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Possibilities
Monday, 20 July 2015 Written by Anđelka Fitz

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It’s been five months since I replaced my school in Sveta Nedjelja with the school in Kivumu. Although I should have already gotten used to some things, I’m still failing to do so. I continually do something fra Ivica tells me I shouldn’t. And I constantly make comparisons, “in Africa it is like this, and in Croatia it is like that.” As a person whose father has multiple sclerosis and whose nephew was completely disabled, I’m well aware of the challenges people with disabilities face in Croatia, and I have to say that I’m always astonished by the way people treat people with disabilities elsewhere.

It’s not that the situation in Croatia is perfect, but we do treat people with disabilities with respect. In Croatia, there are a number of different associations to help them and employers are encouraged to provide jobs, which are suitable.

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These things do not exist here in Africa. It’s shameful; here sometimes they are even considered cursed, and families often hide them. In conversations with Franciscans from surrounding countries I find out that Rwanda is no exception. The same situation exists in other African countries as well.

Late fra Vjeko had a different approach and he was especially attracted to people who needed help. Fra Ivica continues this practice. We have several people with disabilities in our school. Some of our teachers, Joseph, Jean Paul, Dorothée and Alexis found their place here. It seems that even with their education, it would be difficult to get a job elsewhere.

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Joseph, head of tailoring section has been in our school for ages. He had polio and is walking with the aid of crutches. He has been on a training program in Uganda and he also had a chance to go to Canada for training. I must say that it makes me really happy when we have some celebration and he puts his crutches aside to dance with us. I sense that he is very much accepted by other teachers.

Jean Paul, or “Paulo” as we call him, is head of the carpentry section. Several years ago he was involved in a traffic accident. He was on a bike with his friend when a car hit them. His friend died and he had a major head injury in which he lost his ear.

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Dorothée is a computer science teacher. She started to work here last year. She limps. Some months ago I had discussion about it with Dr. Šarić, an anaesthesiologist from the children’s hospital in Zagreb. We were talking about the fact that you hardly ever see a person who limps in Croatia. Again, as you see, I’m making comparisons. All the babies in Croatia have their hips examined, and if there is a problem, it’s dealt with immediately. Here, of course, that’s not the case and people with this disability have to live with rejection.

Alexis came last. He’s a carpenter and he came two months ago. He has a growth on his lip and no other school would have him.

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That’s not all. When a container came from Canada a few years ago, it found its place on the school compound. One section of the container was designated for machine knitting done by three young people, all of whom have disabilities. The knitting machines were bought in Uganda with most of the money donated by a Catholic mission office in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Ruanda is a rural country. Most people eat only what they produce, which is not much. And those that cannot ‘dig,’ i.e. work the land, have even more financial problems, because most jobs are physical. But these three young people found their jobs at our school and in that way have secured a better life for themselves. After the knitting machines were bought, a teacher was brought in to teach them how to use them.

Grace, Beata and Jean Marie were instructed how to work the knitting machines. Grace came first. She is in a wheelchair and I must say that I greatly admire how she can get about on a mud road full of holes (no one here thinks about accessibility). Beata came after her. She lost a leg and is moving with help of a big wooden stick. Jean Marie came the last. He had spina bifida, and has worked here for the past two years. Their working space is ensured, but they have had to find the work for themselves. Most often they make sweaters to sell. Then fra Ivica got the idea for them to produce sweaters for our two schools, Padri Vjeko Vocational Training Centre and the Technical Secondary School. In the beginning, the school was paying for materials they needed and would then buy the finished sweaters. However, the situation is different now.

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The workers now buy the wool themselves from their own income, and the students buy the final products, which are now part of our school uniform. Since the number of our students has increased, they have a lot more work. With this large number of sweaters the knitters don’t have to worry about looking for other work, and it provides them with a steady income. This is very important here, and not only for people with disabilities.

Padri Vjeko project is very important for the surrounding community. Through such actions we are able to sensitize teachers and students who pass through our school. These actions also serve to encourage other people with disabilities not to give up. It’s very important that nothing be given to them as a handout, but instead they learn to earn their own money. We stick to the saying “If you give a person a fish, he eats for a day, but if you teach him how to fish, he eats for a lifetime.” They now have a chance, and it is up to them how to use it.

Edited by Valerie Kae Ken

 
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