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Jesuit schools – ‘agents of change’

St Declan’s Primary School recently joined The Irish Jesuit Mission Office’s Development Education programme established in 2013. Jacqueline Barry Duke, a teacher in St Declan’s, travelled to Northern Uganda and the Ocer Campion Jesuit College as part of her formation in the programme. She taught art to children who had didn’t want to leave the classroom and go home as they were enjoying painting so much. (Jacqueline is pictured here with the art teacher.) She went to a juvenile detention centre with staff and students from the school who play football with young prisoners incarcerated with adult prisoners in tense living conditions. And she visited a Jesuit Refugee Centre where two women told her their harrowing stories which she says she will never forget. You can read Jacqueline’s full account of her trip below.

The Irish Jesuit Mission’s Office Development Education (DE) programme was set up in 2013, the first of its kind for the Province. Bríd Dunne was the Development Officer who coordinated the visits to Uganda and she’s leaving the post after three years of dedicated and inspirational service. As part of the DE programme Bríd has worked with staff in Jesuit schools in Ireland to help build their capacity to integrate global justice themes into their day to day professional practice.  This programme  is rooted in Ignatian spirituality and has become just as much about the formation of staff as of the students each of the schools aim to serve. Bríd says that Development Education is the avenue with which we can educate our youth to be “people for and with others”, working through our teachers and school staff. It is the Irish province’s response to Pope Francis call to be “agents of change in a globalised context”(Laudato Sí).

Almost three years ago and after a year of Development Education activity in their schools, teachers and ethos personnel from the five Jesuit colleges came together to answer more fully the question, ‘What is Development Education in a Jesuit school?’ Bríd says that it was really only after experiencing it they could define it.  They decided on the following: “Inspired by an Jesuit world view, Development Education encourages consciousness of our global human family. It is a creative and reflective learning process. It seeks to inspire a ‘faith that does justice’ by actively challenging perceptions and stereotypes at local, national and international levels. This develops us as ‘men and women for and with others”

Two and a half years on, this vision is active in the Jesuit colleges. A curriculum resource, Global Justice Perspectives, is being taught in all schools. Teachers have been involved in teacher training conferences, capacity building in-service, and are supported by the coordinator and a comprehensive online resource bank. According to Bríd, more than ever before, there is now a clear link between teaching about justice issues and the living out of the Jesuit justice ethos in the schools. “Students have engaged in workshops on topical issues that underpin the good practice in the schools. These workshops have been facilitated by the Irish Jesuit Missions Offices. Cross curricular teams of teachers, ignited by this vision, are now established and dedicated to driving the DE programme forward in the coming years,” she says.

The solid and important work at home has been supported also by the formation visits to the Ocer Campion College in Northern Uganda. Over fifteen teachers have gone to Uganda with Bríd over the last two and half years. “These visits have really captured the imagination of staff in all the schools. They engage in an ethos conversation with their colleagues on Ocer Campion Jesuit College,” she says. “The aim is to learn from each others experience and context and  to bear witness to global justice when they return. Participants fully experience what it means to be part of a global family of Ignatian educators.”

Jacqueline’s Barry Duke’s experience can be echoed among participating teachers across the Jesuit schools network.  As the programme has gone from strength to strength, the personal conviction of participating teachers has deepened.  Bríd says it is time now for a new phase for Development Education in the province, as she returns now to the chalk face. “ One doesn’t use the same tools to break ground as you do to build. I was employed to plough and plant the seeds of Development Education. It is time now for a new wave of energy to grow the programme and build on it. It has been a privilege to bring it this far, I look forward to seeing the fruits into the future”.

She will be truly missed by her colleagues and friends throughout the whole Jesuit province and not just for her outstanding work but also for her kindness, energy and great sense of fun.

Jacqueline’s Story

It took us 24 hours to reach Uganda. As we drove through Kampala city to the station where we were catching the postbus (delivering post and people), it was dark but the city was alive with people going to work and school. There were no streetlights and the streets were full of potholes and dust.  I could not understand how the people could see where they were going but they all walked with purpose – it was extraordinary! As the bus made its way towards Gulu I got a great sense of the countryside or bush. It was sparse and near the road. In the distance there were trees and bushes. The earth is terracotta in colour and dry looking. It was hot and humid and the heavy rains were due any day. The roads were dusty, bumpy and had a lot of potholes. Bríd said that they were an improvement from the last time she was here. At that moment I thought to myself, “If Bríd says that these roads were an improvement I can’t begin to imagine what they were like before!”

