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Mother Africa
Monday, 20 April 2009 Written by Krešimir Raguž

Kreso in AfricaTo all those who ask him about Africa, benevolently, or with a distorted idea of it, Friar Ivica would likely reply to them equally. “What are you worried about...just come and see how people here live”. Ivica did not have to invite me to Africa. From the day I met him at the Kigali airport two years ago until now as I write these lines, he had instead, to calm my passion for Kivumu, Kigali, Rwanda and ultimately Africa. All my friends know well what I am talking about. Therefore I apologise to them for all the annoying declarations of desire to return to the “dark continent” which always begins immediately after leaving it. In a few days, when I get back home I promise them the same scenario.

And to avoid any misunderstanding when I talk about my love for Africa and its peoples, let me explain.  I am not talking about luxurious lodges, or beasts which will readily yawn at my camera in national parks or comfortable deck chairs on the terraces of hotels frequented by movie-stars. Ivica, along with Don Sebastian, taught me how to love a completely different Africa. This Africa is the mother to us all, who, with a child tightly bound to her back gets a new blister working in the fields every day. This Africa is an open wound on the conscience of the Western world who never understood her, nor tried to do so, but nonetheless regularly and thoroughly robbed her.

Kreso in AfricaThis is an Africa you cannot find on the postcard that a cousin will send you from a holiday.  In this Africa there is also the child who, from age of three, already carries home a bucket of water from a source many kilometres away. She is also a thousand small hands waving merrily to the foreigner when he is passing them by; small voices yelling “candy” or “cookie”- asking for something most of them have never even tasted in their life. This Africa is also the dance and the song and the drums which will roar in the days of joy, but also in the days of sadness. It reeks of the smells of humanity, but also has the sweetest scent, depending on how much she is loved...

Diamonds, gold, oil, food - all this is brought from Africa, even to our own tables or kept in family safes without conscience - only for profit. What is sent back to Africa from the west are usually guns, used goods of questionable quality, damaged goods or medical supplies with passed expiration dates. Few people are ready or even willing to ponder over this.

Precisely for this reason, seeing Africa in the company of Friar Ivica, it is a completely different place, offering a diametrically opposite view from the conventional one. When he speaks with his cheerful voice about “our people”, it seems he is opening a window into the world of this real, smiling, but also tragic Africa - a place which has to be helped because all of us simply owe it to Africa.

In Croatia, I am often asked why we should help Africa. “Do we not have poor people here” is the explanation I most frequently hear. And even though I have many times lost my voice trying to explain the reality to everyone who has not experienced it, I will do it once more

Kreso in AfricaWhen it rains here in Rwanda everyone looks for shelter since they have no other clothes to change into. Local boys play football with balls made of banana peel, wrapped with wire since they have nothing else to use. Instead of toys, at the earliest age boys get a machete to work in the field or a banana forest. Girls, on the other hand, get a primitive carriage to play with. Their parents do not have money to buy dolls. Nor do they have money for any kinds of sport shoes. So these children walk in plastic sandals. There is no electricity, so when they are studying they do so until the candle burns out. Because there are many people, and land is limited, there is not enough food for everyone.

More than fifty percent of the children in Kivumu eat only three times a week. The youth at the technical school run by Friar Ivica are more fortunate and receive a meal every day. The fact is that without education there is no future for the many children of Kivumu. Without schooling they actually do not have any future prospects of employment at all.

But Friar Ivica has plans to solve that. He bought a large plot of land on which he intends to build a new high school. However, he cannot do that without our help. Therefore I did not write a travelogue; I did not paint a postcard; nor do I sigh for the land that I love so much and am about to leave soon.

Because of the love I have for Africa, this story is actually an appeal. Let’s help Africa and its children in the way we can. Instead of a subscription to National Geographic or buying a book about Stanley, or wasting money on souvenirs or financing high salaries of officials of various organisations which are humanitarian in principle only, let us do something tangible and join together for even just a moment to be a  part of the real Africa.

Let us help to build an ordinary school in an ordinary place. The address is Kivumu, the country is Rwanda. The continent where it is situated is the one we refer to as “dark” – but dark for reasons other than the colour of the skin of the wonderful people living here.

Translated by:
Edited by: V. K. Ken

Father Vjeko Center

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