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Bridge of Care

Twinning initiative between St. Louis, Monaghan and Louisville in Nigeria

Almost two years ago the idea of a link between St. Louis schools in Ireland and Africa was explored by the St. Louis Sisters. It was decided that St. Louis, Monaghan would form a special link with Louisville Girls' High School, Itele, in Nigeria. With the help of Leargas and World Wise, this idea bore fruition when nine students and four teachers went to Nigeria on May 29th. This gave our students the opportunity to experience Nigerian hospitality and to participate in 'The Bridge of Care' Project. Under this project the staff and students in Louisville are supporting local schools through the provision of extra classes, equipment and food.

On September 1st, St Louis, Monaghan welcomed three members of staff and nine students from Louisville Girls' High School, Nigeria to Monaghan for the return visit. The teachers visiting from Louisville were Sr. Rita Akin-Otiko ssl (School Principal), Ms. Evelyn Olorunda and Mr Cornelius Ogunsanya. During the visit the students from Louisville and their counterparts from Monaghan participated in many school-based and cultural activities. They also met Peter Power, the Minister for State for Overseas Development, at the Irish Aid Centre in Dublin and they participated in Development Education workshops. The Nigerian students also went to the Marble Arch Caves, they went horse-riding in Castle Leslie and they also went bowling to GR8 Entertainment in Castleblayney. We sincerely hope that they thoroughly enjoy their experience in Ireland.

Special thanks to the Sixth Years and their families who hosted the Nigerian visitors and to the Fourth Years who accompanied them on many of their activities. Special thanks also to school Chaplain Louise Mulligan, for all her work in promoting the link between the two St Louis schools and for organising many of the activities that happened during the visit.

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MY LIFE AS A LOUIZAN

A message from Abama Nwukabu, the Head Girl in Louisville

My name is Abama Nwukabu. I am the Headgirl of Louisville Girls High School, Itele, Nigeria and a Senior Secondary 3 (SS3) student. I come from Taraba State which is located in the North Eastern region of Nigeria. I gained admission to Louisville in September, 2004 and since then I have witnessed tremendous growth in the life of the school with particular reference to staff and student strength, facilities and academic achievement. Here in Louisville, students are called “Louizans”.

Built on solid moral principles and ethical values, Louisville Girls High School’s mission is ‘grooming future women of integrity.’ Integrity is a word which for me sums up many other virtues such as honesty, fairness, transparency, humility, sincerity, trustworthiness, etc. Louisville has taught me to be humble at all times and in all situations. As the Holy Book says, “...he/she who exalts himself/herself will be humbled; and he/she who humbles himself/herself will be exalted...” Mat. 23:12.

Our motto is ‘Veritas et Caritas’ a Latin expression which means ‘Truth and Love’. I have learnt to tell the truth at all times no matter what the consequences might be. Sometimes, it baffles my friends back at home whenever I own up to even the least of things.

As a Louizan, I believe in caring for and sharing with others particularly, the needy. As a matter of fact, giving alms to the poor has become a priority in my life. Here in Louisville, we have a charity organisation called ‘The Bridge of Care’ through which we cater for the poor around us as often as possible. Our service to them includes giving them food, clothing, shoes and providing after-school classes for the primary school pupils. Seeing the joy emanating from them is the best reward one could ever ask for.

The ethos of my school is firmly rooted on three focal points: Faith, Moral and Academic excellence. These three also sum up for me three important intelligences (Spiritual intelligence, moral intelligence and academic intelligence). As a Louizan, I work hard at developing these. The aim of concentrating on these three focal points is to ensure that I have all round and wholesome growth.

My day begins with prayers, all my activities are permeated with prayers and I end each day with prayers. I have become more conscious of the importance of doing what is right and being sincere in my prayers to God. I believe that spiritual growth and moral development go together. There are maxims around the school which constantly remind me to be focused and be well behaved. I have imbibed values like sincerity, humility, honesty, obedience, straightforwardness, etc, which help through my daily activities.

In the area of academics, Louisville is noted for her enviable standard. We have numerous laurels and awards to show for this. One of our alumnae, Amune Blessing, had 4A* and 2As in her IGCSE examination in 2008. She and so many others have and still inspire me to work very hard academically so that I will excel and be an inspiration to others someday.

