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Headmaster
Thursday, 05 April 2007 Written by fra Ivica Perić

headmasterFor the last three and a half years I have been responsible for the school “Father Vjeko Centre” and the time has come where I wish to share some of my experiences, and to describe the developments that have occurred.  Much has happened, more equipment has been purchased, the number of students and teachers has increased and the school curriculum and syllabuses have been updated and improved.

I would like to begin by thanking God and all the wonderful persons and organizations who have made these developments possible and who enabled us to create a situation in which disadvantaged and very poor children could receive an education and begin to move into a world of more equal sharing.

Most of our financing has come from Franziskaner Mission, Dortmund, Germany as well as from the Franciscan province of Bosnia Srebrena.  The academic and administrative details of setting up new systems was greatly advanced by Valerie Kae Ken, (fashion designer and production expert from Canada), as well as by the staff of St. Francis Tailoring School in Mbarara, Uganda.

I arrived in Kivumu, Rwanda, in September 2003. Before that time the friars who had been in charge after the death of Vjeko, had continued to develop the school.  They had built 6 classrooms, 4 smaller rooms that we use as stores and 3 bigger multifunctional halls that we use for carpentry at the moment.  When I came on board we then covered one of our open spaces with a roof so that our masons and carpenters could work there. We added another big classroom for second year students in the tailoring secton.

In September 2003. there were 48 students in year one. Because of lack of space students would come, complete a two year course and leave the school before any other students could enter. The above 48 students completed these two years before I introduced a new system in 2005.    In January 2005 while the older students were completing their course, I invited a new class to begin and from that time we have the two classes going consecutively.   The numbers of students is increasing all the time and this is due to many factors.  In 2003 we had 48 students,  in 2005 we had 102 students, in 2006 135 students, and now in 2007 we have 178 students.

In 2003-2004 we had six teachers, 5 assistant teachers and a watchman.  Today we have 13 teachers, 2 watchmen, 2 cooks, a secretary and I am in the role of headmaster.  As the number of students grew a need for additional classrooms, equipment and staff emerged.

We introduced some electrical machines to give the students an exposure to the equipment people are using in other parts of Africa and around the world.  Often people think that in poor countries we should use only basic tools while the technology is changing so rapidly elsewhere.  We do not believe this is appropriate.  The students should be prepared to enter this world or ours.  In 2005, Franziskaner Mission from Dortmund gave us great assistance and supported us in our desire for development. They funded the purchasing of electrical equipment for both the tailoring and the carpentry sections.

Since the very beginning the education of our students has gone hand in hand with the practical development of the school. For example the new classrooms have been constructed by the students in the building section.  These same students built 6 classrooms in an elementary school not far from our centre. They worked on the reconstruction of some parts of the Church , they carried out some construction work in the parishes nearby, they constructed some rooms in the sisters’ convent and the built 3 water tanks..

The furniture, desks, tables, stools and chairs, cupboards and all have been made by the students in the carpentry section.

Uniforms, all the curtains and other soft furnishings have been made by the students of the tailoring section. In addition these students make goods for sale, bags, clothes, bed linen and furnishings. Requests for furniture, clothing, building services keep coming to our school and this is all very encouraging for our students.

It is really a joy to reflect on this aspect of development which is so important--. As one African leader has said “when the people look back they can say, we did it for ourselves”.

Changing the syllabus and way of working enabled the students to get jobs after graduation. Usually all of them find jobs so they are capable of supporting themselves as well as their families.

Since 2004 we have had volunteers working in our programme.  First of all we had Valerie from Canada—I mentioned her before—and she came every year for a number of years, sometimes for weeks sometimes for months depending on the time she could spare from her life in Canada.  Then we had a married couple from France and they stayed with us for 3 months.  The gentleman is an engineer and his wife a teacher and nurse.  He helped to install electricity, and she helped to teach in an elementary school and work in a health centre in our parish.

students

Then we had a volunteer from Austria, a teacher by profession who worked in an elementary school and finally Mateja from Zagreb, a nurse. She stayed with us 2 months and worked in the health center. The fact that lay persons come to help us is a good sign. Doors are opening to their missionary work and at the same time we have more time for our pastoral work.

the school

This is a good and challenging ministry and it is never without problems. Children are children in any context. Sometimes they fight and cause problems in this way. Sometimes equipment gets broken through carelessness and sometimes there are thefts. At times I feel like a policeman setting up security systems, rather than an educator helping in development!!! Many of our parents simply do not have the small amount of money which we request for school fees. Each trimester we ask for 2000 Rwandaise Francs. This amounts to 6000 in a year which is the equivalent of 8.40 EURO.

There are a lot of organizations who want to refer children to our school and of course they refer the poorest and they want to pay 6000 francs like the parents. We have to say “no” to this and to explain that it actually costs 143,000 francs a year to educate a child and we subsidize that education. We cannot subsidize the education of children from other organizations who, like us are raising money.

It is a good feeling to take a tour of our school.  It is wonderful to see it grow and to reflect on the early beginnings and the constant growth. It is a happy event to simply observe everyone busily trying to do a good job. The students are proud of the fact and cherish the idea that this is “their” school. “This is ours! We did it!” Anyone out there who has ever been in the work of education knows that it is a daily work to keep standards going and to keep children inspired. We need your encouragement!

 
Father Vjeko Center

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