The St Benet’s School for Peace is situated in the village of Chamalale near Lubumbashi in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The project began over 10 years ago following a visit to Beccles by Sister Marie-Bernard from the Congolese order, the Sisters of St Joseph. She came to improve her English and made friends with Anne Bauers, a parishioner at St Benet’s. Anne accepted an invitation to visit Congo and in spite of the war, went there in 2001 taking a small amount of money raised by the parish.
Anne was impressed by the scope of the work being done by the sisters and asked how they would spend the money she had given them. The answer was: “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. By September 2005, a few classrooms were ready for use and now there are eight classrooms and another building is being added.
At the last count there were 438 children in the school. Sponsors have also been found in Britain for 75 children, many of whom are refugees from the civil war in the east which has claimed millions of lives and where 1,000 people a day are estimated to be dying of disease.
Many people think that aid to Africa is doomed because of corruption and high administrative costs. But the refreshing aspect of this project is that every penny raised is taken directly to the Sisters. The costs of travel and administration are borne personally by those willing to take the money and visit the project, which is an inspiration to the seven parishioners fortunate enough to have travelled there so far.
More than £114,000 has been raised to date to support the school. This is providing a good education to poor children. Attending the School for Peace means that the children will be able to help their families and eventually help to rebuild their country, a priority in a country where it is estimated that one in three children have never even stepped into a classroom.
Sadly, Anne Bauers died in June 2010, but now a School for Peace support group has been set up in Beccles and is determined to finish the project that Anne started 10 years ago. Parishioners have been involved in a huge variety of fundraising activities from parachute jumping to cake making. The Sisters in the Congo must find it hard at times to understand some of the things parishioners do but thanks to the internet they can send each other photos and updates.