The rules and regulations guiding my daily life are quite strict and my life is fast paced because I have to get so many things done each day. From dawn to dusk, Monday to Sunday my activities include, prayers, attending classes, games, laundry, clearing, recreation (socials), morning assembly, house meetings, class meetings, clubs and society meetings, etc. I also take part in external academic and social competitions.

As the Head Girl of the school, I have learnt to be fair and just in all my dealings with the students in my charge. I am conscious of the fact that I must be a role model and comport myself with dignity wherever I go because I am an embodiment of grace. To be assigned such a heavy responsibility, the school must have found me trustworthy, reliable and mature; winning attitudes I have been taught here in Louisville.

For me, Louisville Girls High School is the ultimate in secondary schools especially for the girl-child. It is a school with a total package for the production of a high achieving girl-child. As in the words of our anthem “...Through ups and downs we’ll not give up, for we have a goal to attain...”

This is Louisville! Not the alternative but the CHOICE!

ABAMA UWUKABU Headgirl 2009/2010 session Louisville Girls High School Ijebu – Itele, Ogun State, Nigeria.

Sr. Rita Akin-Otiko, Principal of Louisville Girls High School and Ms. Vera O’Brien, our Principal, deserve great credit for continually promoting the special link between our schools. We sincerely hope that the friendship between both schools will flourish in the future.

With love from Louisville Family, Itele, Nigeria - November '09

I write with great joy and deep affection to all at St. Louis Secondary School, Monaghan. The twinning programme involving our two schools has been a real eye opener for us all re: our different cultures especially as experienced by staff of both schools since early this year. Interestingly, our common rich St. Louis heritage bridges the cultural and location gap and gives us a feeling that we belong to one big village as we have so much in common despite our diversity.

Our members of staff that visited Monaghan last September have not stopped talking about your warmth, high level of organisation, staff commitment to work and the discipline of your students among other values you exude. They also love the family spirit that is palpable in Monaghan.

We are excitedly waiting for the exchange visit between our students. We know that students of both schools will find the visit very enriching. It would really be a dream come through.

One love, keep us together! Thank you and GOD bless.

Sr. Rita Akin-Otiko ssl, Louisville Girls High School, Nigeria

St. Louis welcomes Louisville teachers to Monaghan

On September 24th 2009, St. Louis Secondary School welcomed four members of staff from our sister-school in Nigeria to Ireland. These teachers were Sr. Stella Akinwotu ssl, (Co-ordinator Learning Resource Centre), Mr Olalekan Amos (Vice-Principal Academics), Mr. Michael Awopeju (School Registrar) and Mrs. Bukola Jeboda (School Secretary). We hope that they had a thoroughly enjoyable time in Ireland.

For further information about Louisville:

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Teacher visit to Nigerian – February 2009

Four teachers: Ms. V. O’Brien - the school principal, Mr. Fitzgerald, Mr. Gannon and Louise Mulligan, the project leader agreed to visit Nigeria in order to get the project properly established. Contact was made with the school to establish a suitable time for the visit. In the meantime the teachers taking part busied themselves preparing for the journey. This involved getting the required vaccinations (no pain, no gain), a supply of anti – malaria tablets, anti insect repellent (with a high level of deet) and various other medications too numerous to mention. Travel books on Nigeria are rather thin on the ground but one in particular the Bradt Guide to Nigeria by Lizzie Williams proved invaluable.

There follows a brief account of the visit (in diary form), which hopefully gives a flavour of what the experience was like.

Day 1 - Tuesday 10th February

We rendezvous bleary eyed at Dublin Airport for stage one of the journey – the short flight to London. We meet some Monaghan people en route to Barcelona who wish us well. Our flight is called and we are off. Less than one hour later we have landed at Heathrow Terminal 1. We have about two hours to get to Terminal 5 to get to our connecting flight. This may appear to the inexperienced traveller to provide plenty of time but Heathrow is huge (a GPS would be useful) and requires a lot of effort to negotiate. Finally after many false starts and a short train journey we make it to Terminal 5 where much needed coffee is consumed as we wait for the flight to Lagos. During this time Ms Mulligan discovers, much to her surprise, that Terminal 5 has a multi-faith room.

