Jesuit schools African immersion programmes

June 14, 2017 in News, Newsletter

Students from Clongowes Wood College SJ have recently come back from a Lesotho Immersion Programme, while Belvedere College SJ students are engaging in a Zambia Immersion Programme right now.

Group leader of the Clongowes group, Mr Garry Corcoran, reports on the Lesotho experience.

On April 1st, 25 pilgrims [20 students, 4 staff and 1 GAP student] from Clongowes Wood College set out on this year’s African Immersion Experience to Malealea, Lesotho [Southern Africa]. Having had a hiatus for the past three years, the return of the trip was widely anticipated by all travelling – both staff and students alike.

Keen to get stuck into their development work, the boys rose early on Tuesday morning and set off for the community centre, where the instillation of a playground was a priority. It was clear from the beginning that this group of young men was determined and work that was expected to take a number of days was completed in the first, a fine tribute to the tireless work ethic and attitude that was evident in the boys throughout. The playground was concluded on Tuesday evening, much to the joy of the children from the local primary school who inquisitively approached their visitors and their new play area.

The pilgrims enjoyed games with the children of the Malealea secondary school and were paired with a ‘buddy’ for the afternoon. Many began to realise the privilege that education in Ireland is from talking with the schoolchildren. They had aspirations to be nurses and teachers but the drop out rate among secondary school pupils is very high. The boys presented gifts to the facilitator of the library and teacher in the local secondary school, Ms Marian Drew, including books for primary school children, pens and pencils, which were received with rapturous joy by the schoolchildren.

Homestay visits in particular stood out for many of the boys as a highlight of the trip during our reflection periods and this again is testament not only to them but to the local people of Malealea, who warmly welcomed us into their homes and lives without hesitation. The annual football game between the natives and the European visitors was an entertaining affair but a stalemate in normal time produced a tension packed penalty shootout where the local team won out.

The Jesuit philosophy of finding God in all things was a strong element of the trip, not least when we joined the local congregation of St. Thomas’ parish on Palm Sunday. The Mass lasted some three hours, putting even the most spectacular of celebrations under Mr Murphy’s conduction in Clongowes to shame, as the warm welcome of the Basotho was palpable during the celebration. Fr. Sheil, as celebrant, and GAP student Andrew Cheok as a minster of the Eucharist, represented Clongowes on the altar, fondly earning him the name of ‘Brother Cheok’ for the remainder of our stay! The service concluded with our rendition of the Clongowes anthem while in Lesotho ‘It’s you that builds community’ appeared to go down a treat with the parishioners of St. Thomas.

Although our trip lasted merely ten days, it is clear from the boys’ reflections, expertly facilitated every evening by Fr. Sheil in the lodge, that their encounters with the people of Lesotho broadened their perspective of our world, and most importantly, their role in it.

Belvedere’s Padraig Swan, Director of Faith and Service programmes, reports on the Zambia Immersion experience.

On Saturday 3rd June 2017, 20 students and 4 teachers left Belvedere College SJ to begin a new chapter in Service Programmes for the College. To compliment the many other service activities in the College, and especially to offer another overseas programme, the group went to a Jesuit Mission in Chikuni, Zambia [Southern Africa].

The Belvedere Immersion Programme has been designed with 2 primary aims: 1) to support the education programmes in Chikuni, especially one aspect of these – the Taonga Radio schools programme [where a school education curriculum is broadcasted for a number of hours each day to rural areas], and 2) to give the Belvedere students a total immersion into a new culture that challenges them and opens them up to sharing their gifts and talents, and importantly, to learn from the local community. At a simple level, it is a programme of sharing our common human story and learning from one another.

The Belvedere students underwent a year long preparation course learning about development education, and how and why there are inequalities in our world. They were invited to engage with these questions and to consider how they can respond in their own unique way. In addition to this learning about global education, the students each fundraised €4,000 to make the programme happen.

In Zambia, the day to day activity is a combination of teaching in classrooms of very rural schools and combining that with a mixture of fun and games. Our students prepare lessons in English and Maths to help engage with the local children, and they play games during break from classes. The whole idea has been to create as much interaction between both groups to break open our individual stories and learn from one another.

The Belvedere College Immersion Programme has been asked to support a number of initiatives which we are privileged to engage with. These are the continuation of the school building programme, the provision of school supplies, and installing solar panels to provide electric lighting for evening study. Each school has community mentors who teach the classes. Belvedere have also been asked to help support the training of these mentors.

One of the wonderful aspects of life in Zambia is how beautiful the environment and scenery is and the local community are deeply conscious of their relationship with nature. In addition to academic learning in the classroom, each radio school also has an Agro Forestry programme where children learn about growing food and how to care for the environment. Most of the schools also offer a feeding programme where children are guaranteed a meal during their school day.

The Inaugural Belvedere Zambia Immersion Programme takes place from June 3rd to 20th 2017.  There are 2 groups travelling in June 2018, so the sustainability of this programme is hoped to continue long into the future.