By Joelle Christille
Greetings to you all from the savanna of the northern most region of Cameroon. The rainy season should be here already but it is late in coming. Some rain falls, but nowhere near in the quantity required to soften the hard clay and ready the soil to receive the seeds for a new miracle to happen. A gentle breeze sends the scent of fresh rain towards us. We see some lightning; sparse large drops sound like rolling drums on the tin roof enkindling our hopes. But all ends in a few minutes. June is upon us and the fields are yet to be sown. The leaves are showing a promising shade of green yet the soil is still parched and the tall saw grass stands out against the gold background of the sky.
Hidden in the middle of this vastness of fields and prairies one can make out the shining roofs of the Bethlehem Foundation.
This charitable organization, already well-known in this area, was established in 1997. Yet its purpose had taken shape in the heart of Fr. Danilo (who?) many years before when he was still a young missionary priest serving the mission parish of Zouzoui. The needs of the less fortunate and the sufferings of the ill and of the disabled pushed to the margins of society had too loud a voice for him to leave unheeded. He had to respond and do so quickly. With a mixture of unshakeable resolve, patience and clever knowhow in dealing with the local elders, Fr. Danilo found at the foot of the Mouda hills the site to realize his dream of a large center, a “House of Bread,” (Bethlehem means house of bread) and a home to celebrate life.
After launching the Vocational School and the Welcoming Center, Fr. Danilo set out to find someone who could help him improve his services to better the lives of the needy. He found most valuable cooperators in members of the Silent Workers of the Cross [editor’s note: this organization is an International Association of the Faithful.] With their help, the Bethlehem Foundation became more efficient in providing prompt assistance to those most in need, yet without losing sight of its original goal of promoting and restoring the wholeness of man in all the facets of his being, regardless of race, creed or any other discriminatory process. Little by little, all the activities of the Bethlehem Foundation developed in such a way as to capitalize most efficiently on the skills of the local people. The importance of a sound formation both of the personnel and of the young people seeking in it a better future remained the focal point of all endeavors.
One can look at the Bethlehem Foundation from different angles: it is the realization of a longing for a better future; it is a door opened before those seeking help; yet it is mainly the launching pad for those who feel called to help their neighbor or to alleviate someone’s poverty, hardships and sufferings.
Nowadays, the Bethlehem Foundation contributes significantly to the economic and social development of the rural areas of the northern most region of Cameroon with many initiatives.
- It gives education to children who are orphaned, abandoned or facing economic straits.
- It hosts and assists women confronted with daunting difficulties
- It provides education and rehabilitation programs for people with physical or mental disabilities
- It offers schooling and rehabilitation for hearing impaired children
- It offers vocational instruction and hands-on training with production of simple items
- It has vocational instruction and hands-on training for agricultural production and cattle-raising
- It gives concrete assistance to villages to create adequate infrastructures for the good of the whole community
- It has promotion of social and health-related development through awareness programs, incentives and formational meetings
- It has also promotion of self-improvement of the person though sport and cultural activities.
This constant display of targeted efforts and positive results won for it an official acknowledgement for community usefulness. However, this official acknowledgment was not followed by any substantial and concrete facilitation as promised. We are still waiting for any easing of our situation on the part of the Government. The number of requests for help keeps increasing; our young people become adults; they graduate, look for breaks elsewhere; try to find employment in the public sector and, if they fail, they come back among us. They return to their land looking for answers, looking for solutions, for a way to become self-supporting, to be able to go ahead on their own and to secure a decent future for their children.
In spite of all these difficulties, we look to the future with optimism. We wait with hope for an infusion of younger blood. We rely on the spirit that animates our younger generation into which we instill a responsible stewardship towards all in the community.
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