By Seàn-Patrick Lovett
In the Malagasy language, “Akamasoa” means literally “good friends”. Which is why the Community, founded by Fr Pédro Opeka in 1989, is called the “City of Friendship”.
Fr Pédro Opeka, CM
71-year-old Fr Pédro is a missionary priest of the Lazarist or Vincentian Order. He studied theology under the future Pope Francis in Argentina, before moving to Madagascar in 1970 and dedicating himself to helping poor people he saw living on garbage dumps and on the streets of Antananarivo.
During a visit to the Vatican last year, Fr Pédro invited his former professor to come and see Akamasoa for himself. Not that he ever thought the Pope would actually accept.
The Akamasoa Association
The Akamasoa Association sets out to engage poor people in creative ways, helping them to build a dignified lifestyle for themselves. Dignity, according to Fr Pédro, means providing shelter, employment, and education. It means breaking out of the cycle of crime, violence, and hopelessness.
Helping not assisting
“Helping but not assisting” is one of Akamasoa’s mottos. The Assocation works alongside and together with poor people, helping them build necessary structures, like schools, work places, and healthcare facilities, so that they can prepare a future for themselves and their children.
Acting not talking
“Acting and not talking” is another of Akamasoa’s mottos.
The results of that action are impressive. Since its foundation 30 years ago, the Association has helped create housing for over 25,000 people, giving rise to 18 villages, complete with dispensaries and schools that provide education for some 14,000 children. In total, around 500,000 Malagasies have befitted from emergency help in the form of food, clothing, and health care.
In a country where nine out of ten people live on less than $2 a day (below the poverty line, as defined by the World Bank), those numbers can really translate hopelessness into hope.