Our British Airways flight to Lagos is announced and we board the plane. The flight takes about 6 hours but we have books to read and there is a wide variety of in flight entertainment provided. On arrival at Lagos there is a certain amount of bureaucratic procedure to be followed. Forms have to be filled and checked but the officials are efficient and pleasant. Our luggage has arrived on time so all is well with the world.

There are two things, which strike the unwary traveller on exiting Lagos airport. Firstly there is the heat (no surprise), which is a very welcome change from the miserable weather back at home and secondly, the large number of people milling around outside the airport terminal. Many of these people rush to your aid, whether you require it or not, offering to get you a taxi, sort out your luggage or sell some goods to you. We are momentarily taken aback by all the noise and activity but we are rescued by the tall figure of Sr. Rita Akin-Otiko, Principal of Louisville Girls High School. She greets us enthusiastically, welcomes us to Nigeria and immediately lifts our spirits. The school minibus, ably driven by Mr Phillip, appears and with the aid of various “helpers” our luggage is loaded on board. Mr. Fitzgerald bravely tries to sort out a tip, which is also known as a “dash” in this part of the world. His efforts at “dashing” only provoke a confused response from our “helpers”. They stare at the various euro coins in amazement. The local currency, the naira, only appears in note form. In fact, an attempt to introduce coins as a form of currency in the past was a failure. In the meantime Sr. Rita, by now laughing heartily, comes to our rescue and sorts out the “dashing” crisis. We now pile on board our air - conditioned minibus and head for downtown Lagos.

It takes nerves of steel, which Mr. Phillip has in abundance, to negotiate the traffic in Lagos. The city has a population officially between 9 million and 10 million but probably the real figure is much higher and at least half of the population seems to be on the streets this evening. Driving through the crowded streets with lorries, motorbikes, cars, battered yellow buses, minibuses and trucks of all shapes and sizes vying for space has to be experienced to be believed. With the constant tooting of horns and the general hubbub of the city “relaxing” is not a word that comes to mind. Finally shaken and stirred but thankfully in one piece we arrived at our residence for the night. Driving at night in the Lagos traffic is not recommended so we are taking a break in our journey. The accommodation is clean and has air-conditioning (very important). We are provided with a pleasant meal of cabbage, rice and fish. Everyone is reminded to “deet up” as mosquitoes are active in the evening. The residence provides mesh-covered windows and doors, which is a great help. So to bed and an eventful day 1 is over.

Day 2 - Wednesday 11th February

Remember to take anti–malaria tablet! We started a course of these tablets before we left Monaghan and they will have to be taken daily until a week after our arrival back home, as the symptoms of malaria do not normally appear for a week or two after infection. After breakfast Mr Fitzgerald produces a photograph of a bug, which he claims he encountered in the shower. Nobody takes him seriously. Mr Phillip arrives and together with Sr. Rita we head for Louisville.

Once again the streets are crowded. The roads are choc a block with traffic. There are street vendors everywhere selling everything and anything. Many carry their goods balanced precariously on their heads. We even see one man carrying a full sized “Singer” sewing machine in this way. Some stand out in the middle of the traffic to attract attention. One man appears wearing a Meath football jersey but sadly there are no Monaghan jerseys to be seen. We see a wide variety of homes en route. Some are clearly owned by wealthy people. Others are to be found in squalid shantytowns with burning rubbish nearby. Not a pleasant sight.

Sr. Rita receives a call on her mobile and we are diverted to a nearby school. We meet the principal who is very friendly and we are immediately given a tour of the building. Later, over tea and buns she explains that she hopes to take possession of a new school in September, which will have its own swimming pool. We are impressed by the school especially the many colourful posters which festoon the walls. We continue our journey to Louisville and encounter many sights, which are too numerous to mention. There are many laughs en route and Sr. Rita keeps us entertained with her stories. We have now left Lagos behind and we are out in the countryside. Turning up a side road we arrive at Louisville and wait as the security personnel open the gates of the compound. Arriving at the Abbé Bautain Retreat Centre we are greeted by Sr. Louise Eziechi. Later we have a meal and the rest of the evening, at the insistence of Sr. Rita, is given over to a little R and R (rest and relaxation). Day 2 comes to an end but not before the obligatory application of “deet” to protect us from mosquitoes.

