Tuesday, December 17, 2013


After ten months of Tamale and the north of Ghana, it was time for a change, a sea change, in fact.  At the end of November the novitiate community travelled to Cape Coast, on the Atlantic coast of Ghana, for a short holiday.  The lush, green hills of the south, the rain forest at Kakum National Park and, of course, the ocean were so different to the drier savannah country of the north.  The contrast was refreshing and lifted spirits and energy levels.
The week had something for everyone.  For some, such as those from land-locked countries like Zambia, it was the first time to see the ocean, and the vastness and power of the sea were a revelation.  Even the taste and feel of sea water was something new.  For others, like those from Sierra Leone and Papua New Guinea, who have spent most of their lives near the sea, and for whom living so far inland is a new experience, it was a happy return to a familiar environment.

The Canopy Walk in the rain forest at Kakum National Park was a challenge for everyone.  Walking on the swaying suspension footbridges, so far above the ground and amidst the tree-tops, tested our nerves, but all of us (except for one of the team, who shall remain anonymous) survived!

Highlights for everyone were the visits to two of the historical castles along the coast – at Cape Coast itself, and Elmina Castle, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Seeing such mighty structures that have been there for over 500 years was impressive, but this was overshadowed by the impact of the story of these castles and the international slave trade.  Standing in the dungeons that once held thousands of men and women on their way to the Americas as slaves; hearing of the physical and sexual abuse and degradation of the slaves; seeing the “Door of No Return” through which the slaves passed to board the waiting ships – all of this provoked sadness and a painful awareness of humanity’s capacity for inhumanity!

There were also chances to wander the old town centre of Cape Coast and to meet some of the local people.  At our gathering for reflection and prayer each evening, we shared many different experiences – awe, wonder, sadness, pain, warmth and gratitude, among others.
After this refreshing and eye-opening time away we are now turning our thoughts and energies to preparation for the three-month Community Pastoral Placement, which gets under way early in January.

On the way - Seawards.

First Visit...after some bargaining...inside Cape Coast Castle, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean

Br Con admires the Cannons! Hope he doesn't use one on his Novices.
Swim Time!
Zambia finally at Sea - Paul (left) and Emmanuel (right).
"Too Salty!" Emmanuel tasting some salt water - Zambian Novices: Cephas (back) and Emmanuel (front).
Always good to get proper instructions from professionals! Desmond (middle) giving swimming instructions to Emmanuel and Paul.
Enjoying the wonders of the Ocean.
Standing, from left to right: Lawrence and Martin.
Front, from left to right: Philip, Desmond and Dominic.
A visit to Kakum Park.
Desmond and Br Tony on the swinging bridge!
Lawrence, Emmanuel and Cephas - getting used to the swaying!
The Big Man! You don't want to walk on a swinging bridge with Martin.
Visit to Elmina Castle - side view
Left to Right: Emmanuel, Cephas and Dominic waiting impatiently for the bus to roam Cape Coast town.
First Stop on the way back to Beautiful Tamale!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Sun and Sunson in November

Lawrence, Francis, Dominic and Desmond are smiling - the fruits of the reteat maybe?

Somewhere around mid-October, someone threw a switch and the rains stopped in Tamale.  By November the hot sun was back, and things were drying out.  The end of the year was in sight, and the time had come for some 'time out' to be with the Lord and to reflect on the journey that had brought each of our nine novices thus far.  Br. Con was also part of the retreat group - he had a longer journey to reflect on!

We were fortunate to have the peace and quiet of the SVD Pastoral Centre near Sunson village, about two hours east of Tamale.  Our retreat was led by Fr. Jesus-Maria of the Missionaries of Africa.  A Spanish missionary with much experience of Africa, especially in Zambia, Fr. Jesus had a great fund of stories to go with his depth of biblical knowledge.  His presentations opened up new perspectives on familiar scripture passages, while his stories and anecdotes grounded the teaching in real life.

