Born in Rouyn-Noranda, Quebec, Brother Yvon Blais has been a missionary in Côte d’Ivoire since 1966. He has been a teacher and headmaster. Since September 2006, at the age of an “active” retirement, he is at Kirmann Catholic School in Abengourou, where he works in many fields.
Since September 2006, I have been assigned to Kirmann Catholic School in Abengourou (Kirmann comes from the name of the first priest of Abengourou in 1928). Abengourou is a small town in Eastern Côte d’Ivoire, 30 km away from Ghana and 210 km from Abidjan. It is a monarchic city: there is a king and the people there have very special ways. Kirmann School was founded in 1965 by three Brothers of the Sacred Heart of the former Community Province of Montreal at the time of Brother Donat Lefrançois as Superior. It is a 1st and 2nd cycle mixed school with 900 students without internship The school is run by Ivorian brothers since 1997. I live with to Ivorian and one Togolese brothers: Br. Célestin Gnabri, headmaster, Br. Servais Guisso, Superior, Br. Martin Kotchadjo, treasurer of the school and the local community.
My life in Abengourou nowadays:
After teaching catechesis for 10 years in a school, I had to retrain because I had problems with my voice. I realized a youth dream: to evangelize children of all ages from an office open to the youth of the city where I live. So my office (which I called “little paradise”) became a hub that offers multiple services to young people. All these services make me close to young people and give me the opportunity to evangelize in a modern, adapted, and relaxed way.
I say “in a relaxed way” because my office’s door is always open. I receive girls as well as boys and even primary school students. Besides, the hot weather allows me to leave the door open!
Services given in my “little paradise” at the age of my “active retirement”:
- Listening to the young people:
About 20 to 30 young people come to see me every day to meet me and talk with me about their problems. I listen to them individually and in group. In Africa, group listening between friends is very common. The problems of a young person can be approached in front of his own friends and this is an opportunity for me to help many people at the same time. It is the child himself who has a problem and wants that his friends are around him to give him confidence. Often I give these young people one or two educational brochures about their specific problems.
- The prayer corners
For more than 10 years, I have prayer corners in the rooms of young people and often in their parents’. I receive every year 500 to 600 kg of religious images and objects of piety. I have a benefactor that finances every year the shipping of my packages. I established a perfect and free of charge chain between Canada and Abengourou. And yes, the evangelization of young people in Africa can be done with rosaries, medals crucifixes, religious images, little Bibles, and prayer books. The awakening of the faith needs visible signs in young people. Every child who comes to meet me receives something for his prayer corner.
- Decoration of catechesis and catechumenal notebooks
After receiving the unsold calendars of the Sacred Heart every year, I recycle them in the cathechumenate and catechesis. Thousands of notebooks are decorated by young people every year. The religious beauty of these notebooks indirectly evangelises other young people. I am very well equipped to make beautiful notebooks. The religious stickers add an amazing touch to these already beautiful notebooks. All my visitors receive also religious stickers for their cell phones. Here, everything that is religious and beautiful evangelizes indirectly even without our knowledge.
- Sale of school supplies without profit
In order to help the poor young people of Abengourou, I sell school supplies at cost price. This gives me the opportunity to meet many young people that I would not know otherwise. I “hook” those young people and I often offer them the catechumenate whenever they have the desire to become Catholics. In my life, everything is an excuse to “hook” people as Jesus wants and to make a difference to all those faces that come to me.
- The club of good life
Seeing the difficulties of many young people in the cities where I worked, I decided to do something positive for these people. In 2000, I launched in gagnoa a “club of good life” whose purpose is to teach young people how to live before getting married or engaging in a religious life.
This club works very well in Abengourou and affects about 500 young people in the town. It is also established in other cities: Abidjan and Yamoussoukro. I print many documents for the members of these clubs. This documents are read not only by them, but also their friends.
