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Poverty can be overcome by education!
Monday, 23 March 2009 Written by Maja Sajler Garmaz

poverty can be overcome by educationHumanitarian activities the world over show us on a daily basis that people, regardless of how much they have, need to give only a little to show a spirit of humanity and to help others. To give up only a small portion of what we have is not so difficult, and to those in trouble and those burdened by poverty even a very little means very much.

Despite the fact that we all have a degree of humanity in us, not many would be prepared to give up their normal life and unselfishly devote their entire existence to serving others. It is precisely this road that the late Friar Vjeko Ćurić, born in the parish of Osova in Bosnia & Herzegovina, took when, after graduating Theology in Sarajevo, he decided his life’s mission was to go to Africa.

His destination was Rwanda, a small country in Africa, today known in the world because of the bloody war which broke out in 1994 between the Hutu and Tutsi tribes.

Friar Vjeko arrived to Rwanda in 1983, where he spent fifteen years in the parish of Kivumu, which he helped establish some sixty kilometres from the capital Kigali.

Together with a few other Franciscans, he worked and lived with the Rwandan people in their simple manner, in the spirit of St. Francis, which resulted in great mutual devotion.

During the entire time of the horrible Rwandan war in which approximately a million people were killed, Friar Vjeko remained in Kivumu where he saved thousands and thousands of men, women and children from certain death. Because of his devotion to the Rwandan people, his name is known in the entire country and the film 'Shooting dogs' is inspired by his life and work. The producer, David Belton, characterised Friar Vjeko as the African Oscar Schindler. Unfortunately, on 31st January, 1998 he was killed at 41 years of age in front of the church of The Holy Family in Kigali, and the murderer still has not been found nor brought to justice. At the place of Friar Vjeko’s death a monument was erected, and he was buried in the church which he built in Kivumu.

Although he devoted his entire life to helping others, Friar Vjeko’s biggest dream, the construction of a high school for the children from Kivumu parish, remained unfulfilled. His successors in Kivumu, four Franciscans lead by Friar Ivica Perić, a priest from Čubren, Bosnia & Herzegovina, are trying to fulfil his dream at present.

“In the beginning, the Brothers tried to help these poor people in various ways. However, they soon realised that education is the best form of help for developing a society and ending the circle of poverty. Friar Vjeko’s dream was to build a high school, and just before the war he was given land from the diocese. However, after the genocide, many Rwandans were living as refugees and had nowhere to return to, so Friar Vjeko divided that land among them”, emphasises our Rwandan host Friar Ivica Perić, who has been serving the parishioners in Kivumu for the past six years.

After years of waiting, today the Franciscans from Kivumu have an opportunity to buy property near their friary, which is a rarity since the country is overpopulated and available land is scarce. The land that the Franciscans are hoping to purchase in Kivumu was owned by the village Chief. Recently he passed away, and the eighteen hectares of nearby property which belonged to him are now on sale.

This story, partly inspired by the memory of Friar Vjeko and also by the work of Friar Ivica and other Franciscans in Kivuma, will hopefully touch the humanitarian hearts in enough people to help raise funds for buying the property and materials needed for constructing the High School.

The construction itself will not be a problem. The Franciscans in Kivumu have not sat idly these past years. They helped build three primary schools, and they also constructed a vocational/technical school where students who cannot afford high school education can get skilled training in one of three offered trades free of charge – Carpentry, Masonry (Brick Construction) and Tailoring.

“Educated carpenters, skilled in framing and in furniture making and skilled masons, who have learned how to manufacture both bricks and tiles on their own, are ready to help construct the school. They have realised that whatever they do, is for the good of themselves and their community. Today they tell us – This school will benefit our brothers and sisters, and in the future it will benefit our children and grandchildren. And just a few years ago they did not understand the importance of education and it seemed like a waste of time to them”, says Friar Ivica.

This change in thinking is the product of many years of relentless work of the Franciscans, who managed to convince the community that education is the key to development. In the beginning it was very difficult. The Rwandan children, and even their parents, could not understand that they had to be somewhere on time, and it was even harder to accept that they could not go in and out of classroom during classes and that they had to listen to their teachers until the lesson is finished.

The road to changing these attitudes was a long and difficult one. To this end, the Franciscans had an idea how to attract children to school. Since most inhabitants of Kivumu are farmers and the parish is overpopulated, with fields so small that they are not enough to feed numerous family members, the Franciscans acknowledged the horrible fact that most inhabitants, among which are the children, do not have a daily meal and eat only two to three times a week. Therefore they attracted the children to school with a warm meal that is prepared every day for all students. And the lessons delivered in school taught them the importance of education.

“It is a nice feeling when we see that we have succeeded to implant in our students a sense of responsibility, a readiness to follow the school program and a daily commitment to come to school at the correct time. This even influences their parents and the society is developing slowly, but surely. Today, young people have a strong desire for their personal development, for the future development of the school, and for community development involving their families and the environment”, claims our host.

The parish of Kivumu is very small. It is located on approximately 60 square kilometres, with 30,000 inhabitants. By comparison, in Slavonia, Croatia, 2,500 people live on an area of the same size. This is the reason why Rwandan people face constant hunger, although they have a perfect climate with two springs and two summers a year, which enables two harvests a year. There are simply too many people and too little land.

About 70% of the inhabitants in the parish in Kivumu are younger than 25 years of age, and education is their only way out of poverty.

Three primary schools in the parish have 5,000 students and each year 500 to 600 students finish primary school education which lasts six years. For most of them, high school, which takes another six years, is an unachievable dream since high school education is not free of charge and most Rwandans cannot afford it.

One year in high school costs 200 to 300 EUROS.  Compare this to the salary of a day-labourer - which is what most older inhabitants of the parish in Kivuma work at since they did not have the opportunity of education.  One day’s work earns 0.7 EUROS  – this for an entire day of labour in the field!

Since their parents cannot pay for further education, each year these 500 to 600 primary school children from Kivumu parish, having graduated at the approximate age of 13, are forced to stay at home – hungry, with only basic education, and without work or any future prospects. This, unfortunately, results in a high percentage of crime, since many are forced to steal to survive.

Despite their poverty, these are wonderful people - full of life, people who could teach many of us the significance of life, because, even with all of life’s hardships, they continue to be happy and smiling.

The children of Kivumu are not asking for pity, but only for the right to be educated, the right to acquire knowledge and have future prospects. The goal of the Franciscans is to build a high school which would be free of charge for all the children of the area. This is something we can all help with. All of us, just by giving up some small thing in our lives, can help these children by fulfilling Friar Vjeko’s dream of a high school in Kivumu.

Translated by: Bitno.HR
Revised by: V.K.Ken

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