Fe y Alegría Chad: growing roots
With 80% of the population living in poverty, three fourths of adults being illiterate and more than 60% youth in the same situation, Chad was the country chosen by our partners of Fe y Alegría at the end of 2007 to start working in Africa. This is how Foi et Joie, was born, in the Southern region of Guéra, with the objective of promoting quality education, in order to allow a fairer and solidarity society.
Today, the work has reached 8 community rural schools and planning to extend to 17, another similar network in the process of formation and a ‘foyer’ (home for youth) with school related activities. In addition, progress is being made in creating a "very good team" and there is close collaboration with the public education since local authorities "greatly appreciate" Foi et Joie. This has been reported by Nicolás Dorronsoro, Deputy Director for Foie et Joie Chad and Beatriz Borjas, who, as head of Formation and Investigation for Fe y Alegría Venezuela, supported the Chad team for several months.
In addition to the presence of the Society of Jesus in Chad for over 50 years, which according to Nicolas provides a "very good field knowledge" both agree that the main strength of the project is to work" within an existent infrastructure: the rural community schools" explains Beatriz. "We do not work in parallel to the public education. We are completely tied to the State" according to Foie et Joie, Deputy Director, with years of experience in Africa with the Jesuit Refugee Service, JRS.
These schools are situated in the villages. Parents help build the classrooms and pay the teachers who generally have only secondary education. The State pays for a ‘formé’ teacher or official public servant with a higher degree who usually runs the school. This is the context in which Foi et Joie tries to improve the quality of the education given. After studying the pedagogic level of the schools by thorough capacity tests for all the teachers, they observed a very low level, says Nicolás.
Joining the village and the school
The activity is intense: infrastructures of several schools have been improved so that students won´t be overcrowded, and teacher training has started for both Fe y Alegría and the delegates of national Education in addition to regular meetings with parents.
This is one of long term the success reasons, according to Dorronsoro: “We look for places with most activity and organization. This is vital in order to pull a school through. If you build it and leave the place, the school ends up falling apart. This is why we build them with the community so that they may believe in it, participate and feel that it is something good, thus joining village with school. Where we don´t see this commitment we are working on raising awareness to achieve it". Because "collaboration between parents Foi et Joie is the starting point of the work" according to Beatriz.
There are also regular meetings with the education regional delegate, another vital support for these first steps in Chad, "He appreciates us very much, a great believer in Fe y Alegría ad thanks to this we have a good team, since he sends us very good school directors" says Nicolás, satisfied with this good relationship in spite of the differences of religion.
Main challenges: gender and intercultural issues
Our colleagues in Chad are gaining acceptance and respect and Fe y Alegría´s work is being valued and supported. “People know us and have a positive view of the Jesuits in the region. We don´t have religious problems, we rather have a tolerant image. We think that we have to adapt our message to the audience and especially that children may capable of learning and choosing" explains Nicolás, stressing the fact that all training programmes are endorsed by the State.
The language diversity, however, is turning out to be a more complex reality when it comes to working. Chadian Arab and French are the two official languages, but in Guera, only literate people(a minority) speak French because it is taught in school. In addition there are 35 other local languages. "We will always need someone to speak Chadian Arab, since it is the main language" says Beatriz Borjas.
But the great challenge is the integration of girls and women both in education and n social participation. According to Beatriz "In the first three years of school there are many girls, but as they get older they are needed as household help or in the field: they drop out or start to arrive late, have no time for their homework and they make slower progress". Also a challenge is to increase parent participation in school. "Sometimes, women are the treasurers but it is mostly done by men", says Beatriz.
“We have great possibilities in growing in the country and in Africa" continues Beatriz, who says she has come back "in love with the project", but it will take years of efforts to improve quality education in the most impoverished communities. "Our work is like the drop that falls on the stone and slowly makes a trace" compares Nicolas. For the moment, those first drops are full of hope and progressing on the right track. From now on we only have to keep on growing.