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5. Educational experience in Santo Domingo: “Soñando por el cambio”

In Santo Domingo (Ecuador) the educational needs of children are addressed in a new way on two references: the charismatic foundation of L. Murialdo and starting from the boy himself. The project goes beyond the institutional and formal context and creates an environment in which all are actors, protagonists, day in and day out, because teaching is not something you do for a few hours, but something that you are living together in a certain environment and according to certain modes. “Soñando por el cambio” found in sports an important spring and a resource that can put kids in a position to tackle other challenges: culture, profession, looking at the future with hope they can succeed.
The school too is important here, as long as can it manages to adapt to any starting situation every boy proposes, an elite and selective school does not make sense. It takes a lot of patience and understanding, and you find that it is a real challenge for us adults. But we try together, teens and adults, to win it.

Fr. Sereno Cozza

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5. Educational experience in Santo Domingo: “Soñando por el cambio”

(Fr. Sereno Cozza)


Reflections of a deluded and dreamer Josephan priest who would like to revive Saint Leonard Murialdo nowadays

My projects (Su cambio – Quito, Prevention Centre U. Bonucelli – Tena-, Soñando por el Cambio – Santo Domingo) do not come out from a method developed a priori, nor from a written or default pedagogy, but simply from the “heart” of a Josephite who wanted to “revive” the extraordinary adventure of L. Murialdo updating it.

When I was in seminary, from Standard VI on, I had been struck by the image of L. Murialdo who with the “bell” went through the streets of Turin “searching for” the boys. I was so impressed in particular by his passion for the sport, acrobatic gymnastics at the time, and the victories achieved by the Artigianelli’s team in the Kingdom of Savoy. I was amazed by the fact that, despite mounting debts and the amount of guys whom he helped, he continued to take in more and more of them, relying on Providence (but also engaging in first person begging from door to door). I was impressed by his tenacity, his not giving up despite the “advice” of those who urged him to stop his work.
During my school years in Montecchio Maggiore Minor Seminary my dear “teachers” made me take a decision that has always been at the base of my projects: to build a “reverse school”, i.e. a school that would accept before all those street boys who dreamed of “playing” rather than going to school. I said, “When I am “big” (it was in the early sixties then) I will build a boarding school where sport is as important as school subjects and where the more ‘lively’ boys are accepted as the best students.”

Once I arrived in Ecuador I participated in several festivals organized within the scolasticate in honor of the “Apostolic Mothers” who always revived in theatrical form the work of Murialdo who with the bell “sought” street kids. Once, I do not remember the year, I left the salon puffing and angry because once again they repeated that scene, and I said to myself: “We have to stop doing theater, it’s time to get serious here too: go in search of street children with the “bell!” We have to do what L. Murialdo did, if we want to be “Josephites like him.” From that moment I started to think seriously about what to do.

Before there was talk of “Family of St L. Murialdo” and “Murialdo Lay People” I had the good fortune to have by my side a person who deserves the medal of “Murialdine”’ I speak of Mrs. Ruth Rivadeneira. I had met her when she worked in “San José” School and I was talking with her about my project that, until then, was just a fantasy. I saw that she enthused more and more every day; she had known for years the works of the Josephites and the life of L. Murialdo and, sharing my projects and my motives, she agreed to accompany me.

I omit part of the history that led to the birth of my project, but I cannot forget the day when driving an old and rickety van equipped with speaker, accompanied by Ruth, who had prepared more than 200 sheets of invitation, we went in the poorest areas of Quito shouting to the street children: “Do you want to play and eat for free? Come to Fundeporte.”
Ruth transcribed in her sheets the data of all the guys who approached. In just one week more than one hundred and fifty young people were enrolled in. In those days I came home happy feeling really as L. Murialdo who with the “bell” went looking for street children. On January 31, 1995, the feast of St. John Bosco, a friend of Murialdo, we started with 40 boys, 40 balls, 4 football coaches… the adventure had begun! The rest of the story will be written later by those who will want to do it.

Which pedagogy, methodology, etc.. etc.., I used? Simply that of St L. Murialdo: “to be a father-brother-friend of street children.” With street children, out of the school system, hyperactive, suspicious, coming from situations of extreme poverty, raped in every sense and destroyed in their “dreaming” their life, the only pedagogy that you can use is the pedagogy of the “Heart “.

(The heart of a) Father whose authority is certainly important, but paternity is even more so. First you must be “father”, you should be able to re-generate these young people with your mind and heart. Yes, they do have need of an authority, but “merciful” authority, able to understand and forgive, but at the same time never closes its doors and is ready to give confidence to the thousandth time.

(The heart of a) Brother walking with them, who is close, sitting with them when they are tired, but who is also a strong point of reference and who is near when they are afraid of this tough world that they have already known since they were children. A brother who helps them to dream of a different world and also to see that “others” are not “all bad.”

(The heart of a) Friend knowing how to listen to them, play with them, joke with them, laughing and crying with them and knowing how to give them affection and understanding. A bosom friend in whom they can trust even when others with their prejudices judge them “bad;” a friend they can rely on, not because they have behaved well with him, but simply because he, the friend, loves them as they are without judging them, letting them meet God, who has traced a path for each of them, which is sometimes so difficult to understand by us as well “structured” as we are.

Working with adolescents (an age that always fascinated me) is the most beautiful thing, but also the hardest job. Most of them do not even like to thank you, but sometimes their gratitude and their unique sweetness make you recover whatever strength was lost educating them. Sometimes you meet them after so many years and they come close as if they had found again their “lost dad, brother, and friend,” and this rewards you forever, and sometimes these same guys are the ones who in the past have made you suffer more .
Working with adolescents we must be able to dream that they will be the future, and a better future, although at the present time they are full of flaws, weaknesses and vices. I could cite cases of young drug addicts, thieves, members of youth gangs and who are now very good family men, graduates, and people with important and deserved job responsibilities.

One of my slogans is that “everything is school in the project”, all employees are teachers and educators, who must teach to “live life” from the gatekeeper who welcomes them when they come in the morning, to the cook who prepares meals, the teachers and coaches. Everyone must “educate to life.” The whole day spent within the project is a school, each project must be “a school for life”, and not for a school report or for votes. It is life that gives the pass and not the minister of education and… not even the Josephites!

We must have confidence in them, firmly believe that they can change, and if they drive us to distraction, we must not only forgive them, but be prepared to give them confidence again, and not just once, but…. 70 times 7.

The foundation of all this is to believe that Saint Leonard Murialdo is “resurrected” in each of us Josephites and that like him we can be a gift that will facilitate the meeting of adolescents with God-Love. He will do the rest, and He will guide them on the path of salvation, in that path that will lead them to meet Him as God, Father, Brother and, Friend.
All my “poor” pedagogy-methodology is summarized here: sport and vocational training.

Fr. Sereno Cozza

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