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Esther Hicks is the Director of Catholic School Identity & Mission in the Office of Catholic Schools.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Partnering with the Catholic Diocese of Nsukka

The Office of Catholic Schools has been partnering with the Catholic Diocese of Nsukka, Nigeria since 2007 to provide technical assistance to Bishop Francis Okobo for strengthening the Catholic schools of his diocese as a system. The opportunity to do this has been a remarkable journey of faith and service for me in my role as Director of Catholic School Identity and Mission in the Archdiocese, heading the partnership with Fr. Wilfred Odo, Judicial Vicar and director of the project in Nsukka. I have visited Nsukka, located in south central Nigeria, about twelve times. To address the many challenges of education in that area of Africa, I gathered about thirty people to work as a Committee of Interests in Chicago representing different expertise to address the complexities of the project. Of those thirty people almost twenty have visited Nigeria to build relationships and to construct a plan to assist the schools and hospitals in the diocese.

In the past five years, the partnership has grown exponentially in terms of meeting the people of Nsukka, working with leadership and grassroots groups in the diocese and developing a regional education plan based on seventeen goals entitled Vision 2020 Catholic Education. The plan encompasses four major categories: education, health initiatives, professional development and infrastructure. One exciting aspect of the plan is the construction of a model school that will provide effective educational approaches in this part of Africa. The school will serve preschool through high school students in a lab setting for a teacher’s college located on the same campus. A technology center will be located on the campus and connected to secondary schools in the diocese to provide distance learning for the region. In the health initiative area, with the help of Rotary International and Hospital Sisters Mission Outreach the three hospitals have already received nearly $1 million in much needed hospital equipment, supplies and electricity. The 2020 Vision incorporates professional development initiatives for teachers, health care professionals and administrators in order to sharpen the skills of the people working in the schools and hospitals. Technology and alternative sources of energy comprise the fourth component of the plan these being needed for effective education in today’s world and for saving lives.

Students of St. Catherine's Comprehensive Secondary School, an all-girls' school with resident and non-resident students in Nsukka, Nigeria, smile for the camera on July 1. The girls were outside in their common area following final exams. Joyce Duriga/Catholic New World

Since this partnership began, many partners have been involved in moving the projects forward. The Dollars for Dreams Campaign begun in 2009 involves the Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Chicago to be a way for educating our own students about their brothers and sisters in Nigeria and for raising dollars to help realize the dreams of the Vision 2020 Education Plan. Students in the Archdiocese of Chicago have raised thousands of dollars in response to the campaign. Other funders have taken interest in other aspects of the plan. Most important, right now, we are raising money to build the model school since it is a lynch pin for many of the goals to be implemented. In September we are prepared to begin building the early childhood building which will become the first Montessori Education Center for that part of Nigeria. Altogether, the new school will cost $5 million. Our partners in Nsukka are working as well to realize the goals of the plan. The regional model of education is a very bold concept that will change the direction of education in the system. From the bishop to the people, the Catholic community of Nsukka wants the best for the children of Nigeria. Their dreams will come true!

For more information you can contact Esther Hicks at ehicks@archchicago.org.

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