‘I feel so elated that God has used me to help the society’
St Charles College, Onitsha, Anambra State, will come alive tomorrow, as the school, in collaboration with Ojoto Catholic community, celebrate 10th Priestly Anniversary of the Principal/Manager, Rev. Fr. Vitus Mbamalu. The event, which will commence with a Holy Mass at 10.30am, will provide the platform for the school community to celebrate a man, who is instrumental to the turns around being witnessed in the school. In this interview with CHUKS NWANNE, Mbamalu spoke on his journey in the priesthood and his determination to bring back the glory of St Charles College.
This year marks your 10th Anniversary as a catholic priest, how does that make you feel?
Well, this is the time to pray with people and appreciate God’s work and choice; I feel so unworthy to be chosen as a priest. God protecting and using me to work for 10 years now is a great privilege. So, every preparation for me is to appreciate Him.
What are the activities lined up for the celebration?
Basically, there will be a Mass in the school, after that, we will have reception. The old boys, especially the ones that passed through me, have been saying good things about the school and the impact of the training we gave them; they will like to come and thank God with me. But I know there will be presentations, social activities, academic activities, and spiritual activities to make the day memorable ones.
What informed your decision to become a priest?
Well, at that very tender age, I’ve always wanted to pray for people, to serve God and donate my time for others. So, as early as 11 years, I was attracted to priesthood; I love the way they were celebrating mass and the fact that they give their time for others. So, I wanted to be part of such impressions and I thank God we are here today.
Was there any form of resistance from your family, especially your parents?
I didn’t have any resistance from the family as such, but what my Dad did was to ensure that I wasn’t being forced to join the seminary; he didn’t want to be disgraced. So, through some questions and investigations, he made sure I was not forced to join the priesthood. When he found out that it was my real intention, he supported me. Here am I today celebrating 10 years as a priest, after 17 good years in the seminary. If you put the years together, it means I’ve spent 27 years on this journey. Actually, my 10th year was on July 8, but due to arrangements, we decided to celebrate it at the end of the year.
As the principal, how has it been managing St Charles College?
When I look back, I thank God for his protections; it has not been easy. When I came here, all these places were dilapidated; the school seemed scattered with all kinds of politics everywhere. But looking at it now, more organised, with centralised power supply, structures springing up here and there and people already testifying about changes in the school… I feel so elated that God has used me to help the society.
Obviously, the school has witnessed great improvements in the area of academics and particularly infrastructure, how did you manage to achieve that?
What we have here now is a kind of partnership. The government held the school for about 40 years; we kind of inherited dilapidated buildings and dilapidated policies. Conditions of the structure, education morality and even academic standard were down. But since the church took over, things are turning around; you can see it for yourself. Look at that Rev Father’s House (Rectory), it wasn’t there before; we started it from the scratch and finished it. When we started, we were not sure how the money will come, but I thank God the building stands today. When I came here, I met a few boreholes, but we had to drill new ones to ensure the students have adequate water supply; the same thing we did with power. As it is now, we have a centralised power system for the entire school. It has not been easy, but we thank God.
It seem there’s an ongoing remodeling process going on in the school?
We are building these new blocks because we want very standard classrooms that will stand the test of time and promote good academic environment. Anybody trained in this environment will always meet the conditions of time outside this place. Looking at the other classrooms, they were built years ago; some of them were not properly ventilated. What we did first was to renovate them totally and make them conducive for learning. But now, we have these new structures; we are going to have fans and well-lighted rooms there. We are also planning to put offices there as well so that teachers can pay proper attention to the students. The truth is that good education with better environment will bring good effects on the children.
Does that include changing the landscape of the school?
What we did in terms of renovation was to retain the old impression and then try to create a kind of new environment using the old impression. For instance, we’ve been able to fix air-conditions in the chapel to make it conducive for the students. Again, we used to have an old principal’s office, but we’ve been able to put up a new one. Generally, people have this degrading image about principals; you come to the principal and talk to him anyhow. Some feel the principal is so hungry because he’s a civil servant; you can always buy him over with a recharge card. So, what we’ve done is to upgrade the image of the principal by using an appropriate office for him; a principal who manages people should have a decent office. With comfort, he can think well and effect policies very well, not to be extravagant though.
Mere looking at the structures, it’s obvious that a lot of money has been spent to bring it to this level. How do you deal with funding, especially when the state government has handed over the school?
The government naturally being charitable, they didn’t want to hand over entirely; they decided to also help because these are children of Anambra State. They needed to come in so that the financial involvement of the church will not be so much that it would not meet common people. So, what actually happened is that the government comes in in the way of renovation and payment of teachers; the government is paying half of the teachers we have here. If we are to get teachers that would take care of these kids, parents will pay heavily. And when that happens, you wonder the impression people will have; you hand over the school to the church and school fees skyrocketed? Secondly, when the government was handling these schools, many teachers were employed and they were teaching in these schools; the NUT was kicking because of the welfare of these teachers. So, we reached a compromise; the church had to retain those teachers. Some of them were skeptical about the way the church would handle them, but the government took over their welfare and paid them, while the church manages the school and ensures that teachers do well. Government, also made some donations to the church to help renovate these dilapidated buildings it inherited as result of government handling them for 40 years.
Would you say the decision to hand over schools back to missionaries is yielding results?
Actually, when you hand over something to the owner, he/she knows the vision; he knows where he’s going and will manage it well. If you look at the management of the school and the church in general, we are not bothered about how much we are going to make from this school; we are interested in the future of these kids. Whatever that will make them get better and have quality education, that’s our interest.
Academically, have there been improvements as well?
We are still developing, but we are somewhere now. The church is the initiator of education in Nigeria; Anambra state is a case study. Prior to the handing over of schools, Anambra State was not doing well academically in national exams, but immediately after the handover, the church took over, went to the roots and started doing proper things; the effects started coming out. For three consecutive years now, Anambra State has been coming first in WAEC and NECO and other states are now borrowing. So, if other states are borrowing what they see as good effect in Anambra State, then it means that very soon, the state of education in Nigeria will improve.