Christians should own, love and make schools truly Catholic – Bishop Nkuo

Interviewed by Mirabel Azangeh Tandafor Fru
Mgr George Nkuo might have moved from Education
Secretary to Bishop, but it would always remain his second nature to bother about what is happening to Catholic schools. In this exclusive interview conducted while he was on a short visit to Buea Diocese, he talks about the challenges facing Catholic Education in his current Diocese – Kumbo. To him, there is no magic but for Christian communities to own, love and make schools really Catholic. He also has a message for the flock in Buea. Read on! Excerpts

You have been Bishop since July 2006. How are you faring in that office?

It is very challenging, but by the Grace of God, I will make it. It is an exciting experience to work with the people of God in Kumbo. Somehow, I admire the great dynamism, youthfulness and vitality of the Church in Kumbo. Praise be to God!

What do you attribute your numerous achievements after this short duration as Bishop to?

I don’t want to talk about them as achievements, but I know that we have been doing a lot of work. I believe in team and community work. In Kumbo, there is already this beautiful set up where people have learned to work together, and are doing their best. I only joined a programme that had been put in place. We are now trying to improve on it and to make the Diocese alive.

If a lost Christian community of the Diocese recently joined the fold and the Diocese celebrated its Silver Jubilee under you, what then should such efforts be called if not achievements?

I think we are doing the work of God – building the Kingdom of God. For me that is what it is. That every hand is put on deck to see that it is done and done very well.

Should we presume that it would only be second to your nature to extend your skills as former Catholic Education Secretary to the education family in Kumbo?

When I went to Kumbo, people thought that having been Education Secretary and now Bishop, I was going to bring miracles to solve all the education problems in Kumbo. I am not a miracle worker. There are very pertinent problems of education in the Diocese, and we have this far, gathered the people, tried to sensitize them and to draw their attention to what needs to be done. There is low enrolment in our schools, teachers go for months without salaries, and there is general low morale among them. We are trying to put all these things together to sensitize them to see what we can do concretely to ameliorate their situation. We are really working very hard to get every single community where there is a Catholic school to own the school, love the school, and to make it really Catholic.

How feasible are these proposals?

They are quite feasible. I think if the people of Kumbo make an effort, we would go a long way, rather than depend everyday on government assistance which is not forthcoming.

Does the idea of richer schools helping the poorer ones, obtain in Kumbo?

That is unfortunately not the case because most of the schools in Kumbo are in rural areas. So, there is no question of the richer schools helping the poorer ones. I am not sure we have come to that stage where the schools in Yaounde, Douala, and may be Buea, would have to send us emergency help. However, if schools in Kumbo have to survive, they need to mobilize themselves, even if they are in rural areas. One of the things that have come up in our meetings is that Kumbo hasn’t got a monopoly of poverty. This means that even if the schools are in rural areas, people can do a lot to keep the schools alive. Lets all join hands to see how we can get the schools going.

What do you attribute the poor enrolment in Catholic schools to? Perhaps, low salaries accruing from the rural nature of schools?

We pay teachers with what we have. It is not like we have money and refuse to pay them. The government subventions we get and the low school fees paid is all we have at our disposal. We are also trying to see if the communities can contribute to the growth of our schools. Yes they are poorly paid, but that is all that is available, and we give the teachers every single franc that is made available to us.

Concretely, what can be done to revive Catholic Education?

People should love the schools. This would boost the morale of the teachers there. Also, the government should try to appreciate what is being done by making a substantial contribution to private education, and treat it fairly. The problem of government schools being constructed very close to mission schools is even more serious in Kumbo because our schools are situated in small villages. It is a big problem, and I think we have to educate the people about that. Politicians are to blame for this because they want to confuse and deceive people by opening schools which only exist on paper.

Almost two years out of this Diocese, what do you think has changed?

Lots of things! I am extremely impressed by the vitality and the new spirit that the new Bishop with his great team have done. The John Paul II Institute of Theology – JOPASIT is one of the exciting things I have seen I find other new schools around and vibrant parishes. It’s amazing and it is really beautiful to see Buea taking major strides. I am really proud of Buea that gave me birth, in a sense.

What about the measures taken by your successor in the education sector?

I think it is important for change to come. All we need to do is to get people for this. The Church is not a clerical Church. It is the people’s Church, and we should get the people more and more involved in Church affairs. This shows the Church is growing. I have nothing but praises for what is happening in the education family I left behind.

As a product of Buea, what message do you leave behind for the flock here?

It is important for the people of God to be knowledgeable about their faith. I see what is already happening here through JOPASIT. People should be committed about their faith and should live their faith fully. One of the key things is that people should not lead double lives. What we say and do in Church should be shown in our daily lives so that our lives are truly transformed by the Gospel. We should not be seen as doing one thing in Church, and the next day we are an embarrassment to the Church. People should be authentic Christians.

Anything to add?

I come to Buea really refreshed, and I am happy to see that the Church is so alive and growing. I want to ask the people of Buea not to forget the Diocese of Kumbo. I am a product of Buea, and if there is anything they can do for Kumbo, they should not hesitate to call on me in order for us to see how we can build the Church together.

April 24, 2008