The Appeal

Fr Zacharie Sorgho
Parish Priest
Nioro du Sahel

Maurice Billingsley

  Fr Zacharie Sorgho
  Missionaires d'Afrique
  Paroisse Notre Dame de
  B.P. 8 Nioro du Sahel


My Dear Maurice and Family,

Greetings from the parish of Nioro du Sahel where I now am. By God's grace I am well and I warmly wish the same to you and all those close to you. May God give you health and peace in your hearts.

Here the word 'Peace' resounds greatly through the air since Mali has sunk into political crisis. To add bad to worse, there is a famine that does not speak its name, but that we have to face up to in solidarity with our parishioners and our Muslim friends. How can we fail to be touched by the many appeals and cries of the people who come to us and sit themselves down outside our offices from morning to night, hoping for an ear of  millet or maize to feed themselves and their children? How can we ignore these people for whom a prescription is expensive and who have no-one to help them obtain the medicines the doctor has ordered? I must say that this year is a year of danger. Not only do people lack peace, but they have no food. And the cost of food here goes up day by day. It is a great pity. We do what we can thanks to those friends who help us.

Here at Nioro we have been able to buy 4 tonnes of millet and beans to give to the needy on our register. Even then we have to sort through them as we have a list of 700 people when we were hoping to help 250. I can see that they are all in need, but there are those who are more so, and we must keep our eyes open and pay close attention. Our parish Caritas committee thankfully make our task much easier. We have written appeal letters and sent out S.O.S.'s hoping that we will be heard somewhere. We await the hand of providence.

Just across the road from the presbytery is the Nioro Consulting Hospital. We hear the cries of the dying, the tears of their friends and families. Often during the night we hear wailing when someone dies and then we are called and we try to bear witness to our solidarity with them in the event of death. The hospital is vast, but materially poor. The walls are in a poor state, and the cleanliness of the wards leaves much to be desired. Our young Christians often go in to clean up and visit the sick, and then they offer the patients bars of soap, or some oil or milk. Here the patient has to arrange his own food and take charge of his own stay in hospital. There is no canteen.

The patients sleep, some in the open air under the thorn trees in the great courtyard, some in the corridor to the mortuary, others on a bed or sleeping mat. The hospital has become a nursing home for many of them. Some are afraid of the very idea of coming, for without the means to pay their way, they will suffer even more. Since our compound is so close, we are often called upon by the nurses either to help buy drugs, or to buy food for the patients, or even to take home the body of someone who has died.
However distant, if a sick person dies in hospital, their people will try to bring the body back to the village. It's the occasion to learn the cause of death and to hold a funeral feast, killing an animal to influence the fate of the deceased or to to appease their spirit. Since the hospital's four ambulances are off the road from the rough use they undergo, our is sought out all the time. I am really not happy that our vehicle has become a hearse, and it has led to misunderstandings. I don't go to pieces very easily, but I tell myself that was not always understood by his contemporaries: that consoles me a little.

Still talking about health, we have four people – two women, a girl and a man who suffer from epilepsy. This disease is dangerous and badly regarded in Africa, especially in traditional societies, where it is seen as caused by evil spirits. In their ignorance people conclude that the person must be evil since they are haunted by evil spirits. These four persons must take regular doses of  TIGRETOL 200cp tablets and DIHYDAN 100 MGB/60 cp tablets. We provide these drugs which are a great help. They come to us at the parish every fortnight to collect their prescriptions. Thanks to these products, these people can live a normal life and reintegrate themselves in their families and communities without facing discrimination. One day it happened that one of these people had finished their tablets and had not been able to get the next supply. She fell downstairs and began to vomit. Everyone ran away for they said  that the evil spirits were coming out of her and no-one else wanted to have them. Such beliefs are still strong and alive around here.


These drugs are pretty expensive – about €15 per month for each one, so we lay out €60 per month in total for all four.

We also have two patients suffering from noma, a fungal infection of the lips, which are eaten away so that the teeth are exposed. These people arouse fear in their communities. They are bearers of bad luck. Their wounds are open and stinking. They must be given their treatments without fail or they will end up with gangrene. We are the ones who pay for the dressings at the hospital. All these people have been abandoned by their own families since they are seen as persona non grata, useless and unprofitable.

As well as these patients, there are many more who seek help with paying for prescriptions. Our shopping list regularly includes different types of painkiller, anti-inflamatories, paracetamol, eyedrops, medicine for people with gastric problems, for malaria, and above all for skin conditions in children.

Every morning we get up at 5.30, 6.00 Lauds followed by Mass at 6.30 then breakfast. The offices open at 7.15. but well before the end of Mass, the forecourt of our offices is murmuring with people sitting and waiting for us. We need courage to get the day started. God helps us and puts the consoling word on our lips – without him I would often be lost. It gets to 11.00 and I am ready to shut the office and pour it all out to our Lord and Master.

At 3.00 in the afternoon I reopen the office and here again are the people. We don't have any caretaker, unlike other parishes which have systems to filter people. Our gate is always open except at siesta time, apart from the frequent times when we chase off the stray donkeys hoping to eat our bushes. We want to be a welcoming community, available to those we are sent to, but there is a price to be paid for that.

At 5.00 I shut my office and only reopen it for emergencies. I take a little walk around to greet the old people, or play some sport before vespers at 7.00. Then our meal together at a quarter past. The day is over, and I am very tired. We might watch TV with the many neighbours who come and join us; television is still a luxury round here. Our TV room fills up with children, adults and young people  who come regularly to watch the evening bulletin of news from around the world. Some of them want to talk about the news and find out our point of view. But since June 30th we have no television and so nothing to watch. Our housekeeper knocked it to the floor while she was cleaning and it exploded. Our evening visitors have stopped coming and until we can get another set which will cost €570, we make do with the radio and especially what's known as the pavement radio – otherwise street rumour.

As for the political crisis, things are calm here. We are far from Gao in the north, where things are going badly. Life is pretty normal here and people go about their business looking simply to be able to feed themselves. But we do have many refugees from the north here in Nioro town; it is to be expected that people will run away from combats and seek a safe haven, but the situation has led to banditry and crime and hold-ups on the roads. We have to take account of  this new reality in our pastoral work and when we go from place to place.

We never stop praying for peace and we ask you too to pray for peace in Mali and the world. What has been happening in Gao makes us persevere all the more in our prayer for peace in the world and especially in Mali. Whether it is Mali or Syria or anywhere, we need peace for lasting development in this world: without peace, no development.

Our help is in the name of the Lord.

I wish you the peace of Christ, for you and all those around you. It is an incalculable gift, the gift of peace, especially the peace given by the Risen Lord. You don't know the value of anyhting till you lose it. May God preserve us from losing our inner peace!

Forgive me; the ink is finished! I think of you and pray  for you.

If you know of any charities or organisations that might help us in any way, you must let us know,

Zacharie Sorgho

Parish Priest, Nioro du Sahel, MALI


Return to Top