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Education is the light at the end of the tunnel for our youth
Thursday, 04 December 2014 Written by fra Ivica Perić

Every morning as I walk from the friary towards Padri Vjeko VTC I am greeted with the same happy scene. It is a scene I always enjoy and I will never cease to be amused by it. I’m talking about the ‘ocean’ of students waiting for the school gates to open so that they can rush to their classrooms.

Education is the light at the end of the tunnel for our youth

But before class, the youth gather outside in front of the church and the school, cheerfully chatting in groups, with laughter and murmur coming from all sides. Some have already put on their school uniforms and others are carrying them with them, waiting to put them on just before assembly. I’m always delighted and happy to see so many young people eagerly waiting for another school day to start - another new day in which they will gain yet more knowledge – the much needed knowledge which will, if they work hard enough, provide a way out of poverty.

Education is the light at the end of the tunnel for our youth

And then I remember the very beginnings... In those days we had to explain to them that they should come to school everyday at the same time, and that classes start everyday at an exact hour, and that they cannot come and leave whenever they feel like it…. And that going to school was not a waste of time but just the opposite – it was their road into a better tomorrow. During those initial years we had around twenty students in the school. They would come and leave whenever they wanted.

Education is the light at the end of the tunnel for our youth

Today we have a real small ‘army’ of students! Four hundred of them! Today our youth know that they have to come to school on time; they know when the break starts and when they are supposed to come back from lunch and resume their lessons; they know how much education can help them achieve something in life. They know it because they have an example in their fellow villagers who graduated from our school in previous years and they all have jobs and live better lives now.

However, just like everywhere else in the world, the start of lessons needs to be marked with the school bell, signalling to the students that they need to hurry to their classrooms, because it’s always more attractive to lean against the wall out in front of the schoolyard and chat... and lose track of time and obligations. And that is exactly why we have a school bell. Only this bell is a bit different from what you’re used to.

Education is the light at the end of the tunnel for our youth

Every morning at 7:50 our faithful school watchman strikes an old car wheel with a stone. And that is our school ‘bell.’ The moment the stone strikes the wheel, everyone starts to gather in the school yard. At assembly, the student line-up takes place every morning in the schoolyard. As soon as everyone is there, all the teachers greet them, wish them good morning and inform them about the intended school activities for the day.

The students get their five minutes as well. Every morning one or more of them come out and act something out, gives a recital or performs a small play to give a bit of a laugh to the rest of them. In fact, lately – the play has a theme… a moral lesson of sorts. Then we all pray and the students head off to their classrooms.

The first real break is at 12:30 when it’s time for lunch. Every day we provide a warm meal for our students. And that is no small matter. Every day we need to feed these four hundred hungry mouths...

Education is the light at the end of the tunnel for our youth

They have to take lunch in turns in order to avoid crowding, and then, when the meal is over, once more we have squeals, laughter and noise. The students are happy to have a warm meal everyday because many of them get a warm meal at home just two to three times a week...

The menu usually consists of polenta, rice or sweet potatoes, always with beans and sauce with vegetables on the side. The lunch break lasts one hour, and while one group eats other groups rests, plays basketball etc.

Education is the light at the end of the tunnel for our youth

Then, after lunch, lessons resume until 16:30. But they don’t go home immediately after lessons are over! Each and everyday after classes the school is cleaned – floors are swept and washed, dust is removed, machines are maintained, windows are washed... That is the only way students can learn to take care of their school and to keep it in good condition so that the following day everything is clean and tidy.

And again... everything is done in groups. Not all four hundred students need to tidy up every day. Every day a different group does it, while the rest use the spare time to play basketball, sing in a choir or just hang out together. When the school watchman strikes the wheel at 1700 hours, the students are free to go to their homes.

Education is the light at the end of the tunnel for our youth

What sets our school apart from other schools is the fact that its entire curriculum, in addition to the theoretical knowledge they gain, is directed at preparing our students for real life. The main focus is on practical skills - on working with machines (for example, for future carpenters), and not just on theory alone.

We try to equip our students as much as possible so that, upon graduating, they are capable of finding employment in their trade and are able to make a better future for themselves. That’s why the best builders, electricians, carpenters, plumbers, welders and tailors come out of our school, and that’s why they are in high demand - not just in Rwanda but also in neighbouring countries!

Education is the light at the end of the tunnel for our youth

During the last few months I have had the opportunity to visit quite a number of vocational schools in Rwanda, and what surprised me was the fact that I did not see many machines or tools necessary for student training in any of those schools. And once more, we, on the other hand, emphasize practical work above everything else because that is the only way the students will leave our school well educated and completely trained craftspeople. And we are so fortunate to have good people like you, our donors, who have been helping us all these years to buy and procure all the necessary tools and machines.

During their practical lessons our students cut and sew our school uniforms; they make furniture; they construct buildings; they install electrical wiring... and they do it all by themselves with instructions from our teachers.

Moreover, the students that prove to be very capable and hardworking get the opportunity to become ‘teacher assistants,’ and later even teachers themselves. Additionally, the teachers from our school, if they are dedicated and hardworking, are often given the opportunity to go abroad to further their knowledge and gain more experience. Everything here is done exclusively with the intention of educating and motivating our youth.

In a country that is struggling with hunger, poverty and AIDS, education is the only way out – it is the light at the end of the tunnel for our youth.

Translated by Branimir Mlakić
Edited by Valerie Kae Ken

Father Vjeko Center

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