Village Altonodji: Administration Personnel Profiles

Calvain welcomes our visit from his desk

By Steven Hoffman
Written May 2008

My recent visit to the Village Altonodji orphan center in Moundou, Chad, provided the opportunity to visit with, and to get to know, Calvain Mbernodji, the director of orphans at the Village. In past trips to Chad, Calvain would always be present as a member of the SCPEDT board as a secretary, and as such, would strike up conversations (in English) generally in a business only mode. My impressions of Calvain from the start have always been one of a "gentle giant"; a man of large stature, which would explain why he was sent to escort me through the central

Calvain Mbernodji: A Father to 43 Orphans

market while I video-taped—later to find out that doing so was a risky venture—but also very gentle and respectful; with a smile that radiates sincere friendliness. Early impressions were confirmed as I got to know him in his capacity at Village Altonodji as director of orphans, but I prefer to think of him as a father of 43 orphans, which is probably a more apt description.

Calvain has been involved with SCPEDT since its inception in 2004 and it was here that he became aware of the sufferings of orphan children.  He has had a passion for helping them gain success in their lives ever since. But what makes Calvain unique for this work is his love for the children which manifests itself in the ways he interacts with them. He is kind and gentle, but at the same time, firm and sure. He listens to them and is right in there praying for them in their moments of need and distress. The children respond in kind with their respect and ease with which they react with him one-on-one. They look at him with the same affection as a child does to a father whom he admires and loves.

Other facts that exhibit Calvain's love for the children are evident in the sacrifices he's made to live at Village Altonodji.  A well educated man, Calvain attained a solid position in 2005 as Cabinet Director for the Chadian foreign affairs minister, where he was responsible for caring for the details of foreign affairs. After becoming more involved with children, he followed his passion and accepted a position as a teacher in the government run school system. During this time, he gained the recognition and respect of education ministers that would later result in obtaining certified teachers from the government to teach at the orphan center. All the while, God's providence was at work in the developing position of orphan director at Village Altonodji.

In July 2007, Calvain accepted the position in Moundou at Village Adtonodji, although his wife and three children would remain behind in N'Djamena 250 miles away.  There is no place for his family to live currently, so he lives with his elder brother in nearby Moundou. In time, it is hoped that housing will be built on the campus for the convenience of all. Calvain also hopes his wife can join him in his work at the center some day. In the meantime, Calvain trusts God is caring for them and reunites occasionally with his family when he can in N'Djamena.

School runs 6 days a week in Chad.  Calvain's day starts early with a visit to the dorms to see if the children are doing well and if they require medical attention before school.  Calvain also teaches an English language class as the school.  After class, office time begins where he tends to the business of the center. At noon time, Calvain is present to supervise the feeding of all the children, both resident orphans and students who live in the surrounding village—about 200 in all; he prays with them and checks in on their well-being again before returning to his office, where he works until about 3 of 4pm.

Start-up of the orphan center presented some of its own unique challenges, Calvain says, "…you have to transform the life of these young; you have to give them hope, so it is not easy; so many difficulties arise and it is not easy to explain to them. They come from everywhere so it is difficult, you have to be patient and to explain to them some more and some more, so that they come to realize that this is the place for them to love God; to consider each other and to know that God is taking care of them, so we have to teach them. It is not easy, every day I will go around and talk to girls and boys and to explain to them how we want them to be tomorrow. They have to forget all they have lost (with the loss of) their parents. One day a girl came to me to tell me that at night her dead mother came to her to disturb her. So I pray with her and I say that God has power over all those things so she has not to be afraid, just to think of God, to pray, and God will take care of her." Other children have lost parents and stopped going to school and come to the center lagging well behind in their grade proficiency. You can only pray that these students will stay long enough to complete their fourth year of secondary school. For those students that find achieving minimally acceptable academic standards too difficult, the center will offer alternative vocational training of carpentry and tailoring (sewing). Training in these areas will help some orphans to live productive lives.

The widows play an important role in the lives of the orphans. Each widow has in her charge 11 children, living in dorm rooms of their own directly across from the children's dorms. The widow is in every way a mother to them. They do everything from preparing meals to helping with every day details. These widows, some of whom have their own children living at the center, show love to their "adopted" children. As with any good mother, they sometimes must act as disciplinarian, which they carry out with Calvain's help.  Not unlike a normal household, sometimes the kids will fight amongst themselves requiring the dreaded visit to Calvain's office.

