From Salone with love
PUBLISHED: 14:06 09 January 2008 | UPDATED: 11:26 11 June 2010
WHEN Father Joseph Shonibare left the Church of the Holy Family, in Honiton, to run an Augustinian Recollect mission in Sierra Leone he was under no illusions. He knew what to expect - poverty. The level of deprivation that confronted him, however, shoc
WHEN Father Joseph Shonibare left the Church of the Holy Family, in Honiton, to run an Augustinian Recollect mission in Sierra Leone he was under no illusions.He knew what to expect - poverty.The level of deprivation that confronted him, however, shocked him to the core. It was extreme.Since his arrival last year, Father Joseph has kept a meticulous record of his every day life; writing down not just facts but his thoughts and feelings, too."Picture it," he wrote. "Black priest, with glasses, driving Honda in white, rural East Devon - less noticed than black priest driving white Toyota in black city of Makeni."Father Joseph's mission lies above the Rokel River and below the Kilimi and Outamba National Parks.As his former parishioners in East Devon brace themselves for the next cold snap, he is working through the harmattan period, when dry winds blow in from the Sahara.His duties are vast, encompassing everything from managing schools to serving on a justice and peace committee.Father Joseph manages more than 40 Roman Catholic schools. They have a total number of 10,000 pupils and a, so far, uncounted number of staff. Class sizes routinely exceed 50 pupils.He admits almost all the schools would be closed immediately, if they were subject to the same, rigorous health and safety regulations as in the UK.Even in schools, poverty is blatant. Teachers work without blackboards and chalk. Children have no desks and no books.In between his various duties, Father Joseph has been learning a new skill - how to ride a motorbike.This means some of his domestic chores sometimes get overlooked. He recently confessed his washing had been soaking in a bucket for two days."Tomorrow..." he mused.His 'Letters from Sierra Leone' appear on a Spanish language website and contain everything from the mundane to tragic.The story of a baby called Adama has a special place in Father Joseph's heart. He contributed towards hospital costs after the baby's family ran out of money. They had prepared themselves for the worst, but Father Joseph wasn't prepared to stand by and let them give up.He spent time with Adama's family at a hospital, praying for a cure and then praying for hope."She has crossed the veil," he eventually reported. "She has left this world to sleep in the arms of Him who said 'let the little children come to me', to a place without pain or sorrow."Adama had slipped into a coma and then died after suffering fluid on the brain.Customer service is not one of Sierra Leone's strongest points - as Father Joseph found out when he visited a bank."I had to wait 45 minutes, because a cashier went on lunch break," he wrote, admitting he has grown accustomed to having to be patient."I don't get annoyed or throw a tantrum or ask to speak to the manager," he says.He calls Sierra Leone 'Salone', a mark of his new-found familiarity with the country.Reading through his many letters, one gets the feeling a day out at the Land Rover Experience, in Awliscombe, would have been a good leaving present.Father Joseph admits to recently taking an hour to travel five miles, driving through rivers, up rocks and down inclines - a stark contrast to the pleasure drive from Honiton to Ottery St Mary!Although he has been struck by the severity of poverty in Sierra Leone, and has received donations from former parishioners in Honiton to help, Father Joseph knows that his biggest goal is to "think about God".In the meantime, he is very conscious of being in the spotlight."I have to be on my best behaviour all the time!" he jokes.You can read Father Joseph's letters by logging on to www.agustinorecoletos.org/ and clicking the link.