Masisi, 25 May 2017- For Saint Ignatius, education was the gateway to the path that leads to God, but crossing the threshold of this gateway is far from easy in today’s world. In the Jesuit tradition, we have gained extensive experience over the centuries, experience which tells us that human beings reach their full potential only when their intellectual development is fully stimulated. It is for this reason that we, the agents of JRS, value the education of all young people throughout the world, not only as a gift for helping a person to blossom, but as a fundamental right. Personally, as a Jesuit undergoing training, this is a challenge at the very core of my vocation.
In our work as a team in Masisi, in the Democratic Republic of Congo there are many obstacles that hinder our mandate to facilitate access to education. The population has been torn apart by the war and is now geographically dispersed over a vast area without access to any well-equipped schools and with very few highly-trained teachers. Our mission in Masisi is to support children who have been displaced by war and who are at the margin of Congolese society. What I have discovered is that I am not the one who is bringing God to those at the margins; rather, God is already there, waiting to be encountered, and at work in hidden ways.
Despite the enormous challenges, in recent months we have been continuing with various activities aimed at narrowing the gap between the reality on the ground and our goal of enabling access to education for all.
Our efforts include the distribution of office supply kits to nearly 100 schools in the territory, as well as continuing our seminars to prepare students for the state exam. This seminar takes place in five centres, and has been acclaimed as one of JRS's most important activities in the area, largely because the success rate of our finalists has soared since the seminars were introduced.
JRS pays the full cost of the state exam for all finalists, and covers 50% of the school fees for the most vulnerable students. Soon we will start training teachers in various subjects to be able to offer optional courses.
The challenges remain significant and our mandate is limited to displaced students. since the beginning of my work in Masisi in September, I have been confronted by daily needs that go beyond JRS’s means and mandate. It is not only displaced persons who have suffered from the effects of war and the insecurity that persists in the region, but also the local community. At the moment, JRS finds itself rather isolated in supporting secondary education in Masisi.
Nevertheless, we continue with our work, confident in the words of Saint Paul to the Corinthians: "Stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain”. (1 Corinthians 15:58)
Adam Lalonde SJ, Education Coordinator, JRS-Masisi