The “Pope Francis College” offers schooling and nutrition to young Congolese students in a suburb of Kinshasa, the capital of the DR Congo, with the financial backing of religious sisters and Italy’s Bishops.
By Francesco Ricupero & Devin Watkins
Mikondo, a peripheral suburb of Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo, has become home to an oasis in the desert: the “Collège Pape François” (or “Pope Francis College”).
The learning and nutritional center has become a point-of-reference for hundreds of Congolese families enduring severe financial difficulties.
Over a thousand students—aged between 3 and 16—attend classes to complete their secondary education, many in the hopes of attending university.
Education and nutrition
An Italian non-profit organization called “Seeds of Peace” runs the center in conjunction with the sisters of the Daughters of the Passion of Jesus Christ and Mary of Sorrows, known as the Passionist Sisters, based in Kinshasa.
Italian taxpayers provide financial support for the initiative through their voluntary contribution to the Italian Bishops’ Conference (CEI) as part of the “8xmille” election which designates a portion of their tax payments to a charitable organization.
The Pope Francis College offers students a well-rounded educational curriculum, as well as at least one full meal per day and courses on hygiene and respect for others.
Luca Bondi, the president and founder of “Seeds of Peace”, told the Osservatore Romano that the nutrition center grew out of a food collection and distribution point run by a missionary community.
“Being able to have breakfast in the morning,” said Mr. Bondi, “is essential for children attending school. It means getting the day started in the best possible way, and offers the ability to think clearly.”
Difficult economic situation
In Mikondo, government-run school facilities are unable to cover the enrollment demands of young students, and most families lack the financial resources to afford a private school.
Some parents are forced to choose which child to send to school, and often elect to send boys for education over girls.
In situations of extreme poverty, children are sometimes forced to carry out manual labor in agriculture or mining. Boys face the risk of recruitment into local militias, while girls may be forced to marry before the legal age or even into prostitution.
In-depth education for life
Since 2007, the Passionist Sisters have sought to assist in these situations, offering elementary schooling for boys and girls aged 5 to 10, as well as food and shelter.
Around 75 adolescent girls receive afternoon courses on sex education, violence, and alcoholism, in order to help them grow into responsible adults and to promote the role of women in family and society.
The high school of Pope Francis College is the only secondary school in the Mikondo area, allowing students to study close to home without having to travel long distances to other schools.
“This is the third year that graduates have come out of the school who go on to college,” said Mr. Bondi. “It represents a remarkable achievement that lays the foundation for a better future for both the children and their families.”
Hope for the future
The “Seeds of Peace” association also helps fund the Mama wa Bolingo (“Mother of Love”) kindergarten, which is under construction in the same neighborhood as the Pope Francis College.
“The presence of a school has immense value for very poor communities like Mikondo,” according to a statement by the non-profit, “because it promotes social, cultural, and economic development, creating the basis for a better future for future generations.”