Day 3 - Thursday 12th February

We are up early as breakfast is at 7 o’clock. Sr. Louise takes us to the school .We meet Sr. Rita in her office. She takes us on a tour of the administration buildings. We learn a lot about how the school operates. Ms O’Brien takes copious notes. The students and staff we meet are incredibly polite and welcoming. There are signs greeting us everywhere. It is normal here for students to curtsey on greeting people. Even at this early stage we notice a strong work ethic permeates the school.

We meet the Vice Principal Mr Amos who explains the working of the timetable and other administrative areas. Miss O’ Brien takes copious notes. We try to get her to relax but to no avail. After a busy morning we repair to Sr. Rita’s office for some light refreshments.

Leaving the compound we go to the home of “the Father of the School”, a retired oil executive. After many years travelling the world he has come back to retire to his native village. He is a fascinating man with many stories to tell of the oil business and he has strong views on education. On the advisory board of the school he has proved of great help to all at Louisville.

After lunch in the company of Sr. Rita we visit two primary schools with strong links to Louisville. Many teachers from Louisville give of their free time to work with such students who come from underprivileged backgrounds. This is much appreciated by all. The children appear fascinated by their visitors and greet us with great enthusiasm.

Later back at the residence we have a meeting with Sr. Rita and we discuss the school link project. We hope to develop the idea further over the next few days. We meet Sr. Winifred Ojo, the director of the retreat centre and former principal; of the school. She has just returned from her studies in Ibaden, a city about an hour’s drive away. After our evening meal we watch a little Nigerian television. Many of the sisters join us for tea and coffee. We learn something about Nigerian politics and how, in recent times, some politicians have made great efforts to improve the lives of ordinary people.

Day 4 - Friday 13th February

After breakfast we go for a walk on the campus. It is quite warm even at this early stage of the day. We meet Sr. Rita and visit the classrooms. The students interrupt their various activities and greet us warmly. They wish us a happy 150th anniversary. Even Mr. Gannon does not feel that old but of course it relates to the Sisters Of St. Louis coming to Monaghan in 1859.

After a short break we head for an S.O.S centre in a nearby village. Here homeless children or children who have suffered family bereavement are cared for by foster mothers who although they have families of their own spend most of their time at the centre. We notice lots of dogs. Pets are encouraged at the centre but we remember advice to keep away from dogs when abroad. We also visit a school attached to the centre and talk to the principal.

On our return journey to Louisville we encounter a most unusual funeral procession. A band plays. The mourners dance and those carrying the coffin dance while raising it up in the air, The music and the noise creates a carnival atmosphere.

Later Sr. Winifred explains that a funeral like this celebrates the life of an elderly person who has “moved on”. The death of a young person would not be celebrated in this way.

After lunch we head for the auditorium where before the entire staff Ms O’ Brien is asked some searching questions about our school and the Irish educational system. We take this opportunity to explain the concept of the Léargas school link project and the possibility of some teachers and even students visiting Ireland in the future as part of the project.

Day 5 - Saturday 14th February

We commence with a visit to an exhibition of art work/local culture created by the students in the school auditorium. Sr. Rita explains the significance of the artefacts, posters and models on display, which reflects the areas from which the students come. We are given the opportunity to try on some local costumes. This provokes much hilarity all round. Some students appear wearing a variety of school uniforms; the school is divided into different houses each represented by a colour. Next we are given a tour of the school dormitories and learn of Sr. Rita’s plans for expansion.

On Saturdays students tidy their dorms and the school grounds. Later they have monitored classes where individual students volunteer to explain particularly difficult areas of a subject to classmates. This can be done on a one to one basis also.

Day 6 - Sunday 15th February

Today is a day for relaxation. We go to mass in the auditorium at 8a.m. The students are wearing their anniversary uniforms. The priest gives us a special welcome. The choir sings with great gusto. Breakfast follows after mass. Later in the day we meet Sr. Patricia Ojo, Provincial Leader. She is friendly and welcoming.