The presence of Village Altonodji has had a profound influence in the surrounding community, according to Calvain. What was once uninhabited land is now a bustling center of activity. "When they (the children) are playing they make noise and they are glad. At night, perhaps in moonlight, they dance; they make noise, so it's changed very much the life in this center and in this village as a whole. They see that there is something important in this center because they know that people sing and they know that these are Christians who are living here; it changed their thinking in some way".

The school has also impacted the community by offering high quality education to children in the surrounding villages from kindergarten through high school. Nearly 160 children attend school from outside the center and classes are filled to capacity with waiting lists for prospective students.

The Emom of the Mosque which was constructed across the street soon after construction of the village started, visited Calvain when looking for materials for his new home. Calvain also enquired of the Emom if he knew of a teacher of Arabic that could teach at the village. No referrals have been received…yet!

According to Calvain, there are several items of high priority for the center. A water pump that will provide clean, safe running water to the village is scheduled to be installed—the equipment has been delivered but is awaiting the installer from the US; a centralized diesel powered generator, which will deliver power to all the buildings,  aid in the security of the campus, and provide a safe and convenient means to illuminate dorm rooms at night so the orphans can study; a telephone connection to the center with access to the internet (currently there is no way administrators can inform us of immediate needs of the children); and a security wall. A wall surrounding the center is important because even with 4 guards employed at the center, robbers come by the darkness of night and steal things. Already, doors have been removed from their hinges and taken. No reasonable number of guards can protect the center at night because of the enormity of the campus.

Through spending time talking to the children, Calvain has witnessed a profound change in their lives since coming to the village. He explains that some children come from the city where they were involved in stealing from others and other kinds of trouble.  Some children would go for days without eating and have told him that since coming to the village, they know they are taken care of and will not be hungry. The children have recognized the change in their own lives and have expressed it. One child recently told that when he grows up and has money, he will turn his attention to orphans who were just like him, and care for them also. The Wednesday chapel service serves to teach them Christian values and morals which has had life changing results.

Upon ending my time with Calvain, I asked him a final question which evoked the biggest smile on his face accompanied with the greatest

Calvain & Steve at Village Altonodji in December 2008

With Calvain at Village Altonodji campus during December 2007 visit.

enthusiasm. He told me in his own words, what has given him the greatest joy since coming to Village Altonodji. Without hesitation he excitedly replied: "There is a spiritual change under way, so I love this, yeah. I love this because when I first came here, I taught them how to pray before eating. If they have to share food, they have to pray and on Sunday when I came with you here, when you left I stayed and the widows gave them a meal, the dinner. So I stayed somewhere, I didn't make myself known, so I hide somewhere and they are praying, yes, they pray, and after, I went to them to see the girls and said, "are you praying also for me?" You know? I came to them and they say "yes, I pray for you, I pray for you too", it makes me (feel) a great joy that there is a change, a spiritual change for their life; and also their love, you know, with each other, they express this love. Two days ago, they came with a pen, and they say "this is a pen I found somewhere, I don't know who it is for, who I don't know, but I give (it) to you"; before, they would steal from each other and then I tell them that if, if even a coin of your brother falls down, try to pick it up and say "who has lost his coin"? So I told them and when they came to me, they came to me with a pen that someone lost. So that it is a joy for me, so that yeah, my teaching is doing something good, so I am glad about that. And also the life between secondary teachers and primary teachers, you know, there is a love here, they come to me and they explain things they are doing, praying for the orphans before starting classes. Yes, so those things make (for) me great joy…

In a most gracious manner, Calvain thanked me for coming such a long way to see how they are doing at the newly opened village and expressed "big joy" because he knows we "left our belongings and good health" to come see them. He expressed his appreciation for all the prayers and for all the support coming from the United States, because life is getting better at Village Altonodji… and is living up to its namesake: "the orphan needs your love". have to transform the life of these young; you have to give them hope, so it is not easy; so many difficulties arise and it is not easy to explain to them.

Calvain interacts with one of the many children at the Village

...this is the place for them to love God; to consider each other and to know that God is taking care of them...

They see that there is something important in this center because they know that people sing and they know that these are Christians who are living here...

Calvain translating interview questions for orphan child

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