Whether in personal prayer time, in celebrating Eucharist and Reconciliation, or in the quiet reflection of the retreat days, it was a rich and energising time with its own special meaning and significance for each one.

As the first year of novitiate came to an end, and as the three-month pastoral placement in early 2014 loomed, it was a good moment to have this time aside.

Fr. Jesus-Maria (r.), breaking the Word with the novices.


Monday, October 21, 2013


Our novitiate community was transformed in several ways during a recent two-week workshop on “Training for Transformation”, an approach to social development based on the work of the Brazilian educator, Paolo Freire.  For a start, the population here doubled as our nine novices and Brother Conrad were joined by members of three other religious communities – novices and Brothers from the Presentation Brothers; postulants from the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary; and two Sisters of the Jesus, Mary and Joseph congregation.
The facilitators included Ntombi Nyathi of the Grail Institute in South Africa, and two of our Brothers from Kenya, Sunday Otieno and Paul Mutuku.  Their “full on” and creative approach ensured that everyone was actively involved and participating.  Their message emphasized that the transformation we want for the society has to start with each of us as individuals, and then move out to the local community and the wider society.  
So the experience of the workshop was in itself an experience of personal transformation.  We began the workshop by stepping into our sacred personal stories.  We planted a variety of seeds during the opening ritual, and by the end of the workshop these were sprouting vigorously, reflecting the growth and flowering that was occurring in us. 
One area of transformation was in the assumptions and unquestioned beliefs that we often have about “the poor” and their problems.  We were challenged to see each person as a SUBJECT, with gifts and the capacity to play a part in solving his or her own problems, and not just as the OBJECT of the well-meaning efforts of people like us.  They are not empty vessels to be filled with our expertise!  We had to make our own shift from a NAÏVE consciousness to AWAKENING in understanding this.
This awakening needs us to see things as the people themselves see and experience them, so we have to be with the people, listen to them, and understand their perspective on the world and the society.  This will be the beginning of identifying the root problem, which, in turn, opens the way to find solutions and take action.
To assist people in this way demands skills – so learning the skills of observing and listening, and practicing the six steps of “digging deeper” into a community or social issue, were central in the workshop.  We practiced some of these with visits to the markets and interaction with the market sellers in Tamale and in Kintampo, south of Tamale.
Making our group presentations in the final days of the workshop continued the process of our personal transformations, as we called on our gifts and took risks to inform, stimulate and engage our companions.  The two weeks were full and demanding, but also energizing and full of new insights and awareness.
The workshop is over – but only for now.  We carry with us new ideas and skills which will be applied in the coming months.  For us Christian Brother novices, the three-month Community Pastoral Placement at the start of 2014 will provide an opportunity for us to practice what we have learned in a more extended way.  Most of the participants from this workshop will then gather again in May, 2014, for a follow-up workshop to consolidate and deepen the transformation that has started so memorably and inspiringly.
From Right: Br Paul cfc, Ntombi, Sr Laura jmj, and Francis - resting after lthe istening survey at the Market Streets of Kintampo

TFT Trainees posing out for a photo at Kintampo Market after the Listening Survey!

 6 steps of Digging Deeper explored!

After the presentation of how to put into action the 6 steps of digging deeper and then Taking all that Energy Back!

Lighting the fire! Demonstrating how important a Code is in helping people in the society identify their own problems. The code identifies the root cause and it  ignites from there outwards like buring a fire!
Group Photo of all the Trainiees and the three Facilitators before departures!


One of the challenges of life in a place for those of us who are not Ghanaian, which is all of us, is the isolation.  Tamale is not on any tourist trails and travel within Africa is expensive, if you come by air, or slow and uncertain if you choose any other means of transport.  So we very much appreciate here the number of visitors we have from the other Districts within Africa, and from other Provinces beyond Africa.  There is something in face-to-face interaction and having someone living with you for a while that email, Facebook and phone-calls can’t match.

