Sr Estelle Koffi dj, on mission in Brobo, Ivory Coast, shares with us news of the Mother of Mercy Centre, a facility much appreciated by parents who come from different backgrounds and who are struggling to find a suitable environment that will help their disabled children to develop.
The start of the school year 2019-2020
The school year started on Tuesday, October 7th, in a simple but organized manner. As usual, we welcomed existing pupils but also other children who come from towns in the West, the South-West, the Centre or from Bondoukou in the North-East of the Ivory Coast. This year, there are 38 children and young people between 5 and 20 years old with different disabilities.
The former pupils, already accustomed to the centre, arrived confidently and with broad smiles. They were full of questions and you could see the joy on their innocent faces. The older ones, who attend the high school, welcomed the younger ones and helped them to settle down. We have a strategy for the new arrivals to make them feel welcome and help them be confident. Some were accompanied by their parents, as they discovered the new world that was opening to them. Others found it difficult when the parents then had to leave.
After a few days, everything settled down and once used to the centre, some children then refused to go home. In small groups, the older ones shared their news with their friends, by way of gestures, smiles or facial expressions. Others huddled in upon themselves and observed the facilitators and their friends carefully. After a month, old habits returned and the children knew what to do when they arrived each morning at the centre.
A precious environment for the children and their parents
Thanks to the support of the Congregation, the centre is making its way. In the Ivory Coast, a specialized centre like ours is very rare and the cost of schooling is not within the reach of all families. In Abidjan, three large schools exist for children with disabilities, but they are overflowing with children and cannot accommodate those from modest or poor families.
In line with the charism of the Daughters of Jesus, we hear the cries of suffering that come to us. They are the cries of children but also of parents who come from different backgrounds and who are struggling to find an adequate and favourable environment for the development of their children. For many of them, it is a relief to see their children progress as they attend the centre.
We reach out to them according to our possibilities and means, physical, financial, and material. We are thinking, however, about the future of Mother of Mercy. As it is a not-for-profit institution we continue to live with external and local donations. In five years, ten years from now, will we be able to continue to live on donations? Will we have competent personnel to take care of these children?
Plans for the future
We have multiple projects for the future of the centre but those that are foremost in our minds are those concerning the young people who attend the high school and the dressmaking.
Last year, our deaf teenagers in 6th and 5th grade at Brobo High School were accompanied by agents from the Ministry of Social Affairs. This year, these agents are no longer at our disposal because the Ministry needs them for other missions.
This new situation has been difficult for the young people. For them writing and sign language are essential. How can they understand all the explanations given in class without regular follow-up to keep them up to date in their studies? Two middle school teachers have agreed to commit to helping these young deaf people better understand what is asked of them in school. Three days a week, they come for an hour in the evening, for a time of reinforcement within the centre.
This project with the deaf children who have intellectual abilities is part of Mother of Mercy’s mentoring project for young people who have finished or have reached the age limit to continue at the centre. Others are endowed with extraordinary intelligence and can equal those who have all their normal capacities. We know that our young people can advance in their studies if they are well supervised and followed up. We believe in a possible future for them.
The dressmaking project, in place since the creation of the centre, has been designed with a view to providing vocational training for these disabled young people, to help them integrate into society and enable them to become financially independent. Several young people with disabilities have been able to obtain a machine and set up their own business.
During the year 2019-2020, we have focused our thinking on the revitalization of dressmaking at the centre, with the same objective as at the beginning. To achieve this, we have hired a second dressmaker to assist the first with the training. In this way, we will be able to double the days and hours of training.
This subject really needs to be upgraded and updated for the future. We see prospects for the future, but we are starting with the young people who are already with us. Perhaps one day we will open our doors to orphans and young mothers so that they can benefit from sewing classes? The future will tell us!
The visit of our friends from Marseille
From March 1st to 8th, trainers from France visited us or a week of work and collaboration with the children and the animators. It was a great week of work filled with joy and sharing. We carried out various activities such as building a composter, cooking with the young people, play activities and making musical instruments.
After their visit, they shared their impressions with us.
“As formators at the Regional Institute of Social Work (IRTS) of Marseille, we were welcomed into the community of the Daughters of Jesus with the aim of helping the “Mother of Mercy” centre with 5 Specialised Technical Educator students.
This project had several objectives:
– To share the skills of the students through the making of games and musical instruments.
– To observe and take inspiration from the practices put in place by the professionals at the centre.
– To immerse ourselves in a different cultural context in terms of how to support children with disabilities, social policies, work with families.
The meeting and the exchanges, whether with the Sisters, with the professionals of the centre, or with the children, have given us a lot and we are going back to France enriched by this experience both on a professional and personal level. We can only underline the great availability of the Sisters and the professionals, the welcome we received, and the place given to each one of us. We hope that these first links will be long-lasting.”
And here we are! Like you, we have the Coronavirus in the Ivory Coast and have to go back to our towns and villages. Until when – who knows??? COURAGE TO YOU ALL!
Sr Estelle Koffi dj