AFRICA/MADAGASCAR - Proclaiming Jesus in the midst of the new miseries of the world, on the Antsirabe plateau

Saturday, 29 July 2023


Ambanja (Agenzia Fides) - Sister Germana Boschetti is one of the five pioneers of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians in Madagascar. "We arrived in Ambanja on October 15, 1985, at the beginning we studied the Malagasy language and after nine months we moved to Mahajanga, a port city in the north-west of the country. When we arrived in May 1986, the children were afraid of us because we were white and wore white aprons".
With time many things have changed. "There was no water in the house, but now some houses have it. In those years there was no television and now that has arrived there too, changes have begun, starting with imported clothing which destroyed the small local trade. With the arrival of factories, people stopped working in the fields, preferring fixed hours and salaries. Since we arrived, education has improved with new schools. The fact that Mahajanga is a port city made all the difference. Thanks to a project wanted by the then dictator Didier Ignace Ratsiraka, deep-sea fishing boats left for Japan for trade.
After spending eight years in Mahajanga, Sister Germana was transferred to the highlands, to the village of Betafo, near Antsirabe, where she continued her missionary activities for six years to support the improvement of the condition of women and children, through various forms of schooling, hand-embroidery which then favored small trade.
"After Betafo, I returned to Mahajanga for six years, then to Antananarivo, the capital, where I stayed for 13 years, two years in Fianarantsoa and now again in Ambanja for almost three years.”

During her many travels, Sister Germana was able to experience these enormous changes. "I am happy to be among the people, to feel the welcome of the children and the warmth of the adults, to go to the market place to be able to dialogue with them. There is a huge difference between one place and another, especially with regard to the life of faith. Compared to the high plateau where there are many more Christians, whereas where we are there are many Protestants and many Muslims, but we have no problem to live together. It is on the high plateaus, in Betafo and Antsirabe, that the Christian presence in Madagascar began. Another big difference is between the ethnic groups. Where I am, there is a great division, they speak different dialects and languages and accept the official Malagasy language and the dialects of the south and the highlands. Even for the choice of religious and political leaders, they only support the representatives of their ethnic groups and do not want others at all .
The sisters want the children to stay together, no matter where they belong, so that by learning to love each other in childhood, they will continue to feel like brothers when they are older. “Our hope is that, little by little, things really change.
Sister Germana also recounts the enormous difficulties she encounters in Ambanja to ensure that the population correctly perceives the importance of work. "We tried to involve women in sewing projects, we brought sewing machines. But habit often prevails, which leads many of them to spend their days sitting outside their homes. They live on small trade, potatoes and onions, pulses and flour. And at the same time, they go as far as depriving themselves of food in order to buy clothes for the holidays".
If on the plateau people are used to working hard", says Sr Germana, "this is not the case in Ambanja, where now many are aiming for easy money, which often comes from drug trafficking". Unfortunately, a new drug is widespread which induces hallucinations to the point of madness, chewing leaves which arrive by huge trucks from the bush, the forest where these shrubs are very common. These bundles of leaves are wrapped in nylon bags which they then transport for sale".
Family crisis is even more dramatic. "Families, explains the missionary, no longer exist. I was struck by a child who one morning told me: this morning, a new mother arrived at my house... or: it's the fourth father who has come home...".
Describing the parish that welcomes the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians in Ambanja, Sister Germana evokes the parish groups present, as well as the 1300 children who follow catechism. "One of our sisters is flanked by a person in charge of catechesis and together they take care of the formation of catechists. At the end of school, on Wednesday afternoon, we move around the neighborhood where there is a small chapel where we do catechesis for adults. We also have an oratory with animators and many young people. Unfortunately, as it is a transit town, especially for the island of Nosi Be, there is a high rate of prostitution, even among girls. In schools, there is a lot of corruption, petty crime, alcohol, theft, and drugs are also starting to circulate from abroad. As for the staff who work here, it is difficult to find Catholics, there are non-Catholic teachers in our school". (AP) (Agenzia Fides, 29/7/2023)