Two hundred years after the birth of Don Bosco his followers continue
to establish schools where they are most needed. The latest of these
will open its doors these very days in Kontagora, Koko, in the
North-West of Nigeria. It is a vast desert area, characterized by a lack
of educational alternatives and by the dominance of fundamentalist
religious groups in all sectors of life, with a marked intolerance
This great adventure has its roots in knowledge and experience and in
the passion to help those who have least in life. Fr Jorge Crisafulli,
Provincial of the English-speaking Province of West Africa, knows this
very well. He has worked in projects of all kinds in Ghana, Nigeria,
Liberia and Sierra Leone. "The Salesians arrived in Nigeria in February
1982 and opened technical schools, oratories, youth centres, parishes
and chapels in Ondo, Akure, Onitsha, Ibadan, Lagos, Abuja and
Ijebu-Ode". All these works are located in the south-east and south-west
of the country, areas that are predominantly Christian. In 2008 the
Vicar Apostolic of Kontagora "sent us a beautiful letter asking for the
Salesians to come to the northern part of Nigeria, to work in education
and pastoral ministry." This was a challenge for us, a call to the
margins, as Pope Francis wants.
But it was not possible until October 2014, when the new house was opened. The Salesians were helped by Misiones Salesianas
Madrid but especially by the Vicar Apostolic, Msgr Bulus Dauwa Yohanna,
who has given them a parish covering a territory where there are 24
villages. Three Salesians went there to "work with and for the local
people, who are very poor, and to prepare for the pastoral activity and
everything necessary for the opening of a technical school".
The three are Nigerians from the South of the country, but they had to
settle into a new culture in a situation alien to them: "We are
Nigerians, but we seem to be in another country, in another world!" they
say. The process is slow and the first thing to learn is the language
of the people.
For now, the three Salesians are going up and down the region, visiting
villages and getting close to the population. Before opening a new
house in the city, the first thing they did was to visit the local emir.
"When we told him who we were and who Don Bosco was, and that we
already have several technical schools in Nigeria, his eyes shone and he
said: 'This is exactly what we need here. Our young people are
constantly idle. They have no professional training to enable them to
enter the world of work.' So, we were not offered land to build a church
and a technical school, but all the land we needed has been put at our
disposal." This is why Fr Crisafulli says passionately: "Technical
education and vocational training, in the best style of Don Bosco, could
be an important point of dialogue between the West and the Muslim
world, at least here."
Today, while there is respect for Christians socially, Fr Crisafulli
regrets the political hostility. "Not only does the government not give
us land to build a church, but there has also been a situation where two
of our catechists had to convert to Islam to be allowed to lead their
If a Muslim wants to become a Christian, he must explain
his reasons, fill a thousand documents and pay for it to be authorized.
Furthermore, Christians are not allowed to hold processions." However,
it is possible to make Jesus known: "In the villages, many people are
neither Muslim nor Christian. It is possible to proclaim the Gospel to
them. In fact, they are very open to this new way of life and freedom,
especially the girls and women. They appreciate this message that
defends their dignity."
However, if there is one thing that hinders all our work it is the
constant threat of religious terrorism. "Although these groups operate
mainly in the Northeast,” says Fr Crisafulli “the tension is felt
everywhere. Despite this situation, we have been taken precautions. The
people and the Salesians have built a wall around the parish and have
set up a security committee with people taking turns on guard, but the
risk is still present. In fact, two weeks after the Salesians came to
Kontagora, there was the first terrorist attack in the city: a girl with
a bomb attached to her belt blew herself up at the entrance of a
school, killing two guards.
However, concluded Fr. Crisafulli, we must continue to hope and take
part in a shared journey to build freedom: "Nigeria has huge potential.
The country is regarded as a sleeping giant. Someone has to waken this
giant and I think that the Government alone cannot perform this miracle.
What is needed is for all Nigerians to unite, the different groups,
churches, institutions, NGOs, and bring about the miracle of the
re-awakening of Nigeria ".
by Miguel Ángel Malavia