Ambanja (Fides News Agency) - Sister Norma Carbonaro has been in Madagascar for 35 years and is part of the "second expedition" of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians as she herself told, referring to the first one in which the protagonist was Sister Germana Boschetti (see Fides News Agency 29/7/2023). "There were three of us - now in Ambanja, of those three, I'm the only one left here with the younger ones". As there was no FMA presence, I started in Betafo's first parish, managed by Salesians, where we found the small parish school in very precarious conditions".
The missionary, now in her 80s, reminisces about the beginnings of her mission. "We started with zero and eventually came to have approximately 600 children, each month we would meet their respective families. At the request of the then bishop, for about six years we'd go - 2 nuns and 2 prospective nuns - into villages every day of the week for social and Christian activities, we'd bring medication and checked how many children had not been baptized or schooled. We encountered so much poverty and destitution, but also a warm welcome, people animated by a very deep Christian faith, close families and children who partake in the life of the Salesian parish. Among other initiatives, we launched a project for women, who until then had received no type of education whatsoever". "Six years later I moved over to Mahajanga, where the FMA had a nursery school to which we added a middle school, and in 1997 a secondary technical trade school which the town was missing. Our schools have always been open to everyone, Muslims, Christians, Protestants."
After six years in Mahajanga Sister Norma spent another couple of years back in Betafo, until she was called to Fianarantsoa where the FMA had a nursery school, a primary school, a middle school and a vocational school for girls. But the missionary didn't stop there. Having left Fianarantsoa she was deployed to Manazary, a less developed village compared to Betafo, two hours from the capital city, in the heart of the country. "Manazary is an agricultural center that recently even got electricity - she recounted. There's a dispensary and a large comprehensive school that also offers a training course for girls".
Again on the move, since 2016 Sister Norma has been located in the general house in Antananarivo, where they manage a parish school - with 600 children - a school they are also in charge of administrating.
"Among the activities of the FMA inspectorate, we deal with a hundred or so street kids from the poorer neighborhoods, from 12 to 16 years of age, who are totally illiterate. Through the type of teaching we offer them, they can obtain a primary school license within a year. We also tend to a group of very young women who come from the streets, oftentimes with children. We try to render them independent by providing training courses for a couple of months, and then equipping them with the tools they need to make some money and get off the streets."
With 37 years of FMA presence in the country there are currently 8 communities, in addition to a ninth that has now existed for a year. "We invested a lot in holistic training and education at all levels, to elevate both children and adults, in response to the adage that to educate a woman is to educate a people!" Sister Norma emphasized.
In a country with so much to offer, unfortunately the precariousness surpasses the advantages. "We live amid so much corruption, insecurity, there's a complete lack of basic education and health services. Moreover, for a few years now, a large movement of home expropriations has been targeting the poorest families, who are forced to leave by way of violence and threats. Insecurity is not a phenomenon that affects big cities only. Bandits show up everywhere, do all kinds of plundering and woe to whomever tries to rebel, they'll be killed instantly - Sister Norma says. There are no means of communication and the roads are virtually impracticable". The missionary concludes by bringing to light the positive aspect involving the volunteers: "they are the positive element of our missionary commitment, there are so many of them - even locals like the animators - and they're always available." (AP) (Fides News Agency 5/8/2023)