Southworld received this letter sent by Elias Gomes, a Portuguese registered nurse and Comboni Lay Missionary working in the Central African Republic. Here are some excerpts:
We are approaching the end of the year. Already some time ago I finished the language course and the integration period. But I still do not feel ready to speak Sango, the local language. With regard to work, I’m doing very little, but I’m in no rush to just “do things”. For now, I collaborate with other Church personnel and with some French medical soldiers that every four months come for a week, helping the mission in the campaign against ‘pian’, a contagious infectious disease. We work especially among the pygmies.
My first contact with the country was positive. I found many similarities with the Africa that I already knew: the warmth, humility, the red earth, the colours, clay houses, markets and kiosks in the streets, at night the drums and aromas, in particular the strong smell of drying cassava, and above all the joy of the people and the laughter of children.
During this period, more than learning the language or beginning to do many things, what was important was the contact with the people and a completely different reality. I speak of the Aka pygmies. I accompanied the Comboni Sisters to sewing classes in an encampment and have helped to clear fields for planting. I sowed millet and I planted banana trees. I also accompanied them on visits to mission schools. On Good Friday I attended a Way of the Cross, at seven in the morning, in an encampment in the forest. It was a unique experience. I have no words to describe what I experienced. I still have not done much, but I’m here. I think the key to our mission is to be alongside the marginalized people. People living with very little, almost nothing, but who nevertheless sing, dance and laugh.
Also in Mongoumba I had some rewarding experiences. In the first week I had the opportunity to take part in the pastoral visit of our Bishop, Mgr. Guerrino Perin, to the parish. The second week, we had a visit from Dr. Onimus, French orthopedic, who for five days visited and operated on children hospitalized in the mission’s Rehabilitation Center. In late May, in collaboration with the French army, I participated in the campaign against the “Pian”, helping with vaccination in five encampments.
Meanwhile, I have begun to do small things in the health field, but not much because the clinic of the mission has been closed for some time. Our work is mainly to ensure that the Aka patients are well cared for in the hospital and integrated into the national health system, because there is still a lot of discrimination. In collaboration with Caritas, we support six health centres and also the medicine depot.
During my leisure time, I prepare the milk for malnourished children and orphans we care for. When I have a free day I accompany my colleague on visits to schools. So far I have always been well received and I am happy to be here. I only ask the Lord for the strength to continue to work with humility and love.