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My Experience in the Padri Vjeko Center
Monday, 15 July 2013 Written by Immaculée Iyambaje

My Experience in the Padri Vjeko CenterI started working in the Padri Vjeko Center in the village of Kivumu in 1999 as a French language teacher. At first I worked only part-time, with three other instructors working full-time, teaching the practical lessons in three courses in the school – carpentry, tailoring and building – and the first generation of students had only 42 students.

In the beginning, the situation in the school wasn’t easy at all. We didn’t have enough equipment, we didn’t have books or a library, we had to design the curriculum by ourselves, and even we didn’t have books to learn from...

In order to get all the necessary materials for the preparation of my classes I regularly paid a visit to the nearby primary school and borrowed textbooks that could help me to devise a curriculum.

I didn’t want to give in, because I had a strong desire to help the youth from my parish. I rarely saw other Padri Vjeko Center teachers because we had classes at the same time, so we were never able to find enough time to sit down and try to find a model together in order to improve some things in the school curriculum. We were all pretty inexperienced and we kept making those beginner’s mistakes... The beginnings really weren’t easy!

In the beginning the school didn’t provide a meal for the teachers. The meals were solely intended for the students. We had to bring our lunch to school from our homes. If we didn’t have anything to eat at home, we would end up being hungry.

When the second generation of students was admitted to the school, a decision was made to enroll the next generation in two years, after this group had finished its education. At the same time, warm meals were discontinued for the students as well, which had a profoundly negative effect – many students left the school. You see, most of our students were poor, and those warm meals were the main reason for coming to the school. As the school ceased to offer meals, they ceased to come to school because they had to go to work in order to earn some money that would buy them at least some kind of a meal.

However, then the year 2003 happened, which was a real turning point for both our school and our whole village! Fra Ivica Perić arrived in Kivumu and was named the headmaster of the Padri Vjeko Center. To be honest, first we didn’t believe that he would be able to make a difference. But he proved us otherwise very soon! He showed to us that great things could be done even with modest means. You only need to have good ideas and ask for advice if you run into problems.

Fra Ivica gathered us all up – teachers, friars and nuns – to see together what should be done and how in order to make things better. At first, most of us thought of it as a waste of time... However, with time, fra Ivica taught us that the most important thing was to work together, to be a team, and that it was not a shame when you didn’t know something and that you could always ask other people from the team for advice. It is much better than to think that you know everything the best and go on working on your own. And repeat the mistakes.

Immaculée IyambajeAt that time I was elected as the school’s secretary, but I also continued working as a French language and Maths teacher. It wasn’t easy, believe me!

Especially when the headmaster would walk across the schoolyard and notice a single discarded nail. He would call me and tell me we shouldn’t behave like that, that we shouldn’t throw away things that could be used. Of course, I thought he was exaggerating. Complaining to me about a single nail. And then I realized how important it really was to take good care of all the things we had in the school. It’s not easy to get those things - all of them were donated to us, and each and every thing, even the smallest one, should be very valuable to us!

For me it was especially hard to get used to working in the office. And also to having strict working hours. For example, one Sunday we had a party at which we stayed late into the night. Monday morning I didn't feel like going to work. So I didn't go. Fra Ivica phoned me and asked where I was and why I hadn't come to work. Back then I thought it was normal not to show up... Now when I think of it, I feel so embarrassed...

All this shows how patient fra Ivica needed to be with us. He had to teach us many things from scratch... But he had patience and so far we have managed to achieve many, many things together! Some of our first-generation students who excelled in their trades were invited to come to work in the school as practical lessons' teachers. I was truly proud of them! It was amazing to see our former students becoming teachers! With the help of good people, fra Ivica sent them to Uganda and Canada so that they could further their education and be able to transfer their knowledge and skills to the students more effectively.

Little by little, people from around the world started to help us. We got new sewing machines, books, tools... Fra Ivica immediately brought back warm meals for all students. And not only for them. But also for us – the teachers! After that, in just several years, the number of students increased greatly. In just one year we issued more diplomas than we had in six previous years. Today the children receive training in six different trades, and the school has around 370 students! Students come to us from all parts of the country, and before the school was just for students from Kivumu.

Our students have also greatly helped the construction of the new St Francis Technical Secondary School. They made all the furniture for the new school, they built the water tanks, tidied up the surroundings... The prior knowledge of the students who enroll in our vocational school is rather diverse. Some of them have finished primary school, some of them still don't know how to read and write... Some of them are exceptionally talented in singing and dancing, some in writing, some in sports... All of them are given an equal opportunity!

Now, all of the teachers in the school, together with the headmaster, are like a one big family. Even during the holidays we want to spend a part of our day together in the school. We're all like brothers and sisters, but we're also very serious about what we do, because we are certain that quality comes from hard work, which is also our motto. Even some of the volunteers after going back to their homes tell us that they really miss our school...

Ever since fra Ivica came in 2003 a lot of things have really changed. We even started to travel. Fra Ivica has many acquaintances and good people from all over the world help us to travel to their countries during the school break in order to learn new things in their schools.

I remember when I first went out of Kivumu. Fra Ivica took me and another teacher to Uganda to see how things function in a school there. We slept in a monastery. That's when I saw a shower for the first time, and even the toilet was different from what we had...

There are many stories I could tell about our life in the school. We experienced and learned a lot over the past several years. All that wouldn't be possible without the help of our headmaster fra Ivica and the volunteers, and their hard work and dedication. I have learned that everything is possible, especially if one has made a decision and knows what he wants in life. Many things have changed for the better. During the last several years all schools have been graded on the national level. Our Padri Vjeko Center has always been the first in quality in the South Province!

Even more, last week, on the parliament's radio, in a broadcast in which a committee in charge of education was submitting a report about all the vocational schools in the country, our school got the most praises! I am proud of that, because it shows how much we have done. And I... I graduated in 2008 from university, and in the meantime I have also opened a small shop in my Kivumu. But I continue to work as the school secretary and I would never trade that job for anything.

Translated by Branimir Mlakić
Edited by Valerie Kae Ken

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