Problem-solving and a passion for making people discover their God-given potential are two goals making Brother Ferdinand Dostie, aged 83, a significant person wherever he goes.
He came to Malawi in 1962 from his home in Quebec, in Canada, as a young man who had taught in his country for four years under the Marist Brothers of the Catholic Church.
In Malawi, Dostie first worked at Zomba Catholic Secondary School, where he taught English and Bible Knowledge. The school, popularly known as ‘Box 2’—going by the institution’s post office box number in the old capital city of Malawi—is one of the oldest secondary schools in the country.
He later taught at Likuni and Mtendere secondary schools, in Lilongwe and Dedza districts, respectively, before being appointed, in April, 1969, Superior of the Marist Brothers in Malawi and Zambia.
Having matured as a teacher and an administrator, Dostie returned to Zomba Catholic Secondary School in 1974 where he ran the school for an illustrious 20-year-period, to 1994, as headmaster.
Some of his hundreds of former ‘Box 2’ students descended on their ex-headmaster last Saturday, June 11, in Lilongwe’s Area 9 residential place, to wish him a belated birthday that had fallen two days before. They also drove in to reminisce how the tall and affable man had impacted their lives.
The former students, who are interacting from across the world through social media platforms and have formed an alumni family reunion, ‘spoiled’ their hero with snacks, drinks, a birthday cake and birthday and complementary messages.
Some of Dostie’s former students, it turned out, are now medical doctors, Cabinet ministers, parliamentarians, editors, top officials and professionals in most government and private organisations. The messages flowed in from virtually all continents of the world, mainly from those working or studying abroad.
The get-together was characterised by fun time as the ex-students walked down memory lane, with some confessing to having been naughty students, but who were later led on the path to success through Dostie’s patient and disciplined character.
The ex-students also testified that the love, spiritual nurture, career guidance talks and the servant leadership they received from their former headmaster played significant roles in their pursuant of big dreams in life.
They cited their most memorable encounters with their former headmaster, whose disarming humbleness and eagerness to solve their individual problems made them feel valuable in life.
“Thank you, Brother Dostie. You made me what I am today in life,” almost all the former students ended up declaring.
The alumni have since given Dostie a plaque inscribed: “In rcognition for you many years of dedication and commitment and role you played in educating, mentoring and inspiring scores of generations of students of Zomba Catholic Secondary School.”
In his response, Dostie thanked everyone for honouring him with complimentary messages he cherishes. He said he feels rewarded to see that some of the students he had taught or had guided, spiritually or administratively, are successful and influential people in the world.
“So, thank you very much for organising such a reception. I think it’s one of the great gifts that I have received in life, to be able to hear appreciative comments from what you call, yourselves, Dostie’s ‘children,’” he said.
Dostie announced that he followed his heart by coming back to Malawi after his term as “Box 2” headmaster ended in 1994 and after serving at the Marist Brothers’ headquarters in Rome for seven years. He had had a short work stint in Harare, Zimbabwe, at the Marist Brothers’ southern African unit.
“I gladly came back to Malawi, a country I love and in which I feel very much at home. I am now helping to lead the Prison Apostolate,” he explained, pointing out that he is passionate about providing education to the 2 800 inmates at Maula Prison in Lilongwe.
The project, which offers the inmates access to education from Standard One to Form Four, was first headed by Missionaries of Africa (White Father) Denis Paul Hamelin, who has since returned to Italy for medicals.
Dostie, who joined the project in 2009, is now providing leadership to the project which is being funded by some local sponsors and international donors such as Misean Cara, an Irish non-governmental organisation, and the Marist Brothers.
Dostie told Nation of Sunday that at Maula Prison, the project has developed a strong skills development project that will produce tinsmith artisans and tailors.
“The goal is to make these inmates financially independent and we hope this will make such people more acceptable back into their communities after they serve their jail terms,” he added.
Dostie said the skills development project has designed a tin food container that will eventually be an improved standard food implement for every inmate. “This tin container is an answer to a long-standing need among the inmates, who ended up using eye-sore containers for carrying or keeping their food,” he explained.
Like a typical teacher, or headmaster, Dostie showed a sample of the prison tin container to his former students at the Area 9 reception, saying this is a project worth supporting, for it gives inmates a form of dignity.
He grimly added: “I hope none of you will have to use such a food container, for prison life is not good.”
But what triggered Dostie’s passion of loving people and having an urge to try and find solutions to other people’s problems?
He flashes a broad, reflective smile before answering.
“The story of the helpful spirit of the founder of the Marist Brothers, Marcellin Champagnat, appealed to me greatly when I was young. Then, some stories some Marist brothers told us about their work in Nyasaland, when I was young, made me love Malawi from the word go.
“I want to serve people in Malawi for as long as possible. It is a beautiful country, with beautiful and friendly people. I want to pursue God’s mission for me in this country for as long as I will useful to the people,” he declared.