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Take care or taking others to heart? Interview with Sr. Mila – Part 1 TOFA can be defined as the popular rural area on the outskirts of Kupang, West Timor, part of the Province of Indonesia. It is a vast area that can be considered the “poorest�; to penetrate it is a difficult endeavour, even for those like the Canossian Sisters who, with “untiring zeal�, want to lend a hand. Sr. Mila, whom we shall meet, is considered by us the “leader and animator� of a small group of young Canossian Sisters of this land, to be exact four, deeply involved in the project “A school for the smallest ones� which we are trying to set up in Tofa, through the solidarity of many friends, so as to “pull out� whole families from the logic of natural powerlessness and help them gradually to be less in need of help. The interview with Sr. Mila took place in a particular setting which used advanced technology with the help of one of our friends, an expert in communication, who was passing through Indonesia equipped with a web camera and a laptop. An enchanting panorama, where nature shows off its creativity, able to harmonize shapes and colours, was the background of Sr. Mila’s smiling face. Sr. Mila “proudly� shows us the foundations which proceed slowly because of the rain and these mark out the site of the new school for the little ones. She explains to us the complexity of the bureaucratic procedures so as to have workers and material. Here, we are on an island which is little known to tourists and very much forgotten by the Indonesian Government. For a moment, she changes her smiling expression into a  

frown of disapproval; Sr. Mila expresses her preoccupation for the financial expenses that would finally make the school function.

“concerns us�, involves us and makes us coresponsible. In this case, it means the little ones of Tofa and their families.

From the Italian side of the communication we ask Sr. Mila to smile again because we are talking about the “most important� project of 2011, for the young Province in Indonesia... Yes, it is true. The idea of this project matured over a long period of time and many knew the importance and urgency of offering the opportunity of basic instruction to a large area to which few seemed to show interest. It was natural for us, given our mission, not to give up even if resources at all levels were lacking. The encouraging news arrived at the beginning of 2010, when M. General, who is President of the Canossian Foundation, confirmed that the project must go ahead. Providence first, and then many friends, would concretely be with us while our task was to start negotiations with the local authorities and involve hundreds of families who would benefit from this initiative.

Sr. Mila, teach us in concrete terms: what are you doing so that care may become “taking others to heart�? Try to think what one needs to keep together a hundred little ones, from 4 to 6 years old, in situations where life seems to deny what is necessary! The solution to this problem is a large space in the middle of nature, heated by the summer sun that fortunately does not burn because of the constant wind that cools the air. There is a long shaky table placed in the middle of a field where we put wide pieces of coloured paper, kept firm by blocks of red earth. Around the big table there is a crowd of children very intent in folding the paper into a home-made kite. What a joy for these children to see their first work of art finished, rather unusual, but real kites. The kites are thrust into the air and the wind plays games with them; some of the children hesitate because throwing them into the air means risking to lose their small, but great, masterpiece. The fearful ones watch those nearby who are more courageous; they take heart and, going against the instinct of thinking “finally something belongs to me�, they watch the little kite playing on the air currents and they begin to make that extraordinary experience of freedom and serenity, running carefree. A piece of used coloured paper was enough to make them happy!

Is this project not too much for you, Sisters, thinking of the expectations of the children and their parents? Even if I say so myself, I would like to share with you how one can “take to heart� these wretches, knowing that true richness is not easy money, nor having every commodity at our disposition nor long, interminable CVs, with super specialised degrees, but rather being aware that every form of poverty

Sr. Mila (right) with M. Pro

vincial and Sr. Isabel.

You speak about sun, space, sky... children running happily bare-footed on the red beaten earth, but what do you do when the tropical rains come? The choice of “taking others to heart� is an important strategy, a means of ransom just like the little “shoes� of those children. On rainy days everything becomes difficult: the red mud dominates everything. They cannot use umbrellas because the wind would turn them inside out in a second and besides, they are expensive. Leaving one’s house means being ready to receive free red-mud treatment and most of the school children are compelled to remain for hours crouched together in a few metres of space under the roof of the hut. If the rain coincides with Friday, the day dedicated to sporting activities which take place under the long roof set up near the field of the kites by a doctor and some volunteers expert in construction, the situation becomes even more traumatic for the children who, not wanting to give up this sporting activity, with their sandals in their hands, run bare


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footed to reach the great shelter of the roof taking no notice of the rain. I leave to your imagination their arrival at the field and the patient ability of the Sisters to restore their smiling faces to the natural state: two aluminium tubs of coloured water are always ready. Smiles return in that protected area, transformed into a “health spa” and a formal lesson starts. The children are helped to realise the importance of respecting their shoes because their parents have made great sacrifices to buy them and a second pair would be unthinkable in Tofa. However, feet are more precious because if they are wounded or bitten by snakes, the consequences could be even greater and often irreparable for lack of medical care. The little ones listen attentively, knowing that we are dealing with their body and their life, but the answer is expressed, not in words, but by their bright, expressive black eyes: Yes, Sr. Mila, but who will buy us another pair of shoes or better still, a pair of wellington boots? For a few moments there is symbolical silence that draws the child even closer to the teacher. We are all orphans of something! A sense of justice seems to vanish, certainties are reduced, even solid principles waver ... so the person is no longer sacred: are you not overcome by discouragement? Seeing the vitality and simplicity of life in those little ones, who tomorrow will be the innovators of Tofa if we will be able to create conditions for growth, formation and instruction, animates me, my Sisters and lay collaborators to “take to heart” those 

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nothing and wishes to take part in the formative initiatives already started for her children.

The game of kites.

who are really in need and feel the joy of welcoming, sustaining and encouraging them. Every morning we wake up with healthy optimism that comes from the Canossian spirit, “I recommend to you my beloved poor”, and we are convinced that things can be improved, that we must not give up, notwithstanding the tiring weeks of rain. This means blind trust in “Providence” and making the experience that “waiting and patience” bring wonder and enthusiasm with them.

Becoming indep

endent.

Certainly there is always need for financial aid to guarantee the continuity of the project... It is enough to start from some scraps of coloured paper and a pair of cheap wellington boots to recognise beauty and dignity in those who risk defeat and marginalization from the very first years of life. We, too, who lack nothing, cannot simply silence our conscience with a few coins but we must allow ourselves to become involved with similar propriety, in this adventure of “TAKING OTHERS TO HEART”. Until the next instalment. Sr. Liliana Ugoletti

Something well done is beautiful and promotes others, but how can you sustain it for a long time? Growing together with this “super group” of very young children also means meeting systematically hundreds of families. It means responding to the request of a mother who, despite her condition of poverty, seeing her son return from school joyful and serene, having been assured of lunch, a snack and medical care ... forgets the burden and struggle of those who have 


2011_Vitapiu_1_ENG_marzo  

http://www.fondazionecanossiana.org/media/k2/attachments/2011_Vitapiu_1_ENG_marzo.pdf

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