of the six-week training of leaders was similar for both groups, the reality of both communities made the programme somewhat different; because, while the experience in Bauleni was rather spontaneous (due to the nature of the place and the community that animated the Parish), the experience in Chingola was more structured and somewhat rigid in some ways (also because of the community and the facilities of the youth centre); nevertheless with the skills of the volunteers, both groups made tremendous progress to the satisfaction of both volunteers and the communities. Thus, the programme proved itself valid because of the remarkable response from the young people.
The year 2010 saw the presence of new volunteers and the communities of Kabwe and Chingola benefitted from their presence. Unfortunately, for the group of Bauleni, the experience of the ‘Animation of the Playgrounds’ did not continue due to the change of personnel in that community. Thus, the community of Kabwe was chosen as a better place for the volunteers’ intervention. The group of volunteers made a huge impact on all the participants. It was during the youth rally organised by the Salesian Sisters in Mansa that, to their own surprise, both teams – Kabwe and Chingola – realised that they had then acquired common knowledge and skills in area of youth animation: the Team PACO had then discovered its own identity. (Team PACO was the acronym for the young leaders that attended the six-week training and who were now able to deal with other young people in their oratories with new skills).
This year, 2011, the experience has developed further. The communities of Chingola and Kabwe welcomed the volunteers for the six-week programme of youth animation, while a third group was deployed in Lufubu for the construction of a study hall for the children of Lufubu village. The coordinators of Jeuggdienst Don Bosco had sent in advance some funds in order to purchase the metal structure which was to be assembled by the group of Belgian volunteers during the months of July and August. The group of volunteers was led by Matthias (a volunteer that animated the workshop of the playgrounds in Chingola in 2010) who with his knowledge of Zambia decided to volunteer one more time to come and work in Zambia. The community of Lufubu welcomed the volunteers who worked very hard to assemble the metal structure; in their free time the Belgian volunteers made contact with the children from Lufubu who were delighted with their presence. By the end of the experience, most the children were used to greeting everyone in English, rather the usual Bemba: the presence of volunteers had boosted their desire to communicate in the English language as a common language for both groups!
Some days before the volunteers were to return to Belgium, I had an opportunity to meet with them in order to have a feedback from their experience in Zambia. The overall picture was very encouraging. The volunteers from Kabwe were overwhelmed by the kindness and care of Fr. Andrew whom they remember dearly because he had the time to teach them how to pray the rosary with him and even gave them a rosary as a souvenir. The volunteers from Chingola appreciated the presence and dynamism of the community, especially of Bro. David who was their constant point of reference.
The experience of voluntary service is, therefore, becoming for ZMB an arena where young people from different countries and backgrounds meet. They exchange both their knowledge and experience of life. The presence of foreign volunteers is also making young people from Zambia want to become volunteers, so as to share their time, faith and skills with other young people. Some communities are opening their doors to welcome local volunteers and thus the voluntary service is more and more a very appealing experience of sharing among young people who identify themselves with Don Bosco and with the work of the Salesians. Hopefully more communities will welcome volunteers (foreign or local) according to the needs of the pastoral work which they carry out among the young people. Possibly next year we shall have in our province volunteers from Australia, South Korea and other parts of the world.