It is said that words fly away and the writings remain. I witness many conversions and returns to the good life thanks to these club. I often refer young people who want to live the sacrament of reconciliation to a retired Ivorian priest. He welcomes them with mercy and kindness.
- The “spiritual” notebook
In 1982, I was dealing with a 17-year-old girl who had decided to commit suicide. She had written to me through a friend of her. From this dialogue with this teenager a notebook called “spiritual” notebook is born. This was the beginning of an unforeseen and very special adventure with the young people around me. Since 1982, I have made about 650 spiritual notebooks –20 or 30 notebooks every year. The notebooks are offered to young people with problems in complete freedom. Often they ask for it because this special notebook is very famous among them. An often lasting spiritual friendship is born from these deep dialogues with the children. This benefits enormously to those people that often were born in a broken family. There is a prayer corner in these notebooks that is not like the one in the others’. It is the presence of Jesus that changes the hearts of young people in difficulty. During the celebration of my 50th anniversary of missionary life on May 7th, 2016 in Abidjan, many former students have pointed out the positive effects that this special notebook has brought in their teenage life. This notebook is now read by the teenage children! I keep working on this in my free moments in Abengourou.
- Help for young people through email, text messages, and Facebook
Many people get to know me and we stay in touch in Facebook, by email or on SMS, because every child has a cell phone nowadays in Africa. So I started the apostolate with the young people where they are. Well-written messages inspired by the Lord touch their hearts and have become a formidable “hooking” took to bring children back when they are lost in the many ills of our morally and spiritually sick society. I even do this when I am in Quebec in my free time because there is Wi-Fi everywhere in our homes. If Father Coindre lived, he would surely have a computer and a cell phone. I witness so many wonders in the lives of young people with these modern tools! I learned the art of “hooking souls” in a delicate and respectful way. I am adapted to do this work in Africa –in canada, it would be almost impossible!
- Assistance to two orphans
For the past ten years, I have sponsored two orphans with Canadian and Ivorian benefactors. This allows two young people without family to be educated and housed for a better future. Both are now entering the job market. With the help of former students I am currently working to find them a good job.
- The catechumenate of young people and adults of my parish church.
For 11 years, I have been taking care of catechumenate inscriptions for young people and adults in my parish, which is in our school.This catechumenate have about 300 young people and 40 adults. I take this opportunity to share with them many religious things that I receive from Canada. They have 5 years of catechumenate between baptism and confirmation. Many catechumens come to talk to me about the problems of their inscription to the catechumenate –especially Muslims and pagans.
- Loan service for spiritual and educational books
As the last Canadian brother in Côte d’Ivoire, I inherited the personal libraries of the brothers that returned to Canada. So I decided to lend these books to young people and adults. Every year I receive more than a hundred spiritual and educational books. I put these books at the disposal of my local community, teachers, parents, and young people that I know throughout the town of Abengourou. Book loans are made daily at specific times. The comics of the lives of saints are those who attract the most. There is also a loan service of educational books for teenagers. These are books on education for love made by religious people and priests who have worked in Africa.
- Other services
I am called to render multiple services around me because I have a well equipped and well located office in the school: tam-tam loans for matches, parties, and the JEC; pumping balloons; repairing notebooks and books, repairing sandals, commissions in town for my local community and school, for the post office, the newspaper, etc.
As you can see, my days are busy in Abengourou. I do not know about free time and boredom. I live happily as a “grandfather” surrounded by a multitude of “little children” who are the third generation in my career as an educator. The Lord gives me good health and I know that the prayer of the young people for me has something to do with it!
This was a glimpse of my “corner” of paradise in Eastern Côte d’Ivoire. I rely on your prayer.
Yvon Blais, S.H., Missionary in Côte d’Ivoire.
Country: Côte d’Ivoire
Spoken languages: Agnis, french
Density: 22 inhabitants/km2
Population: 160,000 during the school year and 116,000 during summer holidays. There are 22 secondary schools and 30 elementary schools in the town.