Southern Experience in Lobone: "Part of us stayed there and part of them came back with us"
Entreculturas: When did you decide to have an experience as volunteers?
David Fagundo SJ: Last year in the Entreculturas National Encounter when I heard about the Southern Experience and VOLPA. I was struck by the African Experience of Teresa Llamas, volunteer of the Galicia Youth Network. In addition, we received in our Delegation last year, a presentation of the JRS. I was the one to present it in different schools, putting voice to Teresa's experience. So I got involved in the Southern experience, aware that it would be an opportunity to get to know the wonderful work of Fe y Alegría in Latin America and the JRS in Africa. It was the first time I could visit a country of the South. A treat.
Carlos Montenegro: A I was interested I soon as I heard about the possibility, soon after I started work at Entreculturas.
EC: How did you feel when you heard you were going to Africa? Was it the first time for you?
DF: I was surprised, since I thought I was going to Latin America. But I felt happy and ready to live what was offered to me.
CM: I was open to any option, although last year I worked with the African Department. I only knew three countries of Maghreb, as a tourist. Any destination would have been all right with me. Africa was more distant, maybe I saw it more difficult but at the same time attractive since it was new to me.
EC: What was your work there?
DF: To help in what we could, transcribing exams for the schools in the area. But above all, learning what the JRS does, " to accompany". It was more about being there and getting to know. Being with them. I still remember our walks in Lobone, the amount of children that came to greet us, that only wanted us to take a picture. I cannot forget their faces, how they laugh when their picture is taken. They are the true hope and joy. We have brought back with us many faces, names, images and feelings which took us some time to process there. But to share their hopes and their joy is quite an experience that continues to transform me.
CM: To help the staff in some of their work such us preparing exams, to visit different schools and take pictures and interviews. Other tasks came up such as teaching Photoshop and Word, our blog, we visited families and walked enjoying this incredible place.
EC: What did you learn?
DF: We started to know the JRS work in the area. Sudan has been severely damaged by civil wars, its people have been forced to flee to North Uganda, to refugee camps. At present we can say that they are going through a peace period, but they are waiting for the future referendum which will be held on January 2011, when South Sudan wants to become independent form the North. Lobone, a remote area with very bad roads is a tropical area, a paradise. Several tribes that have returned from the refugee camps live there. The project is solely education, creating infrastructure, training teachers so they may transmit values. It is a good way to start an education for peace.
CM: I have understood many things about war and peace in this part of the world, specially the people´s way of life, the near future of the country after the referendum in January. But most of all I have learnt something that cannot be transmitted by words: I have felt their poverty and their happiness, to say it somehow, though incomplete.
EC: What was most difficult?
DF: We had no great difficulties, the Adcholi (biggest tribe) are very hospitable. They liked when we greeted them in their language. The children kept saying “muni or mono” which means white man, or “bona” that meant Father. It was quite a feast.
CM: A One gets used to the good things quickly. It is harder to adapt to the difficulties. However it was not that hard compared to the difficulties of the inhabitants with the essential needs.
EC: What surprised you most?
CM: I was impacted by the dignity of the people suffering in silence, since they have cause for suffering, but even then, they know how to smile in public.
DF: When one gets in touch with this reality, one can feel hopeless asking " Why me and not them" ( they live with one dollar a day), but it is also an invitation to continue building bridges between our worlds.
EC: Are you happy with the experience? Do you think it has changed you somehow?
CM: Yes, very happy. I don´t know if it has changed me that much, but it has helped me to put names and feelings to what before was in a more abstract way.
DF: I can say that a part of us stayed there, but also a part of them came back with us. I wish that experiences like this one in Lobone may help us to live with simplicity and hope.
EC: How was your return?
CM: The distance is so great...greater than the thousands of miles that separate us from there. Here and there the hopes are almost the same ( to climb the social ladder, focused in the material world), but the two places are so unequal, the differences are so much out of proportion, that this reality becomes more grotesque then before. I will live with more difficulty my contradictions and those of our environment.
DF: The truth is that now, after living this experience, what I have to do is transmit it. One does not remain indifferent to everything we have lived. Only one wish for me and those who listen to me: that our sensibility in life may change and make us more aware of so many realities.