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.