St Patricks Seminary is more than just a nursery for priests with a lucrative history of excellence in public examinations, science, arts and other dimensions of life. It is also a model of why every school needs an alumni association. JAMES CHAVULA writes.
In Rumphi, a signpost of St Patricks Seminary proclaims it is better to give than to receive. For the past decade, the spirit of giving vividly manifested itself when spates of violence that erupted following highly contested election results in 1999 left nearly 100 homeless.
For a week during that ill-fated May, the Reverend Fr Martin Mtumbuka, now bishop of the newly established Karonga Diocese, led the students at the Catholic school in eating less and donating part of their meals to the displaced families stranded at Rumphi Police Station.
“When you grow up, young men, remember there is more joy in giving than receiving,” Mtumbuka never got tired of preaching the gospel that is turning the boys into men that keep giving in fulfilment of what has become a motto for the out-of-the-way school at the foot of Vyeyo Mountain.
The students, both past and present, prefer calling it Spatsey.
Make no mistake, these were young boys, most of them aged between 12 and 16 like the 133 that are there now.
Now, the former students under St Patricks Seminary Foundation seem to be walking the walk, harnessing the entrenched spirit of volunteerism in aid of the time-honoured learning school which started as a senior primary school at Katete in Mzimba before relocating to its present location in Rumphi in 1972.
On March 8, St John of God employees Christopher Mhone and Sebastian Mkandawire went all the way to personify the new wave of energy—cycling 50km between Mzuzu City and Nkhata Bay to ensure every student at the school has access to books and an enabling learning environment.
They are no professional cyclists, but amateurs far from the glitzy world of Tour de France. For them, their K3 000-per-kilometre “Tour de Nkhata Bay” was just a mark of the enduring love for their alma mater, a spirit that now unites Spatsey alumni like a thread of beads.
“If there is anything we can do to improve teaching and learning to make St Patricks better for the students that are there now, we will do it with a smile,” says Mhone, who chairs the foundation’s arm in the Northern Region, having peddled past the hills that split the city atop Viphya Highlands and the sweltering heat of Nkhata Bay on the northern shores of picturesque Lake Malawi.
According to the foundation’s publicity secretary Isaac Cheke Ziba, proceeds from the fundraising rides will go towards the donation of assorted items and over K1 million cash injection to be presented when they trek back to their former school on Saturday.
Since the foundation’s formation in 2008, former students have always gone to their beloved school to celebrate St Patrick’s Day, March 17, with the present crop every year.
“This time, we shifted the celebration to Saturday, March 22, due to factors beyond our ability,” says Ziba of the meeting of the old and the new, a day the old deliver an assortment of materials to guarantee quality education for the new as well as see for themselves what more needs to be done to save the centre of excellence.
It is these visits that partly motivated Mkandawire to become an active member of the foundation, he says.
For Father Daniel Kamanga, the rector in charge of the school, the wonderful fruits of the alumni’s annual visits are clear: All classes have new desks; students who were struggling to buy both notebooks and textbooks now have a steady supply; one-time deteriorating biology and physical science laboratories are renovated, restocked and properly painted.
“It is sad that most schools have produced successful people who do not want to come back and say ‘thank you’. Ours have been wonderful. They came strongly and we wish they had been around longer,” says Fr Kamanga.
But the sight of aged structures testifies that more needs to be done. The faces of decay include broken windows, crumbling ceilings, cracked buildings and leaking roofs.
“Apart from old structures, the seminary’s main challenges include low income and lack of teaching and learning materials,” says Fr Kamanga.
Ziba admits there is more the former students can do in acknowledgement of the fact that “we are what we are because we passed through the seminary”.
“After years of discussion, we formed the foundation to raise funds for the seminary, contribute to the quality of learning outcomes and increase interaction among ourselves. We cannot forget our roots,” he said.
Interestingly, St Patrick’s alumni are not only benefitting their school. In 2012, they presented 10 state-of-the-art wheelchairs to St Magdalene, a campus for pupils with disabilities who learn at Rumphi Catholic Primary School near the seminary. This year, they will donate to a Paediatric Ward at Rumphi District Hospital.
“We feel this is our social responsibility,” says Ziba.