The Association Amici delle Missionarie dell’Immacolata celebrates its 25th anniversary. Franco Zibordi, current president, remembers how it was born.
In October 1993, almost by chance, I arrived at a leprosarium in Mumbai run by the sisters of an Italian Missionary Congregation (Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate)
Undoubtedly it was not a very suitable place to spend a few days of vacation. Bombay is a metropolitan city with more than 20 million inhabitants, with immense slums which it is not really healthy to enter.
I was immediately impressed by the presence of several girls and boys all sick with leprosy or the children of lepers hospitalized.
To my questions the nuns respond by explaining that leprosy is a highly curable disease, and if it is tackled at its initial stage in six months it is eradicated; the real problem, however, is that lepers are rejected by society and by families and very often once healed they find themselves living alone, they end up on the street and from there they flow into delinquency, prostitution, begging, slavery.
Together with the nuns and some friends, I set myself the goal of finding a solution to ensure a future acceptable for the boys and especially the girls in the leper colony. We decided to open a boarding school, where we could host the girls who would later attend public school. We placed the boys in a parastatal boarding school.
The girls, almost all orphans of at least one parent, live in the boarding school throughout the year with the exception of short vacation periods (they only go out to attend school or some particular feast). In the collegiate structure dormitories, a refectory for meals and free time, and finally a large room for study and after-school activities.
The wonderful positive experience started with 25 girls. It was a heavy venture with many worries, but in the end the satisfactions came. Almost all the girls have completed compulsory schooling, some have obtained diploma and three have graduated.
The initial cost was about 18 million lire a year, today after 28 years the activity continues:the girls are now 80 with a cost of 22,000 euros per year. We then continued to work in INDIA and after Bombay we opened others, while we took over some existing schools partially or totally financing the various training activities. In the province of Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh (region in central India) we have opened one for girls who are the daughters of AIDS patients (healthy carriers) obtaining excellent results.
In 90s various interventions in support of the Missionary and charitable activity of the sisters were guaranteed by some groups of benefactors who were not connected to each other. Without coordination, very often, inefficiency was generated, so many interventions became ineffective.
Nel 1997 we decided to found an association: AMICI DELLE MISSIONARIE DELL‘IMMACOLATA ONLUS of which I am president, and to bring together most of the volunteers, with the aim of operating all over the world as a support to the congregation. The groups are still independent from each other and coordination is guaranteed by the board of directors which authorizes projects and expenses. In the early years I asked the nuns many times how they managed to do so many works and carry out very significant projects, with what means and with what money, they calmly answered, “there is providence”.
After this long journey (it’s been 30 years now), a journey that still continues, I really believe I didn’t come to Bombay by chance but may be someone had already prepared that road.
I believe that providence is present in all charitable paths: if within us there is the will to do, to dedicate ourselves to those in need, to give a little love of affection to those who have none, to the weak, then something happens to the poor, don’t worry, something happens, but this is a plant that must be cultivated, followed, pampered, it does not grow by itself.
I believe that charity, love and respect for others are feelings that guarantee peace, serenity, happiness and pleasure to the people who practice them and our society certainly has a great need for all of this.
This is what our sisters ask and they always say “we and you do what the others (local governments) don’t do”.
During the year almost all the most important missions are visited by our volunteers. Travel expenses are always borne by the volunteers and no refunds of any kind are foreseen by the association. Today we operate in many parts of the world: Italy, India, Bangladesh, Papua New Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Cameroon, Algeria, Angola, Brazil, Nepal.
It is difficult to mention all the activities carried out in the world, but some deserve to be reported.
In Rajasthan, a region in northern India we manage a beautiful boarding school that hosts more than 400 very poor boys and girls (aged 5 to 15)assisted in all: lodging, food, clothing, training; of these only 35 are Catholics.
In this complex, every morning before starting the school day, all the students participate in the celebration of Holy Mass, everyone sings, everyone prays and live together a profound moment of spiritual communion; being among them, it is natural to relive the words of Christ: where two or three are united in my name I am in their midst.
I truly believe that CHRIST is present there.
In addition to the school sector, we also support medical and health activities, with small clinics, hospitals, dispensaries; a part of the funding is also dedicated to specific projects: construction, means of transport, photovoltaic systems. Also financing the studies of about 2200 children through an annual fund of over 200,000 euros managed by the nuns as needed.
In Papua New Guinea, where the society is in many respects still primitive and tribal, violence especially against women is a consolidated system; in addition to traditional pastoral work and the management of parish after-school facilities for students in difficulty, the sisters are also busy promoting projects in support of women’s emancipation and motherhood.
The nuns, well rooted in the area, address the female world trying to form an awareness of the most elementary hygienic, health and sexual principles to be followed in daily social and family life. Above all, they provide highly qualified assistance in the phases of gestation, birth, post-natal and health checks, care and vaccinations of newborns.
In NEPAL, in remote places in the Himalayan mountains, we have contributed to the construction of 6 schools that collapsed in the 2015 earthquake. These are buildings for the primary school which in Nepal coincides with the first four classes attended by small children aged 6 to 9 years. The overall project cost around 125,000 euros and the association financed around 50% of the work.
In ITALY we have always intervened on the occasion of serious natural disasters and in other contexts wherethe sisters work. Important interventions have been made in NORCIA, CALDAROLA, SOLIERA. The purchase of computer equipment was financed (Soliera, Norcia) and the construction of a small house for a congregation of cloistered nuns whose convent had been declared unusable (Caldarola) was financed.
In BRAZIL the nuns work in the favelas assisting the poor, the sick and helping the boys in their studies. In the last year, important funding has been disbursed to support the health activities of the congregation which, on the occasion of the Covid-19 pandemic, has joined state structures almost always in difficulty due to serious lack of means and health personnel.
In GUINEA BISSAU we support much health, school and educational/welfare activities in general; it is a state that is always in great difficulty with very frequent elections and everything is very complex. For example, it is very difficult to transfer money as the banks are almost non-existent and work very badly so that often you have to go through banks in neighbouring states with all the associated difficulties.
Our interventions are always aimed at the weakest, the derelict, the poor, defenseless children, the sick and the marginalized of our societies; with precise rules we assist everyone regardless of skin colour, place of birth, professed religion.
In total, we were able to disburse more than 800,000 euros per year (we even reached to one million). The annual expenses are reduced to less than 5% of what we pay out.