The St Benet’s School for Peace is situated in the village of Tshamalale near Lubumbashi in southern DRC, in a huge country where over half of the population is Catholic. The project began as a result of a visit to Beccles by a nun from the Congolese order, the Sisters of St Joseph (Soeurs de Saint Joseph Auxiliatrices de l’Eglise).
She came to Suffolk to improve her English and made friends with parishioners at St Benet’s Church in Beccles, Suffolk and other members of the community. In spite of the ‘great’ war, a parishioner went there in 2001 taking £500 raised by the parish. She witnessed children on the streets, most of whom had been displaced from the civil wars in the east which have claimed millions of lives and where a thousand people a day were estimated to be dying of disease. When asked what the sisters would do with that money, they replied: “We will build a school for peace for the children of families fleeing from the war zone.” And that’s exactly what they have done with the wonderful support of the parishioners of St Benet’s in Beccles as well as friends from further afield.
The school opened in September 2005, with a few classrooms for nursery and primary children. In 2016 the impressive two-storey addition opened and there are now 1300 children in the school aged from three to eighteen years. A library has since been added as well as a medical centre next door. All the interior furniture was made by former street boys. Sponsors have been found in the UK for 75 children, who would never otherwise have had the opportunity to go to school. Some students have gone on to university, including some of the poorest who are supported by our parishioners and by friends of other religions or none. It costs £108 per year to send a child to school and just over £300 to send a student to university in Lubumbashi.
Money raised is sent directly to the sisters via the White Fathers in Brussels. The initial donation of £500 has now become £520,700. The choir has won prizes and teachers from other schools are visiting to see what can be achieved. Receiving a good education means that the children will be able to help their families and eventually help rebuild their country – a priority in Congo where it is estimated that 3.5 million children of primary school age are not in school.
Parishioners have been involved over the years in a variety of fundraising activities and after a blip during the pandemic they started to raise funds again with a garden party in July and bric-a-brac stalls in August. On Sunday August 28 they we will be interviewed on The Journey of Faith Slot on Radio Suffolk (6.40am). On September 10 there will be an Italian dinner at The Old Rectory in Barsham (NR34 8HA) and on November 12 there will be a quiz evening with refreshments.
Funds are constantly being raised to provide books and equipment, and now a new toilet block is urgently needed. Small groups of people have visited the sisters several times and the parish is in weekly contact with them via WhatsApp.
The sisters have wonderful projects all over Congo and have recently opened a school in English-speaking Zambia, which a group from Beccles visited in 2019. They are keen to develop links with schools or parishes in the UK.
Pictured above is an assembly at St Benet’s School for Peace and, below,, children from the school.