By: Caitlin Sinclair
Students, faculty, and staff learned about Zambia, Malawi, and the continuing development of African nations on Thursday from a Jesuit who has been living and working with the locals for almost 25 years. Father Peter Henriot, S.J. shared his knowledge about education and its pivotal role in the development of African nations to the Jesuits and the Arts Series at Gonzaga.
Father Case, the Vice President of Missions at GU, introduced his old friend, Fr. Henriot, as a man who “put the wheels on Catholic social teaching”. Case and Henriot met in the mid-60s when they became Jesuits and have stayed connected ever since.
The Jesuits and the Arts series will be a new addition to Gonzaga’s evening events and lectures. Case plans to host a concert this fall with music composed by Jesuits. He said he hopes to give the GU community a feel for Jesuit culture.
Henriot began his presentation by asking the audience what they thought of when they thought “Africa”. People threw out suggestions including poverty, hunger, violence, and even lions.
“That’s not Africa,” Henriot said, “Well, maybe the lions.” He explained that, as foreigners, we attempt to squeeze the entire continent of Africa into a small, understandable box, and we do not comprehend the complexities of the continent.
Henriot was even humble about his knowledge of the place he has lived for almost a quarter of a century. He said he best understands Zambia and Malawi, but he emphasized that they are different from each other and the rest of Africa.
“Real development is human development,” Henriot said as he began his presentation clad in a bright green and boldly patterned shirt he brought back to the states.
His decades of work have taught him that the focus for the developing world and for those trying to help developing nations is grossly skewed. Governments and foreign aid agencies focus on economic growth rather than social growth, Henriot said.
“We may have a better understanding of development, but we don’t have a better practice of development,” Henriot said. He explained the expansive knowledge about “the state of the people” of a particular nation can have including literacy, infant mortality, poverty, and employment rates.
“The social developments do not match economic gains,” Henriot said, “There is no authentic development without relevant education.” Henriot’s presentation revolved around this point.
The people of developing nations, he said, must be educated with a purpose. That purpose must be to improve their living conditions and that of their communities.
Education, more specifically, building a new school in Kasungu, Malawi is the reason for Henriot’s visit to the US. He and his coworkers in Malawi are in the process of building a new school, Loyal Jesuit Secondary School. Henriot came back to raise the remaining 40 percent of construction costs.
“Jesuits educate,” Henriot said simply. He said that the first phase of construction will be completed in May of 2014, and ninth grade students will begin classes in September. This school will be a boarding school for both boys and girls, and it will be funded mostly by the government of Malawi.
“I want to see the Kingdom of God on Earth,” Henriot said as he closed his presentation. This goal inspires him to continue his work in bringing education to developing peoples.