We are now back in Monrovia and finding it a challenge to adjust to the contrast in temperature, population and environment that is the capital, compared to the relative serenity that we experienced in Gbarnga. We have been thrown into the deep-end of what is the harsher reality of the work of Don Bosco with the young of Monrovia and beyond.
On Wednesday 29th February, we visited Savio Village, a rehabilitation centre for young boys that are either lost, homeless or in trouble with the law. Most often, Don Bosco Homes staff pick the boys up from the various branches of the Women and Child Protection Section’s of police stations that are found across Monrovia, and drive them to the peaceful, rural setting that is Savio Village. Savio Village is a centre that holds housing units, a small working farm and a classroom for literacy lessons. There is enough land for the boys to plays hours of football – their favourite pastime – and where they can rope guests into a humiliating game of kickball. Humiliating at least for the ‘ballgame illiterate’ Clare and Vicky – Josh took to it like a duck to water!
This was a great way for us to interact with the six boys who are currently there: Foday aged 16, Emmanuel aged 15, Dion aged 13, Samuel, Henry aged 16, and seven-year-old ‘Peh’ (so called because ‘peh’ is his favourite syllable to chatter excitedly).
While playing and then during a lunch of the infamous palm butter – so full of the hot pepper that seems to be an integral ingredient of every household Liberian dish that it made us gasp and swig mouthfuls of water – we learned a little more about the boys’ stories.
The oldest boy, Henry, had been at Savio for a month, after being collected by Don Bosco from the police station near his home. It was only after the joy of reuniting him with his family that we learnt Henry’s grandmother took him to the police station a month ago accusing him of theft. But today it was clear to all that Henry had benefited from his time at Savio. The Don Bosco staff praised his kindness and the way he acted as a role-model to the younger boys. It was a privilege for the three of us to witness the reconciliation between Henry and his family and the relief of the community to have Henry back.
We can only hope and pray that the future has re-unification in store for all the other boys that go through the transformative gates of Savio Village. Many other cases, however, pose much more of a challenge for Don Bosco to tackle, as the backgrounds of many of the boys are harder to trace, or they have been left without a loving family to return to. Sadly, such a scenario is reality for little ‘Peh’ who was found three years ago wandering the streets and cannot communicate anything of his background to his new family at Don Bosco.
Despite the sadness we might feel about Peh’s situation, the wonderful thing about Savio is that it restores hope and opportunity to young boys’ lives. One uplifting story is that of Abati, who is clearly Peh’s favourite, and who works at Savio as a mentor to the boys while he studies social work at university. Abati is a ‘Savio boy’ himself, who was separated from his family in the war and taken in by Don Bosco. Abati’s family were never traced and he remained at Don Bosco until his 18th birthday. The care of the Don Bosco set-up did not end, however, as they are continuing to sponsor Abati through his degree. The impact they have had on his life is quite clear as he remains devoted to the Don Bosco cause and all the boys that, like him, have nowhere to turn but Savio’s compassionate arms.