From February 26 through March 1, the ten Christian Brothers of the Advanced Skills Training, together with our two TST members, Brothers Chris Meehl and David Gibson, joined community organizers and drivers from the Peoples’ Participation Service in a three-car caravan that drove for three hours to the village center of Imalyo, for an immersion experience with the people of that far-flung set of villages. The last hour of that traveling caravan was off-road, cruising through sand and swamp and hundreds of overhanging branches on a two-track, snaking path that seemed to disappear at times.
The arriving team was welcomed warmly by a committee of the villagers. The PPS had been working with the people there for more than a month, inviting them to gather to plan a future for the enormous extension of their village area, a zone that has no electricity, no water, no sewerage, no medical post. The schooling offered locally seems to be in a developing stage with few educational materials.
The villagers arrived at the appointed time, some having walked for two or three hours to reach the village center. Minutes before the meeting began, four of the Brothers were surprised to learn that they themselves would be conducting the opening session, based on the study we´d done the week before. We had thought we were there only to observe the community engagement process! So, Brothers Moy Hitchen, Leo Liyungu, Áckim Simasiku and Bonaventure Muunga hurriedly gathered for five minutes to plan the inicial session, which actually came off very well, the villagers responding enthusiastically to the invitation to dream of a new future for their village and map out how it might appear in the future.
Key to the success of that opening session, and to following sessions when other Brothers from the AST were thrust into leadership roles, was the skill of several of the Christian Brothers who speak the Silozi language. Although a number of the thirty-five villagers present could speak English, the ample majority live and work in Silozi, and so our Brothers´ ability to invite and explain and illustrate in that native language, as well as to sing and laugh and dance with the people, set the stage for a workable, warm relationship with the people in our three days of working with them.
The accommodation offered to the Brothers were more than adequate, two Brothers to a bedroom, and three in the main room, in a simple, well-built four bedroom facility. The PPS team slept in tents. The food was ample and delicious, prepared by a talented chef and his team of people who lugged canister after canister of water from the pump, and warmed an adequate supply for showers in the morning. Very gracious was their service.
Not all went smoothly. There was some annoyance among the Brothers at being told only a few minutes in advance that one team or another of us was expected to lead a session. And the Brothers were angered that no provision had been made to feed the villagers who had arrived from long distances and stayed the whole day, through lunchtime. These and other frictions will be debriefed with the PPS the following week in two days of review of the immersion experience.
The final work day produced two climactic moments, one of which was the participants´ work in the morning to finalize their action plan. The villagers chose to concentrate their efforts on the establishment of a medical center in their village center, so one group got down to the gritty details of collecting building materials by certain dates. The other group planned the Who? When? and How? of connecting with government and NGO officials, seeking financial and consultative support. At our final plenary session the two groups proudly presented their action plans developed after two and a half days of work, to the applause of all present. Then representatives of the villagers, the Brothers and the PPS offered heart-felt speeches in which they recognized the fine work and determination of all involved and the warm relationships we´d developed after only a few days together. A final prayer closed our planning work.
The other climactic moment was the invitation to the Brothers and PPS to play that afternoon in a community soccer game arranged by the local teachers. The steady rain did not stop over a hundred local people from watching several of the younger Brothers and the teachers and several PPS members sludge through the wet sand, taking on the local young adults. Brother Bonaventure was secured as the Brothers´ coach, but his reputation as a defensive specialist suffered gravely in a 6-0 rout. But everyone enjoyed the show, a fitting and enjoyable conclusion to engaging the community.
Back home in Limulunga, the Brothers gathered for a quiet morning of reflection and sharing about their immersion experience, and on Saturday, March 3, traveled to the Ikithe Lodge to appreciate the lake view, to enjoy some soccer on TV, and to relax with a wonderful meal, all of this arranged by Brothers Bonaventure and Dominic Kargbo.