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Education, education, and only education – there is no other way
Sunday, 23 February 2014 Written by fra Ivica Perić

Education, education, and only education – there is no other wayDon’t give people fish. Teach them to fish instead! - This is the proverb I keep repeating to myself and to all those who come to Africa. People often mistakenly think that they can change the world overnight. I’ve been living in Africa for 24 years, and only now am I starting to see the real results of my work: the success of young people who were out on the streets when they were just young children. When we put books in their hands, made them to go to school, tutored them and encouraged them, they succeeded.

Of course, results of others’ work has also been visible for some time now: in numerous villages in Uganda and Rwanda, churches have been built, also dispensaries, schools, water tanks and all sorts of other buildings. However, it is immensely satisfying when you see that the children who have been encouraged to study and go to school are now successful young people with enviable careers. That is why at the end of every year I enjoy going to Uganda, to the little village of Rushooka, where I spent around ten years of my missionary life, just before I came to Rwanda.

At the end of each year, young people now in their thirties, gather in that village. These people have finished school and got the education that we offered to them. They now honour me as a kind of second father, and they invite me as a guest to their annual gathering. Although I don’t enjoyed being singled out – because we all do things from our hearts – I am always happy to attend this gathering. Their success gives me the incentive to keep “pushing” new generations to go to school, to make them study harder, for that is their only real way out of poverty.

At the gathering, which took place few days before the start of the New Year, around thirty of my former protégées showed up. Unfortunately, many others were unable to attend because they had graduated from universities and were now pursuing their careers, so coming to Rushooka wasn’t easy for them. I was extremely happy and proud when I saw all those young people gathered in one place. Each and every one of them is now a successful person, with families of their own, living a life worthy of a human being. They have all those things that they couldn’t even dream of when they were very young. Now some of them are primary and secondary school teachers, while others successfully run their own private businesses.

All in all, we are talking about kids who didn’t have parents and lived with a relative, or didn’t have a father and lived with their mothers. All of them had one thing in common: they were extremely poor, hungry and without a goal in life. When I came to Rushooka and realized how many such children there were, I knew what I wanted to do for my life as a missionary. Today I see that I wasn’t wrong!

Alright... they admit to me that I had often annoyed them because I made them study, that they often tried to avoid or run away from me - that tiresome white man who made them sit and study while other kids were playing outside, carefree. But somewhere deep inside, I guess they knew that only through hard work and determination could they can make it in life. And that’s why they didn’t give up.

Of course, I used a “trick”... every success, every good mark, and every good behaviour was rewarded! Even what are small things to us, could motivate them. But they never got anything from me if they hadn’t deserved it. To be precise, only good marks and exceptional effort earned them a new piece of clothing, or a new pencil, a book or a candy... This was the way I could teach them that nothing will fall from the sky all by itself for them and that they had to work hard for things themselves. And at the same time, those who were a bit behind were encouraged to be more persistent and work harder in order to earn prizes also. Today, in Rwanda, I still use the same “trick” where we are currently educating 370 young people. And it still works!

Among the “first generation” of my schoolchildren who have become successful, is Joseline, who is now in her thirties and whom I consider to be like a daughter. She was the most determined of them all – a real fighter. She had lost both her parents when she was in the 4th grade at primary school. Her relatives tried to take everything away from her and her siblings. She fought to survive the best she knew. She couldn’t even afford to pay her tuition fees, so she went to the school illegally, just to keep pace with her peers.

When I found out about her, I took special interest in her. Joseline finished primary and secondary school, and then went on to university, all with exceptional marks. When I introduced her to table tennis, she became the Ugandan champion in the sport and even represented her country at the World University Games in Bangkok. Today she is a successful young woman, living in Prague with her husband, who is a musician, and they have three beautiful children.

With a big smile on my face I returned from Uganda to Rwanda, where I continue my work as a missionary in a village called Kivumu. That early experience has proven to me beyond a doubt that educating the youth is the only true way out of poverty and hunger.

Translated by Branimir Mlakić
Edited by Valerie Kae Ken

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