Natural disasters are the daily lot of the population in our region of Fianarantsoa. This phenomenon is aggravated by the chronic political instability of the country. Insecurity and poverty are hitting certain sectors of the population hard, with many people in precarious situations wandering in search of a better life.
Modest families are losing what little they have: work, home, and above all their coveted livestock. They find themselves in total misery. The exodus was the only solution for rural people to escape the atrocities of organised gangs regularly assisted by a few rich personalities. In the city, they quickly exhaust their meagre savings and the street remains their last refuge...
The loss of rights is the first consequence of this situation, but the loss of dignity is much worse! Street people turn to alcohol, drugs and prostitution with all their attendant misery: syphilis, tuberculosis and even AIDS.
In 2018, the country was hit by cyclone AVA, which destroyed homes and caused many victims. Overnight, the number of "4 IMs" quadrupled (4 IMs: Mifoka: he smokes, Misotro: he drinks alcohol, Migoka, Miloka: he plays with the little he earns). As time goes by, these men are no longer able to have a stable job and they settle for small jobs: doing laundry, emptying the city's rubbish bins, working as dockers for small traders. As soon as they earn a little money they spend it on alcohol without worrying about their families...
As for the children, they are left to their own devices and survive by begging or by helping the ladies carry their bags after shopping... This is how they earn their food. Since they can no longer count on their parents, they swell the number of street children! Family life has become every man for himself.
Strengthened by the call of Pope Francis to "Go to the peripheries" and the recommendations of the superiors during each liturgical season and the feasts of our Vincentian Family, we undertook a review of our daily works by making ourselves close to the "homeless": "I was a stranger and you welcomed me".
We therefore decided to house some of the homeless people we were working with in the premises of a former centre for delinquent children, which had land available for cultivation.
The first step was to introduce the beneficiaries to the elected authorities of the district and to start the administrative procedures to give them back their identity papers, which had been burnt during the "sweeps" of the city when the high officials passed through.
For better integration into the neighbourhood's community organisation system, we have made the families aware of the need for a certain discipline.
Their awareness was necessary to ensure that their homes were well maintained and to teach them to regularly maintain a plot of land and grow vegetables: potatoes, manioc in addition to their usual small activities. A sister was responsible for accompanying them in the cultivation.
Special efforts have been asked of the men to gradually get out of alcoholism: we know that this is the most laborious work.
The children have had to commit themselves to going to school every day (another sister monitors attendance) and catechism is provided by young Lazarists in training who live not far from the centre. The health of the families is monitored by a doctor from the diocesan centre who welcomes people in need, in collaboration with a sister nurse.
The families have a monthly meeting to report on what has happened at the centre during the past month to check on the cultures, the conviviality between them, the health and studies of their children.
We become more aware that :
Insertion, awareness and organisation require patience, firmness and tolerance towards these families who are starting from scratch.
We know that it is a long-term job. When one of them does not follow the rules (for example, not returning to their family for two or three days, which normally results in expulsion from the centre), they ask the group for forgiveness and start again, full of good will.
They realise that the work is the most important thing for them to forget their failures.
Their condition, generally weakened by their previous life, makes sustained physical effort difficult and they were unable to cultivate enough land to support their families.
Since the arrival of the mini tractor to support them in cultivation, production has increased.
David, a former alcoholic who is currently undergoing detoxification, recently received his new identity card. He exclaimed: "At last I will be able to vote in the next elections! I had lost all my rights for 10 years. "Withdrawing from alcohol is a long process, but farming his plot of land allows him to stop going to the dump and earn a living to support his family.
Therese is a widow and mother of six children. Having just arrived in the city hoping to make a good living, her father died of tuberculosis. The family soon found themselves at the dump looking for waste to sell, as they were unable to pay their rent. Welcomed at the centre run by the Daughters of Charity, she is among the most motivated of the workers and supports her entire family with the farmland she cultivates.
The completed project
As the land was being cultivated for the first time, the preparation of the soil was very laborious: we started by clearing the brush and applying fertiliser before the arrival of the mini tractor.
The first harvests were satisfactory, as each family was able to grow sweet potatoes, cassava, beans, maize, pistachios, and others for food.
Thanks to the tractor, the production of these vegetables served each family well during the time of confinement when parents could not look for work. Each family was able to eat what they had grown, even if it was not enough for the entire period of confinement.
This situation made us realise that the cultivable land available was too small for the number of families hosted: perhaps an idea for a new project...
19 adults and 36 children were able to benefit from the project and get out of poverty
We continue to help raise awareness in the families to make them want to be autonomous.
It is a job that requires firmness, patience and above all indulgence so that they can pick themselves up if they fall; and that they keep the desire to start again to finally get out of it.
Thank you for your help and your generosity in making this project a reality