In the heart of the black continent, where people struggle daily for a meal and some fresh water, dozens of young people have the opportunity to pursue a better future by studying at an institution of higher education with a Greek flavor.
We are talking about the University of the Orthodox Church of Congo, which is a result of efforts by the Holy Metropolis of Central Africa and provides students with high quality education for free.
This unique university in the depths of French-speaking Africa is located in the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire), Kinshasa, and is operating since 2007. For the time being, there is only one faculty of Orthodox Theology "Saint Athanasios Athonite, but there are plans to introduce three more: information technology, agriculture and medicine. The license by the Education Ministry of Congo also allows the creation of veterinary faculty.
"Our goal was to create an orthodox university in french-speaking Africa, where academic knowledge from the orthodox schools of Europe can be transferred. Already there orthodox professors teaching from France, the University of Athens and the University of Thessaloniki. Some teach through distance learning and others by visiting" said Bishop Nikiforos of Central Africa.
This effort have been rewarded with considerable success, since, as he says, the university ranked number eight amongst the higher education institutions of Congo, and would have ranked second had it not been for some shortcomings in the library.
Bishop Nikiforos also states that the University passed several inspections by the Ministry of Education, unlike many other private universities of Kinshasa which were shutdown.
Most importantly, he says, is the response of the people that have embraced the university. "I think the people are very enthusiastic and very positive towards us," says the Bishop, who notes that the demand is much greater than the available seats for students. "We have many applications, but we do not have enough space to accommodate everyone, as we also offer board."
Construction of the University facilities began in 2005 on land granted by the then President of the Greek Community of Kinshasa Sofiadis Constantine. The money for the construction came from individual donations and clubs such as the Orthodox Brotherhood of Foreign Missionaries of Thessaloniki, the club "Protoklitos" from Patra, the Missionary Society "Barnabas" from Larissa and the Greek community in the city.
In the center of the complex, designed by the architect and general patriarchal commissioner of Congo - Brazzaville Archimandrite Theologian Chryssanthakopoulos, is the Church of Saint Athanasios Athonite, which was built with expenses of the Holy Monastery of Great Lavra of Mount Athos. The academic organization of the university was designed by Bishop Nikiforos, who stresses that he had as models the Theological School of Halki and Athoniada Ecclesiastical Academy.
The establishment of the Theological School was the dream of the late Bishop Timothy. However, the founder of the university was the predecessor of Bishop Nikiforos and current Bishop of Pentapolis Ignatios, who made strenuous efforts to raise money and monitor the overall progress of the project.
In his capacity as Chancellor of the University, Mr. Ignatius spoke at the "Espresso Sunday" giving some very interesting facts about the history and operation of the institution.
The first thing he notes is that the original intent of the Archdiocese was to create a Church Academy, but the Congolese Ministry of Education asked them to name the institution a university, as the term "Academy" is used to indicate institutions of a higher level than universities.
"No problem, we said, and we named it University," says Ignatius. As for the theological faculty, it was named after Saint Athanasios of Athos, who was head of the first university in Constantinople and built the monastery of Great Lavra.
Attendance at school is 5 years and the first batch of students will graduate in the academic year of 2011-2012. "If it were not for some technical difficulties, the IT and agronomical faculties would be already functioning, as everything else was ready. Also, the first floor of the planned medical faculty has already been built. I hope the plans will be implemented in early 2012. The distant future is in God hands, "says Ignatius.
The students currently attending the first four years amount to sixty-three. Their relatively small number isdue to objective difficulties:
These free services cover nutrition, sleeping, clothing, office stationery, and of course syllabus books. The Bishop added "The University has adequate dorms for next year, a library, a reading room, six classrooms, a computer room, offices, a lecture and ceremonies hall, a radio station, kitchen, a dining room, large garden with flowers and fruit trees, and a pitch of 30 for 100 yards. "
Students follow a rigorous daily schedule that begins at about 6 am. The taught courses are equivalent to those of the Theological School of Greece, and also modern and ancient Greek are taught, local dialects of the Congo, French, civic education, information technology, nursing and agronomic data, Byzantine music, etc.
Along with the lessons, students experience the Orthodox community tradition, church services, fasting and the Blessed Sacrament. They also operate the radio station "Voice of Orthodoxy". The publish the journal "Echo" and produce CDs with Byzantine hymns and psalms.
As graduates of an official university, they will be able to teach in primary and secondary schools, to be employed by the Church, and those who want and have no obstacles can become priests, "says Ignatius.
EXAMPLES TO BE FOLLOWED
When asked what how the Greek Orthodox University is seen in Congo, the Bishop of Pentapolis responds that the University enjoys the full respect of the Ministry of Education and by the people.
"It is no exaggeration to say that among very few institutions, it is viewed as a supreme example to be followed, especially for the order and cleanliness it demonstrates, also by many people, judging by the requests for admittance by young people in our school," he says.
It should be noted that in the University, Greek scholars teach such as Professor Emeritus at the Democritus University of Thrace, Mr.. Nikitas ALIPRANTIS, professors at the University of Athens and Michael Gregory PAPATHOMAS RALLIS and professor at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki Mrs. Niki Papageorgiou.