Maban, 27 July 2017 - On July 3 over 400 students sat outside under a high tin roof, row after row of young men and women with their legs stretching out from their brightly colored plastic chairs. This event was remarkable not because of the number of students, and not because of the patience they showed in the heat. It was remarkable, first, because this was a graduation ceremony – their graduation ceremony, in fact. And, second, because these students sitting side by side were homogeneous neither in their religions nor in their ethnicities. In some places this would not be something to remark upon, but in Maban County, South Sudan – in the middle of the tribal, state and religious wars that are wracking this area of Africa – this is indeed something worth remarking upon.
Here is the speech given by Fr. Pau Vidal, SJ, director of the Jesuit Refugee Service project that runs the Arrupe Learning Center, the school from which these 400 students were graduating.
Thank you all for coming and congratulations to all of the graduates who are receiving certificates today. I have three things that I would like to say to you all this afternoon.
First, in August of 2015, when we came here to what is now the Arrupe Learning Center these buildings were full not only of soldiers, but of goats, and cows, and many other things as well. Needless to say, the place was looking very sorrowful. But because the authorities of Maban County, many of whom are here today, have allowed us to use this space we have been able to create a center that is not only beautiful, but which benefits the whole community. That is the first thing I would like to say.
Number two: great thanks also goes out to all of the people who have made generous contributions to make possible the education all of you here at ALC have received. Many of these contributions come from very far away indeed. You all know very well that JRS is a part of the Catholic Church. These courses that we have been offering for close to two years now would not have been possible without the generous contributions of so many people, mostly church people, in Europe and in the States. These are people who believe that your future is worth investing in. So we give thanks for them – shall we clap for them?
And, thirdly, we all have heard several times now that education is very important. However, I have to tell you something surprising. It is this: education is not only a good thing – in fact, it is a double-edged sword. What I mean is that education can be used for good or it can be used for evil. We know that there are far too many people who have M.A.s and Ph.D.s who, instead of helping, use their knowledge to inflict pain on others. Sometimes even to kill other people. We know this all too well after the violence that has erupted here in December and again in May.
This is why education cannot only be about knowledge. Here at JRS we believe that education is about changing our hearts – about opening our minds, our hearts, and our souls to the other. And language, like the English courses so many of you have taken, is a beautiful opportunity to open our horizon much wider – to open ourselves so that we can meet with many other people, and we can discover the richness that the other person is offering to me. So, yes to education, but an education that changes our hearts and our lives for the better, so that we can change our communities.
Now, we have beautiful certificates prepared for you that we are going to give you after the speeches of the authorities. You have seen many of these at past graduations, but today we have a new level of certificate that we are going to award to a few of our very best English students: Intermediate Plus.
While we are very excited to recognize this new level of achievement, we also hope that soon we will be awarding Advanced certificates, and that this can growth can continue until we are awarding university certificates here in Maban. Would you all like that?
I would like to close by saying one last very important thing, and I say this not only to you who are graduating today, but also to all the honored guests and authorities gathered here. Despite the violence that occurred between the host community and the refugee community last December and again in May, despite this violence, through it all, these different communities have managed to come together here at the ALC and study together. We cannot forget this, or allow it to go unnoticed even in the reality of violence – here at ALC refugees and internally displaced persons and members of the host community, people from different tribes and of different religions, have been coming together here, meeting together here, learning together here in this facility. For us at JRS this reality of coexistence and understanding even in the midst of violence is a testimony to the kind of peace that is possible even now, even despite the challenges that we face.
So, students, it is not only the knowledge you have accumulated that we celebrate today. It is also the fact that you have done it side by side with one another, opening your hearts to one another as you have learned. We celebrate not just the knowledge you have in your minds, but the knowledge you have in your hearts.
With that I again say: thank you to all of our honored guests.
And to our students: Congratulations! We are very proud of you! Mahbrook!