Our pioneer missionaries realized early on that education is a very critical issue to help a developing nation in their struggle towards independence and economic stability.
The gathering place for children or adults, willing to learn the basics of the three “R’s” - reading, writing and arithmetic by a missionary monk or sister was under a tree; later on the one classroom buildings with crude furnishings and often without doors or windows could be found on the parish property. Today, the standard of a school building is advanced compared to those of years ago. More and more technology finds its integration into a school system so different from Western civilization.
The “British School System” has influenced the structure of schools in Tanzania. Today, we Missionary Benedictines are involved on all levels of education. We operate or co-sponsor a great number of kindergartens, elementary and secondary schools, we are also involved in high school and university education. Statistics posted by the government show that our schools are among the top 20 of all schools in the country. Our monasteries, in cooperation with the local dioceses, also provide education at the Minor or Major Seminaries, forming indigenous priests. Peramiho Major Seminary has given the Church several bishops in its history. Our major medical centers in Peramiho and Ndanda operate nursing schools and also educate lab technicians.
For example: Fr. Damian Milliken, OSB, a native of Elmira, NY, entered St. Paul’s Abbey in Newton, NJ, and following his monastic profession and ordination to the priesthood was sent to the Abbey of Ndanda, Tanzania. Throughout his many years of missionary activities he has established many schools, particularly for women whose interest for education otherwise would have been neglected by the official school system of the country. Today, education of women is going strong.
The Missionary Benedictine Sisters of Peramiho also operate an all girls’ school that has strong connection to an American educator, Sr. Imelda Koch, O.S.B., while Ndanda Priory co-sponsors a High School for Sisters from various religious communities, preparing them for future ministries within the Church and their religious Orders. Sr. Andrea Polt, O.S.B., from the Norfolk Priory in Nebraska, has influenced teaching and administration with her expertise. In several schools operated by the Sisters, the Montessori approach to education has been implemented and proofs to be a success.
Education is not only for the young! It is important to train farmers in the various methods of agriculture. The use of modern equipment helps that better yields at harvest time can be recorded. Courses in home economics and the mother and child clinics empower women to be home makers and educators within their own family.
All our monasteries, under the leadership of brothers, operate the vocational training centers which today also include secretarial science. The list of trades offered at our schools is impressive and includes tailoring, carpentry, electrician, butcher, baker, shoemaker, bricklayer, and many more. Graduates from our schools easily find jobs and a great number has also advanced to government positions.
Education remains a high priority among all our ministries in developing countries.