We were especially delighted earlier this year to have Br. Vince Duggan, the Province Leader of Oceania (Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Timor Leste and the Philippines), with us for nearly two weeks.  The fact that we have had two novices from Oceania in 2011-12, and again this year (Desmond and Francis from Papua New Guinea), is the main reason that Vince has given priority to visiting us. 

We have not only benefited from Vince’s willingness to take some classes (some very colourful excursions into Church History), but even more from his presence.  Despite his responsible position and status in the congregation, his warm and humble (check out the photo below at the wash-up!) way of being among us underlined what brotherhood and leadership mean for us Christian Brothers.

Vince shows that he hasn’t forgotten what to do at a wash-up
Vince and the three natives of Oceania – novices Desmond and Francis, and Br. Tony.
Vince (far right) with almost all the novices and Team.  Can you pick which novice is not there?


It is almost 6 months down the line that I have been going for my weekly ministry at the Rehabilitation Centre. The ‘Rehab’ is a training Institution that offers vocational courses such as tailoring and dressmaking, shoe making and repairs (leather work), weaving and knitting, for physically challenged young men and women both from both within and beyond Tamale.

Spending time with them every            Thursday has been a great opportunity in my life.  I have witnessed what it feels to be both poor and physically challenged. It is indeed a challenging life for the students, but the centre is also encountering a number of challenges.  One of the major ones that faces the institution year in year out is a lack of funds to operate.

 It is quite surprising that, although it is a government institution, very little support comes from the government itself, and if it does, the money passes through a chain of hands such that, by the time it reaches the Rehab, it is just a token. Hence, it is not enough to cater for basic needs and this has made them highly dependent on donations by individuals or churches, religious congregations and NGOs. These alternatives, too, are not consistent.

Nevertheless, I have been encouraged by the way the students, teachers and managers face this reality very boldly and enthusiastically. Their faces are always full of joy, hope and faith.

I have experienced enormous love from these people of God. It made me feel energized while working with them. I have also developed a compassionate heart. Each day I shared with them, there was something new in me. Their kindness is another thing that I cherish.

On the other hand, I also encountered some challenges at this place, e.g. my lack of special communication skills (sign language) in communicating with the students, especially those with a hearing disability. I found it hard to accommodate all of them during various activities such as the weekly hour for devotion and in class time. You can imagine working with the dumb, blind, cripples and deaf under the same roof at the same time!  However, I managed to learn a few basic skills in sign language.

I feel my presence at the ‘Rehab’ has been of mutual benefit, to the centre and certainly to me. It enabled me work with zeal. I will always remember their amazing phrase, “Because we are his children, God loves us too. He will always provide for us our daily needs.”

 I have many reasons to appreciate these marvellous experiences. I feel they have boosted my emotional, social and spiritual growth.  I am looking forward to a new challenge when we change ministries next month.
Teaching Mathematics!

Lawrence solves the problem!

Lawrence (Standing - First from Right),
last day with students from the Rehabilitation Centre!

 Lawrence Agalo

My Experience at the Tamale Children’s Home

Shortly after our arrival in Tamale, Brothers Tony and Con took us novices around Tamale to see the ministry sites, and I was deeply touched when we came to the Children’s Home. These delightful children captured my attention and led me to request this as my regular ministry. 
My experience there has been enriching. The home has children of various ages, but I have been involved mainly with the infants and toddlers, while the older ones go off to school.  At first it was not easy. I had to learn the mother’s gentle art of changing the nappies and washing the children. I helped in cleaning the house, playing with the children and engaging them in different activities to keep them active. By lunchtime they will all be sleeping. Sometimes I find myself among them having a siesta as well.
Volunteers from overseas also come and spend some time in helping look after the children. Men and women, youths, students and various organisations also take time to visit and donate what they can, in food or in other supplies.  The administration is short of the funds needed for renovations and looking after the children’s basic needs, like clothes and food. They depend heavily on donations from generous individuals and organisations, in Ghana and abroad.
One challenge at the orphanage is the small number of staff. The number of children at the orphanage is greater than the number of staff and this makes it a difficult for the staff, especially to give the individual attention that children want and need. However, when visitors come, the children run up to them to greet these visitors without fear. This shows how they have been well looked after by the few staff, but also how much they respond to some extra attention from visitors and volunteers.
Developing skills that are not usually taught in the novitiate!