Coming from a small school like St. Declan’s to a large school with approximately 700 students and a large staff was a little daunting but I was made very welcome. At ease in the open staff room I chatted to teachers about a typical day at Ocer. They were so willing to give me their time and spoke openly and sincerely about the school. Life in Ocer is not easy for teachers and pupils as they have long days and intensive study and teaching.

I got an opportunity to teach an art class to the youngest pupils. This I can say was a very enjoyable day! Before the class I discovered there were no  art supplies in the school. I ran to Bríd in the office and she got a boda boda (motorbike) into Gulu town to buy brushes and paint! I got them to break into pairs and draw each other’s portrait. They were very enthusiastic and very keen to show me their work. So I encouraged them and told them to enjoy themselves. About an hour later I told them it was break time and I would see them in 20 minutes. None of them wanted to leave! They were really enjoying it all so much! Later they helped me to hang all their beautiful and very interesting work on the classroom wall. They were so proud and so happy!

There are many wonderful people at Ocer who are so caring and committed to their job. The first person that comes to mind is Matron. She is like a mother to all the girls and really cared and looked after them like they were her own. She welcomed us like she knew us all her life. During our stay in Ocer she was warm, funny, thoughtful, wise and had a knowledge and way with words. Nurse Susan and nurse Consey run the infirmary at the school. They too were also warm and friendly and like Matron really form a large part of the backbone of Ocer. Children can come here if they are not well and receive medication and rest. While I was there many children were in the infirmary where Nurse Susan was able to test them for malaria. We also had a lot of fun with the cooks, Lillian and Prossey, in the kitchen. They worked hard and long hours. I enjoyed going into the kitchen to chat and help them prepare the meal as they were so warm, charming and completely easy going.

Cyprian is a Jesuit priest at Ocer who runs an outreach programme with the older students. They visit a juvenile detention centre once a month and play a game of soccer against them. We did accompany them while we were there and I personally found it a tense and difficult visit. These children are awaiting to appear in court, which they share with adults and so there is a backlog. They are not given priority and yet they are serving time for crimes that they may not have committed. I have to praise the Ocer students for showing support and solidarity towards them.

We said our goodbyes to the Ocer community and I really felt so privileged to have met these wonderful people with good community values and hope for their future. They really seemed to appreciate our visit and thanked us for taking the time to come to Ocer. The words of a letter written to us by Matron sum up the experience in Ocer very well. “We can’t create lasting treasure but we can accomplish wonderful things with kind words and a friendly smile. Thank you for being that kind of friend.”

On our last day I was woken by our usual alarm the call to prayer once again coming from the mosque at around 5.30am! Today we were going to the Jesuit Refugee Services Centre to spend most of the day there. This service facility is carried out on the grounds of what was once a Jesuit residence. When we arrived at the locked gate there was a crowed of refugees outside waiting and hoping to get in. There were men, women and children. The security man let us in and I immediately got a positive feeling yet there also was a sense of vulnerability and sensitivity. I also felt it was a very safe and sacred place. We met Fr. Kevin, a Canadian Jesuit priest, and Fr. Mallaya, who run the centre along with many other staff members. They help asylum seekers to get refugee status in Uganda and travel mostly on foot from neighbouring countries like Congo, South Sudan, Kenya, Burundi, Rawanda and Ethiopia. The status takes about 3 months and during that time the centre helps them with rent for accommodation, food, protection.

That day we walked around the centre and visited various classes on offer to the asylum seekers including English language classes, fashion design, hairdressing, arts & crafts, woodwork and more. They also have a kindergarten class where we played with the children. Kevin and Mallaya arranged that we would get to meet various refugees who were very bravely willing to tell us their story. Mary and I met three different women from Congo, South Sudan and Burundi who told us the harrowing reality of what they have been through so far in their lives. As a mother and a wife I found the experience difficult and upsetting. I couldn’t but admire these strong but hopeful women of the future. I also felt honoured and privileged that I was the person, a stranger, they opened their hearts to and told their story to. I really believed that it was like therapy for them. These people, and those experiences will never be far from me as I return to life in Ireland and to work in St. Declan’s.