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Empowering the girls from ‘nduje: father silvano’s voice

The events of the last two years and even the last few months have highlighted more than ever the importance of the issue of access to education. We have seen it with the Covid emergency, during which millions of girls and boys have had to deal with distance learning, as well as all the related network connectivity problems. The most unfortunate lacked adequate technological tools and many kids have dropped out of school. We are seeing it with the bleak data on gender disparity in education, with the protests by Afghan women and girls who are risking everything to be able to continue studying, to make themselves heard. Therefore, it is even more necessary to tell the stories of our School Heroes, these outstanding examples for so many people, stories of girls, boys, women and men who have managed to make a difference and ensure that no one is left behind.

Episode 1
Father silvano ruaro also known as “mupe”

In Congo, Father Silvano Ruaro known as “Mupe” guarantees the right to study for Pygmy girls and boys, who otherwise would have no access to education.

In Nduje, a small village in the eastern Congo forest, Father Silvano is an institution: he has been in central Africa since the 1970s, working there for three times as long as his predecessor Longo, the embodiment of what it means to be a missionary.

“Mupe” spent 35 years in the town of Mambasa and right from the start, he was actively involved in organising humanitarian aid in collaboration with the UN, in the aftermath of guerrilla attacks and looting, gathering up more than 30,000 refugees; and then in the village of Nduje, where he worked until the end of the 1980s and where he returned to a few years ago to fulfill his dream.

For three years now, Father Silvano has welcomed Pygmy boys and girls who live in the forest in Nduje into the “Padre Bernardo Longo” and “Mamma Bakhita” boarding houses to attend primary school.
Without these boarding houses, where they are not just educated, but dressed, fed and cared for, they would have no access to schooling.
The aim of the volunteers is to ensure that Pygmy girls and boys, often considered by the local population as “inferior”, become aware of their own dignity as human beings, their rights and the need for mutual respect between different ethnic groups.

The almost impossible can be done

In the last few decades, Nduje and Mambasa have been the theatre of war. In 2000, the parish community made contact with Father Silvano to see if it would be possible for him to take over the mission set up by Father Bernardo Longo Scj at the end of the 1940s.

So in 2011, a trip to Congo was organised to sound out the situation. The idea was to contribute financially to the work that Father Silvano was carrying out in the Mambasa area and in particular to reactivate the mission of ‘Nduye, all thanks to the political and financial support of the Veneto Region in Italy. Following this visit, the NGO Bernardo Longo was set up in accordance with the ideas and philosophy of Father Silvano.

In 2012, Father Silvano began major renovation work on the mission buildings, so that activities could then resume.

“Mupe’s” passion and determination for his work has managed to keep this ambitious project going. There have been many difficulties, from raids by rebels, looting and guerrilla attacks to logistical and administrative problems. Yet despite all this, Father Silvano’s project has been the only one to have taken off out of all those planned in the area.

The almost impossible can be done– he affirms with determination.

The value of education

In Mambasa, near ‘Nduje, the school is more structured whereas in ‘Nduje, retaining teachers is far more difficult because the state does not pay their salaries and the families do not have the financial means to pay for them. The parents often end up cultivating the vegetable garden for the teachers so as to guarantee their children’s schooling.
The NGO Bernardo Longo pays their salaries, so that each child can go to school and learn how to read, write and do arithmetic.

Father Silvano is loved by all the families for the incredible work he does to bring change and education to the Congo.

The Pygmy population, due to their small physical stature and semi-nomadic lifestyle in close contact with the forest, is often marginalised and subjugated by other ethnic groups. For this reason the Pygmies do not have schools for their children, they are excluded from decision-making roles and consequently have difficulty in integrating into society.
This is why Father Silvano decided to build a place entirely devoted to them, a protected environment where they can find warm beds, food, water, education and love.

Between 2014 and 2015, he managed to build the “Padre Bernardo Longo” boarding house for young Pygmies. It was a huge project: they took the roof off the building, built bathrooms and showers, dormitories and canteens. Outside they prepared the land so that it is now cultivated directly by the children and the school can independently support itself.

Initially “Mupe” had had to make arrangements with the village chief and then present his idea to the families, who welcomed it very positively.

This was just the beginning of the Boarding School Project …