There are always plenty of little ones needing care and attention.

By the end of the morning, some children are drifting towards siesta.

Thursday, August 8, 2013


Who would deny the fact that we Africans have invested so much faith in western religions to the extent of disowning our own!
Well, perhaps it is as a result of the way it has been passed on to us.  Most of us generally perceive African Traditional Religion (ATR) from a negative perspective only, so we tend to associate it with superstition and harmful practices such as witchcraft. This shallow perception has indeed led us to misunderstand the real meaning and significance of ATR, generation after generation.
However, from the workshop we had in July with Br. Amandi Mboya, from the East Africa District, I realised that ATR is more of good than ‘evil’.  The workshop helped us first-year novices to understand some of the challenging areas and issues within African Tradition Spirituality.
During the discussions, we discovered that there are some similarities between ATR and the western religions, such as Christianity. The similarity came out quite vividly especially in relation to the belief in one transcendent creator/supreme being; the use of rituals and sacrifices during important occasions; the belief in a spiritual world; and the interconnectedness of humankind and the rest of creation. Because of this, there has been some adoption of customs and practices from ATR in Christian life.
We finally reflected on the possibilities of incorporating some of the helpful traditional practices during our community prayer and liturgies (e.g. Eucharistic celebrations). This was clearly taken as a challenge.
It was indeed a fruitful workshop which, I believe, brought a more holistic growth and vision.
We sincerely express our gratitude to ‘professor’ Amandi for this fabulous contribution to our ongoing formation programme.
Amandi’s visit coincided with short visits from two other “distinguished” guests – Br. Richard Walsh from Lusaka, our Africa Province Leader, and Br. Pious Conteh, the West Africa District Mission Development Officer.   As the photos show, their visit was not all work, and they enjoyed the hospitality of our Brothers in the Choggu community here in Tamale.
Lawrence Agalo

Br. Amandi and the nine novices,
 looking smart in their “CB Novices” shirts.

Three visitors to Tamale enjoying a social evening
with the Choggu community. 
(From left): Br. Pious Conteh, West Africa’s Province Mission Development Officer; Br. Conrad from the novitiate team; Br. Amandi; Br. Andrew, Choggu Community Leader and Principal of Kanvili School; Br. Richard Walsh, Africa Province Leader; and Bros. Paul Yalla and Boniface Adagiyele of the Choggu community.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Ministry at St. Charles Lwanga Primary School

Teaching at St. Charles Lwanga Primary School has been great fun and nourishing experience for Dominic and I. We go to school every Thursday morning on bicycles. It’s quite a long trip, mostly going uphill. I remember while coming back from our first day of ministry, Dominic said to me, “We must get used to this going uphill to school every Thursday morning, bro.” Almost five months ago, travelling to St. Charles seemed long and hard. Today, Dominic and I see that the trip is just another short trip around the corner.
The students and staff are very kind and helpful. Their approach to people like us – Novices – has been very encouraging. They are very respectful and always approach us just to know if we are well. At St. Charles we quickly felt at home as people came to us and welcomed us.
Most students come from families whose daily income depends entirely on farming. Thus when it comes to the dry season, life becomes difficult for the students to attend school, especially the girls.  While female students are about half of each class at this time of the year, at other times girls are required to work at home and so attendances drop.
Dominic and I both teach in year six, which is the final year of primary in Ghana.  Students are obedient when asked to do something, but, like all school children when left alone, need some effort to keep them in order. Teaching has meant a growth in patience on our part.  The school year is just ending so our students have been writing exams for entrance into Junior Secondary School (JSS). Contributing to them gaining entrance to JSS, and so being able to continue their education, is very satisfying for us.
Dominic and I have learnt a lot in different ways through our encounters with students and teaching staff. The school comprises mostly Muslim students, with some from Christian and traditional backgrounds. Being in a school like this gives us a broader experience of interacting with people of different faiths and traditions.  Christians and Muslims in the school work along well and respect each other’s values and beliefs. Though the students are not in the stage of identifying contradicting values of the two religions, the values of their cultural traditions have contributed a lot in maintaining peace and harmony.
The students come from families and villages who mostly have just the basics.  Their life is simple, but this very simplicity of the students has affected us.  Being with these children gives us joy and a desire to learn more about them.  Though our time at the school has come to an end, we have been greatly enriched by our time there.
Francis ToLiman with Class 6 Students

