The following is a letter from Br. Tony Droll. He updates us on the new auditorium at the school in Zambia as well as some big plans for the future. For more about Br. Tony's ministry in Zambia please click here.
You can learn more about the Conventual Franciscan Friars of the Province of the Franciscan Protomartyrs in Zambia by visiting their new website: http://www.ofmconvzm.org/
In the past 17 years, of my 52 Zambian years, my life has been largely consumed with the challenging and promising ministry of promoting education, the most imperative challenge for our disadvantaged youth. The school begun in 2000 grew from the initial stage of a Community Primary School for orphans to a High School for vulnerable students. It advanced to become a Secondary Technical School, with emphasis on carpentry and metalwork but mostly on Food and Agriculture.
In her 53 years of independence, Zambia has depended heavily on the sale of copper with less attention to agriculture. Few schools have the land, the teachers, or the capacity to do something about that. Now Government and the Ministry of Education realize how important agriculture is and are arranging teachers from the whole District for a seminar with St. Francis School fields and teachers. For our 750 students, who are coming from the nearby shanty compounds, academic and technical education is the greatest privilege they can imagine. Even with their best grades, they may not get a job nor have a chance for college, but they will leave the school with the skills of how to produce food.
2018 will see the school become even more unique. In the whole country there is no Secondary School which has what we have just constructed, thanks to very generous donors. The Catholic Minister of Education, with the principal donors from Washington DC, will celebrate with us the Mass, the Blessing and officially Open our newly built 2- story Lecture Auditorium. Its 10 decks for seating and projector on huge screen with built in audio, will serve our students with opportunity to experience audio-visual classes. The Minister will introduce our pilot project, which no other Zambian High School has – Philosophy for Youth.
In this country, as in others, the youth from affluent families are sent to Boarding Schools and other Private schools where they pay big fees. They naturally earn high marks and are offered opportunity for costly college or to secure the few jobs. For the disadvantaged students from poor families the opposite is often true. If they cannot pay school fees, some schools send them back to the streets. This past year only 36% of our students paid ‘something’ of our low fees, but we don’t send them home. Their chances for jobs are very slim and nearly impossible to find funds for College. The outcome is that the rich get richer and the poor poorer and the gap grows bigger. We strive to bridge the gap and offer our graduating students the Gospel values, unique advanced academic knowledge and the technical life skills of how to produce food.
I have shared about successes in the past but not about the challenges for the future. Yes, 64% of our village students could pay nothing of the $140 per year that the school asks and needs. The big auditorium is so perfectly constructed that it will need to serve more than for the students’ education. It is an Investment with more payback potential than any Bank. It will serve not only the students education but also for the many functions for which it will be rented. The profits will be able to meet the school budget and also be of support to our many seminarians in this young Franciscan Province.
The latest challenge is our desire to construct a Boarding School for Boys - perhaps for about 200 boys. We are already pouring over plans for dormitory, kitchen, dining room. There will be an instant demand of parents to enroll their boys. They will pay a greater price for the privilege of boarding. If there are 200 privileged boys, there will still be room for about 550 of the underprivileged students. All can share the educational benefits and be in competition for excellence.
Like our founder St. Francis and our Pope Francis, both whose ministry is founded on Jesus’s Gospel to the poor and oppressed, it gives me satisfaction reaching out to the Zambian youth who have little material wealth but great potential in intelligence and challenge.
BREAKING NEWS; We have just now received news that our 2017 students have scored highest grades in the District for the second year running.
With much gratitude and many blessings,