An Option For the Poor


As we are busy doing planning and fund raising for the new Loyola Jesuit Secondary School (LJSS) in Kasungu, Malawi, we have been describing the effort in a variety of ways.  People have often asked  why we have been referring to this educational commitment of the Zambia-Malawi Jesuit Province as an “option for the poor.”

The phrase “option for the poor” is central to Scripture, to our church social teaching and to our Jesuit mission documents.  It indicates a preference of insight and commitment to those with minimal resources for full human development.  It urges looking at the world from the perspective of the poor and working to improve the conditions that dehumanize our sisters and brothers.

Malawi is a rich country in resources but poor in living conditions for the majority of the people (ranking 171 out of 187) on the UN Human Development Index. The educational system is very inadequate for the population of 17 million, 50% of whom are under the age of 18.  Less than 30% of young people have access to secondary education, with less than 25% of girls actually entering into that phase of education.  Less that 25% of the boys  and 15% of the girls actually complete  secondary school.  So in committing ourselves to this new Secondary school in Malawi, we Jesuits demonstrate our concern for the poor.

And this is made specific in several other ways:

First, we have located the school in Kasungu, a poor rural area 120 kms outside of the capital, Lilongwe, where many secondary schools, government and private, are located.

Second, LJSS is a “grant-aided” school, run in cooperation with the Government of Malawi which pays teachers’ salaries and provides some other resources.  This means much lower fees are charged at LJSS than at a private school.

Third, at a time when “gender equity” is so essential to integral development, we are setting up a co-educational school with the goal of 50-50 enrolment of girls and boys.  Education for girls will involve many from poor families.

Fourth, as a boarding school, we aim to provide 25% of the places for girls and boys from the local area of Kasungu.  We hope that many of these will be graduates of the grant-aided primary school that our Jesuit parish has set up to offer educational opportunities to the poor in the area.

Fifth, LJSS requires both students and staff to provide some service to the local community, e.g., through tutoring students in primary schools and teacher enrichment programmes in these schools, and assistance in local ecological initiatives.

Sixth, the construction, servicing and maintenance of LJSS is providing significant employment opportunities for persons from the Kasungu area.

Seventh, and most important, the Vision statement of LJSS is very explicit in describing our graduates as persons for others, that is “graduates of conscience, competence and compassion who are aware of their responsibility to transform Malawian society under the guidance of the Christian values of a faith that promotes justice.”  Our whole educational effort and curriculum focus aims to fulfill that Vision!

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