Dominic with student friends

We are Champions!

Who says teachers can't
dance for their students?

Friday, June 21, 2013

Paul Noonan All-Stars?

The Christian Brothers have a great tradition of passion for sport, and their schools have produced many outstanding sportsmen (and maybe sportswomen too?).  More importantly, an interest in taking part in sport and games lends itself to developing a healthy and balanced lifestyle.  So exercise and games are a regular part of the novitiate life.

The current novices have shown enthusiasm to test themselves on the football field against external opposition.  Our first effort, against a team of Divine Word Missionaries’ seminarians ended in dejection as we were badly beaten 5-1.

However, since then, two games against the youth of our parish have reflected a growth in the skills and organization of the team.  The first game, on the feast day of our Founder, Blessed Edmund Rice (May 5), saw us victorious 3-2.  Then we took on the students of St. Charles Lwanga school, and won an entertaining game 5-3.

A recent re-match with the parish youth underlined our improvement.  Against a team that some observers saw as individually more skilled, we prevailed 3-1, thanks to a powerful first half (in which all three goals were scored) and strong teamwork. Despite some injuries, the novices limping around the next day were smiling broadly!

With only nine novices, however, we need the support of some of our friends and Brothers from outside our community.  The last game saw the participation of three of our Brothers from the neighbouring Choggu community – thanks to Sonny, Paul and Bonaventure.  The two novices with the FIC Brothers have also helped us when they have been available, as well as some local friends who often come to play with us during our regular weekday afternoon matches.

Sport can be a power for good, but it can also bring out the worst in people.  The enthusiasm and good humour of the novices have ensured an enjoyable and friendly spirit to these games.  Long may it continue!

Earlier in the year - Training Hard.
The team lines up before its second clash with the parish youth.
Lawrence provides a safe pair of hands and a cool head at the back.
It looks like the ref is reading the Riot Act to both teams before kick-off!
Our secret weapon!  Martin’s imposing physique in the defence is big obstacle for the opposition.
Children from Catechism groups in the parish came to support the novices who are their teachers.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013


Tamale is a mostly Muslim city, so the number of Catholic religious is relatively small.  Recently the male and female religious decided to form one representative group, and one of the first things done by the new association was to invite all religious and novices for a picnic day at Kintampo Falls, nearly three hours south of Tamale on the main road to Kumasi.  The Falls are found just beyond the limits of the savannah country of northern Ghana, in hilly, green countryside.

The highlight of the day was enjoying the falls by getting under them!  At this time of the year, as the rainy season approaches, Tamale is usually hot and sweaty.  Frolicking under the falls and enjoying the cool, fresh water was a delightful change, and great fun as well.  Of the other religious, only two of the Sisters and one priest went in, so the Christian Brothers’ group certainly led the way.

All this aquatic activity developed a good appetite, so we did justice to the lunch that followed.  It was a great first outing for the year. 

The lush, green beauty of the Kintampo Falls reserve. 
Checking out one of the higher falls.
At the lower falls – from left, Lawrence, Dominic, Philip and Emmanuel.
Almost as good as surfing!  Br. Titus with Sisters Margaret and Donata.
Getting seriously soggy!  
Paul and Lawrence trying to persuade Sisters Rejoice and Mary to come into the water.