Twelve students (representatives of two Italian high schools) left for Africa accompanied by 3 teachers, 2 animators, two shareholders of Unicoop of Florence, a representative of the Focolare Movement and a cameraman.
Their goal: to spend a week of sharing with the African youth of their age-group, from January 16 to 24. The venue chosen: Fontem, in the Northwest of English-speaking Cameroun. Today, this Camerunese city has 40 thousand inhabitants. The Focolare Movement has helped in its growth, together with others, starting from the ‘60s. But let us allow Stefano, one of the youth, to share his experience which was published in their school bulletin:
“…A trip to discover a different reality, at times difficult to digest, because of the poverty that we met, but it was a school of life, for all the things that we were able to learn… We discovered a different culture, that thinks differently… We started off with the idea of going there to give medicines, pens, papers, notebooks, to share about ourselves, about Europe, only to discover instead that … there are still people who would sell even what little they had just to make you feel at home; people who have never seen you and yet welcome you like kings; they are not racists as many of us are; that in a few days they have grown fond of you in a way that you would never know how to do with anyone.
The meeting with the teens of the College had a great impact on us: we were welcomed with songs and dances, to our great surprise they took our hands and embraced us. After a few moments of disorientation we were brought to a different dimension, we were no longer afraid to interact with them in their way, which had already become ours. They melted our hearts with their dances and songs, we danced with them, alughed and built such a strong bond among us that was almost too hard to believe. This way of interacting also brought about a beautiful chemistry even among us Italians. Aside from the joyful moments, we also had to take in strong images, especially when we visited the village of Besalì where poverty is widespread. Along the roadside we saw malnourished children with bloated stomachs, people who were living in extreme poverty… But even there the people welcomed us with warmth. The schools of Besalì, built and sustained by the Unicoop of Florence, are a very far cry from Italian school buildings …
Great people made us understand better what we were experiencing, starting from Doctor Tim, a focolarino originally form Trent, who has been living in Fontem for 27 years; he is a very important person for the whole community, he takes care of many people who, without him and the many volunteers at the hospital, would have found themselves facing great difficulties. We were impressed by the greatness of heart of Pia, a focolarina volunteer worker who has been living on Fontem for 47 years, who has become an icon of the Focolare Movement; she is capable of transmitting incredible energy.
As the days passed a bond was created among everyone. The last day was magical. They forewarned us: “You will cry and they will cry”. In our hearts we told ourselves that this will not happen, and instead it really happened. After exchanging gifts, the greetings on the evening before we left, were really moving: everyone embracing, silent, in the total darkness along the road that lined the forest; a deafening silence punctuated only by the sound of muffled sobs, of the efforts of trying to hold back that incredible surge of emotions. Still not fully aware of what we had experienced, we are grateful for those who had made this experience possible: a trip that someone described as “The journey of life’”.