To go beyond peripheries into “no man’s land” – the dark corners, inhospitable situations of abuse and exploitation – reaching out to the young who have been left to themselves in the rough corners of life. Father Vincent Borno, talked about his experience.
Since Pope Francis’ arrival, it has become fashionable to speak of peripheries. But for us, of the ‘House of Anna’, who have lived in the peripheries for the last 23 years, it is high time to go beyond, to go much further, into the “no man’s land.” It is a terrain full of ‘landmines’ where life counts little because, at any given time, it can be ‘blown up by a mine’.
During those long years living in the peripheries, we have met street children, run-away-teenagers who, because of being abandoned by family and government, were running away from everything and everybody, as if being choked to death.
For these youths, we have set up a solidarity network which welcomes them, supports them and inserts them afresh into family and society. We have “The Red House” which is the first centre of acceptance for street children. Here, the children have colloquies with specialized personnel, encounters, therapies, consultations… The objective is to insert them back into their own families. When this is impossible, because the family situation has degenerated beyond any possibility of reconciliation and dialogue, the bigger ones are welcomed to “The Yellow House” and the smaller ones are admitted into “The Brick House”.
Here, the youths are accompanied until they complete the school program and receive a diploma. Finally, the others who cannot go back to their parents and do not wish to go to school, are inserted into the work environment: for them, there is “The Green House”. An average of 200 youths go through our program every year.
According to the official statistics of the city in which we live, every year there are about 2,000 boys/girls who abandon school and family: “run-away-children.” And where are these children who are not in their families, neither attending school nor coming to our welcoming centres? They are in “no man’s land.” There, at any moment, they run the risk of being blown up, dramatically destroying their young lives by landmines like alcohol, prostitution, theft, violence, prison, abuse… In discovering this scary reality, we said to ourselves: “They are not coming to us. So we must go to them!”
This is how we decided to leave the peripheries and go to those life areas threatened by landmines where about 1,800 youth are dangerously wandering about.
Thus, the AGIT Movement was born with just a few resources: a colourful van, a tent, two tables and four chairs… In the evening, from 7 o’clock to 2 in the morning, away we go, walking along the roads of death, desperately searching for such adolescents. We are not many, but we are all driven by a passionate love for the youth. Yes, you can say that we are all a bit crazy, but crazy for the love of them.
Personally, I can say that, from the moment we made this decision up to now, my sleep has been terribly cut short but my life has been expanded along new horizons which are, at the same time, dramatic and magnificent. In this “no man’s land,” where it appears there is no room even for God because it is crammed with violent brawls, sexual abuse of minors, suicidal drunkenness…I, like Moses near the burning bush in the desert, have found a new face of God – a God who tells me: “Take off your shoes because this is a holy place.” Yes, though absurd, this is a holy place because God’s adored young children are here and He is here with them. He never abandons them. Therefore, I myself have decided to leave the peripheries and go beyond, to the “no man’s land” in order to be side by side with these young people.
On a dark and cold night, a tiny fifteen-year-old girl tied a small bracelet, made of humble cotton thread, to my arm. She said: “Every time you look at this gift, please, remember to pray for us.” And I, who hate any type of bracelets, rings or necklace… and do not even wear the beautiful, golden chain that my dear parents gave me as a loving present on the day of my priestly ordination, always carry with me this poor bracelet of cotton thread because it ties me with love to many, too many young people who have been left to themselves.
AGIT follows Jesus’ style of leaving the ninety-nine sheep in the fold and going to look for the lost one among the dangerous mountain precipices. This is our mission…