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Blessing of the First Phase of St. Francis Technical Secondary School Construction
Thursday, 02 May 2013 Written by Maja i Željko Garmaz

Blessing of the First Phase of St. Francis Technical Secondary School ConstructionThat day has finally come! The blessing of the first building of the new Saint Francis Technical Secondary School has finally happened in the village of Kivumu in Rwanda, where our missionary, fra Ivica Perić, works.

In just one year we have managed to build a beautiful building with eleven classrooms, a number of toilets, and two big water tanks, into which rainwater will pour and be used for the needs of the school, because a water supply system in the village does not exist.

We have once more demonstrated that anything is possible when people join hands and show even just a little bit of goodwill. Each and every one of us must follow her or his dreams, because if there is a will to succeed, dreams will come true in various ways - just as God’s gifts are different.

So, on Sunday, on the day of the blessing of the completion of the first phase of the school, it was especially festive in Kivumu. We had guests from Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as all parts of Rwanda.

The celebration started with a Holy Mass led by Musengimana Papias, who was standing in for the Bishop of Kabgayi, and the church ‘rocked’ with the rhythm of African drums and tireless barefooted dancers. During his Homily, the Bishop’s deputy pointed out to the young, with whom the church was filled, that their education is the key to success and creating a better future equally for them and the entire country. He invited the inhabitants of Kivumu to join the blessing of the new school and the official ribbon-cutting ceremony, which took place after the Mass was over.

The school is spread over 800 square meters and has 11 classrooms, sanitary facilities and two large water tanks. Students from the carpentry department Father Vjeko Center produced a 100 school desks and 200 chairs.

Several hundred people responded to his call. The large schoolyard was too small to take in all those who were curious and eager to attend the school opening ceremony. Children’s yelling and laughter, traditional Rwandan dances, singing, and recitals echoed from the packed yard.

Our volunteers from overseas were largely in charge of much of the program; Petra organized an exhibition of paintings made by kids from Kivumu and Osijek presented details of the school, Katarina rehearsed with the choir, Emica documented everything with her camera, and Domagoj and Dejan served as technical support. We were also greatly assisted by don Sebastijan Marković, another missionary in Rwanda, who made sure that the whole opening ceremony was video-recorded. The goodness of the Croatian people, who helped us build this school with their donations, is depicted on classroom doors where coats of arms of towns Kiseljak, Ploče, Osijek, Zagreb, Orašje, and even Vienna are to be found.

“I am endlessly grateful to the Croatian people from all parts of the world, because they responded in large numbers to the fundraising action for the construction of the school. I would have never been able to do it all by myself. What these kids are getting – a chance for free education – is priceless. You see, working many years as a missionary, I realized – and tried to put it into action – that education is the only chance for survival and advancement for African children. These kids don’t need charity; they need to be taught to fight for their future for themselves. This school was the dream of our late brother fra Vjeko Ćurić. I wish he could be with us today, so that we could rejoice together in another dream come true,” fra Ivica Perić told us.

The realization of this dream started not even two years ago when we (Maja and Željko Garmaz) came to Kivumu for the third time to visit fra Ivica. We suggested to him that we write a book about his life and missionary work. For a month we made him tell us about his life and everything he had lived through during these 23 years that he has been living in Africa. We were a real nuisance, but of course, always in good humour, with a lot of joking. And then we went back to Osijek, Croatia. A few months later the book ‘Our Man in Africa’ (‘Naš čo’ek u Africi’) was finished, and we donated all income from its sales to the construction of the secondary school. In just four months, significant funds were raised and we were able to begin the construction. After that, it was all like a dream. The book started an avalanche of goodness! We even founded a charity organization called ‘Heart for Africa’ (‘Srce za Afriku’) and with the help of our families and friends, we continued fundraising for the construction of the school.

And here we are now, standing in the yard of the newly built first phase of the school and living our dream! This is such a special event, so our feelings are a bit mixed. Honestly, we never dreamed that it would all happen so fast. Only when we saw the happy faces of thousands of locals, who couldn’t hide their excitement with the whole project, did we know that we had done the right thing. In fact, we consider it a great victory that in this part of Rwanda no one calls us ‘muzungu’ anymore, and call us by our names instead. Now we can really shout: ‘We did it!’

Since the school year in Rwanda starts in January, despite the blessing, the school will not immediately start with regular classes, because that would be contrary to the Rwandan educational program. However, our new classrooms will not be empty. Until January next year, with the help of volunteers from Canada, we will organize English language courses for all the children from the village in those classrooms. You see, several years ago, as a result of a political decision, Rwanda severed all ties with France, and declared the official language from then on to be English. Now everyone in the entire country needs to learn the language as soon as possible.

But... we are by no means finished! In fact, we’re just beginning. Before us lies the next phase of this project: the construction of yet another school building, 900 square meters in size, including a large school library. When it’s all done, the school will be able to take in one thousand students!

For the children of Kivumu this school will be a potential way out of poverty… Many of them are exceptionally bright, intelligent and talented, but unfortunately they never had the opportunity to go to school. One year in a secondary school in Rwanda costs 300 euros (about $400). Their parents, who never had the chance to go to school, cannot afford it. Many of them go to work, digging for an entire day and earn just one dollar. For Kivumu children - going to school, has been, up to now, an unattainable dream. We will try to change that!

Translated by Branimir Mlakić
Edited by Valerie Kae Ken

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