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Jesuits educating the margins: cultivating dreams in Malawi

By Fr Peter Henriot SJ, LJSS

“One of the best ways to serve the present is to give hope for the future. Loyola Jesuit Secondary School will effectively serve the needs of the present youth who are the future hope of Malawi.” These are words from the former Superior General Adolfo Nicolas SJ, come to mind when I reflect on the journey and the mission of the Loyola Jesuit Secondary School (LJSS) in Malawi.

My name is Peter Henriot SJ, and I’m a Jesuit. I came to Africa in 1989 and joined the Zambia Malawi Province (ZAM). I began my mission at the Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection (JCTR) in Zambia, then moved to Malawi at the Loyola Jesuit Secondary School to serve as Director of Development in 2011. I have actively engaged in social justice and peace initiatives, having worked with young Africans in Zambia and Malawi; Jesuits and non-Jesuits.

Malawi is a small open economy in Sub-Saharan Africa, according to the International Monetary Fund, it's per capita GNI IN 2016 was just US$320, one of the lowest in the world. Malawi remains an outlier even compared to its peers that are geographically and demographically similar and were at a similar stage of development in 1995. Most primary schools in Malawi are very basic, lacking the most fundamental resources, including textbooks and basic teaching materials. The percentage of females and males aged 25+ years that have some secondary education is 39.2% and 58.2% respectively. These are among the worst education statistics of sub-Saharan Africa. In addition, Malawi’s population is young – nearly 48% of the population is under 14 years of age which places enormous pressure on social services, and particularly on the education services.1

 

Daring to dream


The Zambia-Malawi Province had been thinking of developing an educational apostolate in Malawi for some time, and when some people heard of this possibility, they imagined an all boy’s private school located in the heart of the capital, just for the well off. However, when the process of discernment was put forward, the fruits of the process was a co-educational and all-boarders school, with four Forms (Frosh, Soph, Junior, and Senior). It is located in a marginalized and poor locale in a rural town in Malawi (Kasungu,125 km from capital Lilongwe). The school then was intended to serve those in need. The school, therefore, is a grant-aided school with ties to the government as teachers are remunerated through the government, enabling low costs of tuition fees and promoting more access to education on families with meager means. LJSS is an “option for the poor” yet its doors are open to all school going youths across the country.

 

 

Opening doors to young Malawians
The first cohort of learners in the first form (Grade Nine) came about in September 2015, with classrooms still under construction. There were 61 girls and 62 boys. As of now, LJSS has a total number of 479 students – 236 boys and 243 girls. The first graduation ceremony will be held on June 7, 2019. 49 girls and 48 boys will be transitioning to the outside world. This graduation ceremony will be a great opportunity of letting the people of Malawi know more about the school and its Jesuit mission.

 

The Jesuit pedagogy emphasizes, “Come to LJSS not just to learn to make a living but to learn to make a difference!” Organized workshops, visiting lecturers help teachers and learners know more about Jesuit pedagogy. Example: during Lent, students perform service activities: tutor in local primary schools, visit local prison, visit local hospital patients, etc.

 

Access to all
Ensuring that there is a gender balance is important as this ensures the school provides equal opportunities to both boys and girls. Many girls in the villages in Malawi are often discouraged from enrolling in schools “you don’t need all those studies – you’ll just get married and settle down!” is often the perception propagated. We aim and hope to keep this balance because if you educate a girl, she will marry later, have fewer children, more of her children will live, she will be sure that they go to school, she will be active in the community. “Educate a girl, develop a nation!”

 

 

Central to our dream for the future, of course, is that our school would consistently prepare our learners with good Jesuit teaching. ‘Forming women and men for and with others’ is engraved over the entrance to the Administration Building. ‘Ever to excel’ is the motto on our logo – a constant reminder.

Embracing Laudato Si
LJSS embraces ecology, with its sustainability projects like the large farm near the school, which produces food for students, some of the produce is sold to generate some income for the school, and also acts as a learning field for the students on matters agriculture.

 

 

As part of caring for our common home, our learners marched through Kasungu and surrounding communities to promote ecological sensitivity with "No to plastic bottles and plastic sacks”.

 

 

The school itself was built with bricks out of the soil, and the furniture was purchased from joinery using wood from sustainable tree plots. This mirrors our commitment to avoid the deforestation that is contributing to the climate change havoc in Malawi like the March 2019 Cyclone Idai that claimed over 700 lives across Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Malawi. This also puts LJSS ahead of the just promulgated Universal Apostolic Preferences by Father General Arturo Sosa SJ, following confirmation by Pope Francis. With Care of Our Home as the third preference.

 

 

We, therefore, are committed to efforts that contribute to safeguarding our environment and adopting ways that ensure sustainable practices in light of climate change.

 

Jesuits at LJSS
The Zambia Malawi Province Jesuits involved in service at LJSS are Ken Simalalo, Acting Head Teacher; Oderick Mweemba, Chaplain; Sebastian Malambo, Farm Manager; Alojz Podgrajsek, Project Director.

 

Becoming part of the mission to educate the margins
We would like to thank all our benefactors; Jesuits across the globe, Bishops Conferences, foundations, and individual donors for support so far in attaining the mission of LJSS.

To better serve the neediest in LJSS and Malawi at large, we must continue to raise funds to meet needs of the school and to finish off construction and provision of equipment, and also contribute to the establishment of an endowment fund to assist learners and provide for future needs. You can be part of this Jesuit mission by donating through our website www.loyola-malawi.org.

 

peter henriotAbout Fr Peter Henriot SJ: He attended Bellarmine High School in Tacoma WA USA and then Santa Clara University, CA USA, which introduced him to Jesuits – spirituality, community, and service – and then joined Oregon Province in 1956. Good training led to his ordination in 1970.

He has a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Chicago; post-doctoral in social development at Harvard University. 

 

Contact Jesuit Father Pete Henriot directly This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

1International Monetary Fund. International development association economic development document for the Republic of Malawi assessment letter for the IMF, July 2017, file:///C:/Users/Admin/Downloads/cr17184%20(4).pdf