In the afternoon the girls practise sports. Mr Fitzgerald and Ms. Mulligan decide to take part. Ms O’Brien and Mr. Gannon, mindful of the heat, wisely decide to stand idly by. The volleyball match consists primarily of Mr. Fitzgerald and Ms Mulligan doing passable imitations of still life figures as the ball sails past them. Later they acquit themselves reasonably well in an Ireland versus Nigeria tennis match.

In the evening we attend a special show put on in our honour by the students. It is a spectacular performance of drama, song and dance. We enjoy it immensely. After the show Ms O’Brien briefly addresses the audience. Mr. Fitzgerald explains how the laptop was funded thanks to the efforts of the Fourth Year students. The laptop is presented to the Head Girl on behalf of the students of St. Louis Monaghan.

Tomorrow Monday is a free day to do what we like and so after a chat with various sisters it is decided that a visit to Ibaden is in order.

Day 7 - Monday 16th February

An early start (6.45 a.m.) as we are leaving with Sr. Louise to visit Ibaden. One hour later we arrive at the Provincial House in Ibaden where we meet Sr. Patricia (again). This is our day of retail therapy, Nigerian style and Sr. Patricia delegates Sr. Catherine and Sr. Gladys to mind us in our quest for trinkets and souvenirs. Off we go and en route to the markets we divert to a primary school where the children start school at the age of two. Many photographs are taken.

In the markets we are to some extent objects of curiosity and many of the traders try to convince us to buy their goods. However, our “minders” know how to handle business and they introduce us to the fine art of haggling and getting a bargain. The traders don’t stand a chance and back at the provincial house there is much chat and hilarity at the day’s events. We have a very pleasant meal and then it is time to return to Louisville.

Back at the residence we are just in time for the evening meal and we chat to the sisters about the day’s events.

Day 8 - Tuesday 17th February

This is our final day. Yet again we have an early start as we are to attend the school assembly, which is held in the open air. After the opening prayers and singing of the National Anthem Sr. Rita gives a short talk to the students. Ms O’ Brien addresses the students also. Gifts are exchanged and photographs are taken. This is our last official event of the trip. We bid farewell to the staff and students as they head for class to begin the school day and we repair to the residence for coffee with Sr. Rita. As Sr. Rita returns to the school we begin the arduous task of packing our cases. Later we take a final walk around the grounds.

After lunch it is time to leave. The sisters turn out in force to see us off. Sr. Veronica is to accompany us to the airport at Lagos and with Mr. Phillips at the wheel we set off. En route we see an overturned lorry, which has shed its load and now blocking the other lane of the highway. The traffic is backed up for miles. We arrive at Lagos slightly ahead of schedule and Sister Veronica suggests we break for coffee. We are to visit some priests in the area but the parochial house is in the inner city and we are not sure of its location. A local is engaged to lead us by motorbike to the house. It’s amazing what a little “dashing” will do. We meet Fr. John Paul and Fr. Francis and have an interesting chat about life in Lagos. Fr. John Paul claims that due to the work of the governor life in the city has greatly improved. Later we are introduced to the parish security team – a team of 9 dogs – Rottweilers, Alsatians and Bullmastiffs. The dogs make pretty clear that they don’t like us and there is no need to recall the advice about keeping clear of dogs. Fr. John Paul helpfully leads us through a warren of streets back on to the airport road. We arrive in plenty of time at the airport to see a man in what appears to be full papal regalia hail a taxi. Pope Benedict he is not. Sr. Veronica assists us through the complexities of airport security and then takes her leave. Duty Free proves a disappointment but within an hour we are on our way back to London, then Dublin and after very little sleep in the past twenty-four hours we reach home. The adventure is over.

We would like to express our thanks to the Sisters of St. Louis (Nigeria), the staff and students of Louisville Girls High School and the staff of the Abbé Bautain Retreat Centre at Ijebu –Itele for all the kindness and care shown to us on our recent visit. We had a wonderful time and the memories will stay with us forever.