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Left an easy life behind and went to help in Africa
Saturday, 19 October 2013 Written by Ivana Domitrović

Domagoj SkledarIn the somewhat mystical (for Europeans) village of Kivumu in Rwanda, schools are being built with generous donations from Croatia.

The village of Kivumu has 35,000 inhabitants for whom education can hardly be a priority given the lack of money. That is the very reason why Padri Vjeko Center, having been active in that area for years, has been collecting donations, in order to build schools and co-finance secondary school students.

'“Here in Kivumu Parish, the first vocational school was opened with the help of the Franciscans in 1999, and ever since has trained local youth in various trades - like woodworking, tailoring, carpentry and electricity. There are currently around 380 students of all ages enrolled in the school,” Domagoj Skledar, who has been staying there since January this year, tells us for

The Parish of Kivumu in Rwanda is of tremendous significance to Croatian missionaries throughout the world, but especially to the people of Rwanda, because fra Vjeko Ćurić, a Croatian Franciscan from Bosnia and Herzegovina who was murdered in Kigali – in still unsolved circumstances - several years after the war had ended, used to live and work here. During the genocide that took place in this suffering country, he helped everyone and saved several thousands of innocent lives.

The students who attend the vocational school pay 10 percent of costs, with remainder financed by the Franciscans from Germany. The cost of one year of secondary schooling in Rwanda is 300 euros ($406) per year on average, and secondary education lasts for three years. Although it might not seem much to those of us in western society, it is important to note that this amount represents a real fortune to the local population. “For example, a manual labourer who works for 10 hours a day (5 days a week) earns just a little more than 200 euros per year,” Domagoj tells us.

The advantages of receiving an education in such schools are many. “You need to know that this is the only school in the entire surrounding area that has basic training means, such as sewing machines for tailors, or welding machines for welders. It is odd to realize that welding teachers in similar schools in Rwanda have never even seen a welding machine. Another thing that sets this school apart from all the others of its kind is nutrition - students get a meal every day; when you realize that local people often eat just three times a week, it is only then that you can understand how important this is for the education of the children. Let's not forget that all that a hungry child thinks about is food,” Domagoj points out.

Their goal has not been to build just one school, the vocational centre. They also got down to business and began to build another, even bigger one – a Secondary School! “The new secondary school in Kivumu, of which the first phase with eleven classrooms and accompanying facilities has recently been completed (the second phase, with 7 additional classrooms, offices, a meeting room, a library and a reading room, is currently in the fundraising stage) will be able to take in a total of around 1,000 students, with 400 students in the first year of education, starting in January 2014,” Domagoj told us.

“Currently, there are a lot of projects, and funding has been the biggest challenge, as it is everywhere. But if I had to pick out some of those projects, then I prefer to talk about the ones that encouraged me to change some of my views and attitudes - projects like the construction of houses for the local poor, or the education of local kids in various institutions throughout Rwanda… something that was unthinkable before the arrival of the Franciscans. All thanks, especially, to the tenaciousness of Croats working in this country and who have shown their big hearts and dedication,” Domagoj tells us.

He left an easy life behind and went to Africa

“What we Croats around the world can be proud of is the fact that here of all places - in the very heart of Africa, in Rwanda, the land of the biggest genocide of the second half of the last century which bled at the same time as Croatia did - there is a school built by donations from Croatia at a time when it isn't going well for us either; and that makes me feel very proud inside.”

And what caused him to live so far away from his homeland? “I stayed here in Rwanda for the first time in 2009 for several weeks and so I had a rough idea about what was waiting for me this time. When I left Croatia in late January this year, I left behind a successful firm which I had managed together with a colleague; a very successful food brand which we had produced, among other things. I left behind an easy life and a lot of things I knew I would not be able to find or have here, and so my expectations weren't that great. One of the things that guided me was the sentence that fra Ivica often repeats: Coming to Africa should not be planned, but done with the heart. Most people come here with big plans, and very soon they go back to where they had come from, disappointed”.

What helped me the most during my stay in Africa was knowing from the very start that I had come here primarily to help myself to be a better man- better from what I feared I was starting to become in Croatia. And for that I have to be grateful - both to the Franciscans and the local people for accepting me like one of their own - and so I didn't succumb to an imaginary illusion of some kind of personal greatness that is very often to be seen in Africa. Now, eight months later, I am able to say that I am proud that I have learned certain things. For example, the sign language which enabled me to talk to the lovely librarian Betty in Uganda… And I am proud that I had the opportunity to meet special people here, especially our Croats, like fra Ivica Perić in Rwanda, fra Miro Babić in Kenya (who has also done wonders for the children of his parish), and the Croatian nuns in Congo.

Everyone has a cell phone

“If you ask me, one of the strangest things are the numbers of cell phones – Here in Africa everyone has a cell phone – many of them don't even have electricity or water, but everyone has to have a cell phone! In Uganda, I recently paid a visit to a local elder in a remote village (a lady of 80 years of age) and, besides her daily duty of sitting under the shade of a tree, giving out advice regarding the development of her village, the lady was, the entire time, very successfully using a cell phone that hung around her neck,” Domagoj told us.

Translated by Branimir Mlakić
Edited by Valerie Kae Ken

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