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Let's build a secondary school in the heart of Africa
Tuesday, 06 November 2007 Written by Maja Sajler Garmaz & Željko Garmaz

childrenOver and over again people and organizations have noted that small gifts, simple actions, a little effort can make a big difference in the life of others less advantaged or in the lives of those in need. One ripple in the pond can make all the water move. Much of the time, many of us are occupied by our own problems and immersed in the day to day living of our own lives. Now and again it is inspiring to meet, hear and read about those people who were able to go beyond themselves and dedicate their lives to others. One example of such a person is Father Vjeko Curic (Franciscan). He was born in the parish of Osova, in Zepce district in Bosnia and Hacegovina. He studied Theology and was ordained in Sarajevo in 1982, after which he decided to go to Africa. He was appointed to a small country in what is known as the Great Lakes Region of Central Africa, to Rwanda which has become widely known through the civil war and the genocide of 1994.

From the time of his arrival in Rwanda in 1983 until his death in 1998, Vjeko spent all of his missionary years in the parish of Kivumu which is about 40 kilometers from Kigali, the capital city. Kivumu parish was developed with his help. Together with the other Friars, Vjeko worked and lived with the people of Rwanda, in a simple Franciscan way. In a true Franciscan spirit there grew a strong bond of mutual appreciation between Vjeko and the people of Rwanda.

He stayed on during the war and even in the worst of the genocide he insisted on helping thousands of people to safety for which act he is known in many countries. The film “Shooting Dogs” which was produced by David Bolton, is based on Vjeko’s life during this time, where he is portrayed as African’s Oscar Schindler. Vjeko was killed in front of the Church in Kigali town on 31st of January 1998 at 41 years of age.

His dream to build a secondary school in Kivumu has not yet been fulfilled but the dream itself lives on in the other Friars of Kivumu and in Ivica Peric, a fellow Franciscan, a fellow Croation and a friend. Vjeko, like many others was firmly convinced that education is the biggest gift we can give to others. We share that belief. Vjeko had dreamt of building a secondary school in Kivumu, and had been given land by the Diocese of Kabgayi.After the war, many exiled Rwandans returned to their homeland and Vjeko gave them the land on which to grow food and build simple houses. Now as we approach the tenth anniversary of his death the dream includes buying more land and building that secondary school, the first of its kind in this parish. It is not easy to buy land in Rwanda, which is such a small overpopulated country and where land is more precious than gold.

That gold lies within our reach. The land on which the Friary was built was given to us by the village chief who died before the war. Now the relatives of that chief are desirous to sell off part of the remaining family land which is near the Friary. The Friars believe that this land would be an ideal place on which to build a secondary school and would like to acquire it for this purpose. It comprises18 hectares of good land where buildings can be constructed and food grown at least in the beginning years. We are hoping to inspire well wishers who would be interested in such a construction, to help with the funding. We need funding both for buying the land and for constructing the school.
In the parish of Kivumu, the Franciscan Friars have already carried out quite a lot of development. Three primary schools with more than 5000 pupils, one vocational school (CFJ Pere Vjeko) with tailoring, building and carpentry sections.

Presently this school is in the process of building classrooms for the primary schools, constructing water tanks and additional rooms for the parish. With good supervision this school will also build the secondary school and you can see what a great opportunity this is for everyone. For those involved in learning the building trade they have a marvelous challenge to build a “real” school, not just some practice walls as is done in many other schools. For us who want to have a secondary school it will cost much less when we use our own students than when we would use a construction company. This is an exciting element about life in Africa. Very often less skilled persons have better access to practice opportunities and can acquire skills on the job! The students actually see the building in a very personal way “Today the building is for our brothers and sisters, tomorrow it will be for our children and grandchildren”. They understand that education is the single most important tool for development, although because of being so inaccessible in the past, this is a growing concept and a growing ambition.

Very few Rwandans have gone to school and many parents did not value education in the past. The Friars actually worked and networked to invite children into schools until the “bug” for learning was caught. Now attitudes are fast changing. Fra Ivica Peric says how very gratifying it is “when work with the students appears to have been very successful, when students have assimilated the school programme, coming to school in time everyday and acting in a very responsible and responsive manner. Just as we influence the students, they in turn influence their parents, their families and even the wider society. Today young people have a strong desire for personal development and by that they include family and society.

The parish of Kivumu is very small; it is a bout 60 Km2 with a population of about 30, 000. Approximately 70% of the population is under the age of 25 years and we are firmly convinced that education is the only way they will be able to come out of oppression and dire poverty. Three primary schools in the parish have over 5000 students and this year about 500 to 600 pupils will complete this six year primary education. For many of them secondary school, which is also for six years is just a dream. Education in Rwanda is very expensive and very few people are able to afford it. Secondary education for once child for one year costs between 200-300 EURO. The majority of parents are peasant farmers earning less than the above amount in one year while trying to feed, clothe and look after many children. The majority of primary leavers do not continue to secondary school for this reason.

Often they simply stay at home with no real prospective for the future and no clear means of keeping hunger at bay. Some go to the city and hang around in the streets. Girls marry too young in order to escape from the home and of course the crime rate increases in both cities and villages when the youth are dissatisfied and have nothing to do. Those who stay at home and manage to get some little work on the farm are still both an inspiration to us and an invitation to us. They inspire us with their good happy spirits. They invite us by their very low life style to intervene and to try and become more equitable in our use of material wealth. They invite us by their belonging to our world to enter into a covenant with them as our brothers and sisters, as our children to give them an opportunity to get an education. If we can buy this land, build a school, offer an education to many young Rwandans with your help, then we shall be able to fullfil Vjeko’s dream.

Father Vjeko Center

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