It with a sad heart I leave Dodoma – but never before have I seen a city grow so fast. When the great independence president, Julius Nyerere, the father of Tanzania, designated Dodoma as the capital rather than the sprawling port of Dar Es Salaam, it raised a few eyebrows. Back then in 1973, it was a small town that the Germans had developed along with the railway. Right in the centre of the country, it was at times a semi-arid dust bowl…. you can see the previous Prime Minister Pinda remembering the whirlwinds when we interviewed him in 2011. However visiting on and off over the last 9 years it has grown beyond recognition.
Nyerere, who became a Catholic at the age of 21, said that he was always a ‘schoolmaster by choice and a politician by accident’. He stands out amongst the ‘Fathers of Africa’ (that post-independence generation of African leaders) in two ways, the peaceful way he relinquished power after 20 years and the simplicity and asceticism with which he lived. He was a daily mass goer and fasted regularly and in 2005 the Catholic Diocese of Musoma opened his cause for beatification. His economic legacy, however, is controversial, but his legacy in social development and leaving behind a peaceful country is impressive. With regards to Dodoma, Nyerere wanted the capital city to be in the centre of the country so that it could have a unifying effect, being equally accessible to all, bringing the tribes together – rather than becoming a bubble for the political elite in Dar. The ‘Bunge’, the national assembly or parliament has been sitting in Dodoma since 1996. Although many offices remain in Dar, the politicians decamp every year to live in Dodoma, the ministers have built houses, and along with them comes the usual entourage of advisors, lobbyists, business people. We had a lovely dinner with one of the entrepreneurial families in the parish who have opened a hotel – and much of their business is reliant on this custom.
It is wonderful to visit as a Jesuit as you are inserted into the heart of the community, even though you are a mzungu. The impressive Jesuit Parish with 1600 at mass is warm and welcoming, with amazing choirs.
The Jewel in the crown for our visits to Dodoma is St Ignatius Prep & Primary school. It is a very special place, and a lot of that is down to Sister Euphrasia, who has thrown her whole heart into building up the community. Some of the best teachers in Dodoma have followed her, even taking pay cuts – because they prefer working in the loving atmosphere of the school than many other schools which are run more like a business, and they are micromanaged. I suppose the great challenge for Euphrasia is one that I have been pondering on myself recently, how do you set up something that doesn’t totally rely on your personality, i.e. that is apostolically resilient, and doesn’t fizzle out when you are gone.
I read a book a few years ago which had a profound effect on me. ‘Forgiveness – Breaking the Chain of Hate‘ by Michael Henderson looks at the lives of dozens of remarkable people of many nations and faiths who have been able to break the chain of hate through repentance and forgiveness. They included survivors of the Burma Road, the Siberian Gulag and Nazi atrocities. This for me is the key to life of Nelson Mandela which is being celebrated today. One of the most eloquent testimonies has been Archbishop Desmond Tutu, you can watch it below, but for me he identifies this remarkable inner transformation that took place in prison. To my ears it is similar to the transformation that can happen in the silence of the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius. ‘The crucible of prison added a deep understanding of the human condition and a profound ability to emphasize ….. like a most precious diamond honed deep beneath the surface of the Earth – The Madiba who emerged from prison in 1990 was virtually flawless. When you thing that he went to prison as an angry young man and he emerged as an icon of magnanimity and compassion‘. The whole interview is below: the first few minutes are dynamite!
This is a scheduled blog – posted automatically – I’m on a silent retreat at the moment so will only be able to moderate or reply to comments at the end of next week
Here in Manchester – we are about to open the first student-run foodbank in the country. We have been working with the Trussel Trust (TTT), a Christian charity who currently support the biggest network of foodbanks in the country. The alarming rate of growth of foodbanks is a direct response to two conflicting trends in British life. The growth of ‘food poverty’ : as globally food prices rise, energy prices rise, but locally wages stay still or decrease, those with a basic income are finding it harder and harder to put food on the table. The second trend is the cutting of benefits, and the dismantling of a bloated welfare state. With pressure on local agencies to withhold benefits for the slightest misdemeanour, those accustomed to relying on this are finding themselves in emergency situations, where they may have to wait a few weeks before any income resumes. So foodbanks are popping up all over the place, often but not exclusively in churches – to provide short-term emergency assistance.
The TT model that we are following, provides a referral service, where those in crisis can be referred to us for food parcels by a variety of front-line agencies. People don’t just walk-in off the streets, it is not a drop-in centre they must be referred with vouchers. These are also limited to three per six months, so it is not creating dependency but rather providing an emergency – short term crisis service. The vouchers also ensure that a sophisticated monitoring process can go on to find out the causes of these crises, and spot any patterns emerging. It was interesting to see that TTT was able to identify a spike in demand during the summer holidays as free-school-dinners were not available to struggling families. Present at yesterdays training day – here at the chaplaincy – were representatives from the council, the huge local hospital, schools, churches, sure-start centres, job-centers, charities etc. It was a an impressive kaleidoscope of civil society, the ill-fated ‘Big-Society’.
The scandal of food-poverty in such a wealthy society – for me points more towards the breakdown of the extended family rather than free-market politics. Like many post-industrial societies we are in a much-needed reform of the welfare state, but when the family is not there to pick up the pieces – more strain is put on civil-society as big-government withdraws. However dirty politics also reared its head yesterday. It turns out that the job-centres, who are enthusiastic referrers to food banks, at times verging on the irresponsible, using us an excuse to meet quotas, cut corners. The job centres refuse to use the voucher scheme as sanctioned by TTT. Why – because much of this food poverty is hidden – but the monitoring system TTT uses allows for the identification of the cause of the crisis and this is an embarrassment for the Dept of Work and Pensions (DWP). On the voucher it is indicated why someone is in crisis, e.g sickness, benefit delays, domestic violence, debt etc. It seems that although there was an agreement with TTT and DWP back in 2011, DWP have acted unilaterally and changed it – refusing to use TTT’s vouchers. It may be that the TTT network is so extensive and successful now, but also they are so good at data gathering that this is embarrassing the government. They are happy to dump people on the TTT, but not happy for statistics to get out about how the changes are effecting people – now that is Scandalous!