ARCHBISHOP'S WONDERLAND, CLERIC BUILDS STUDENTS' PARADISE IN AWKA
The Archbishop of Onitsha Catholic Archdiocese, Most Rev. Valerian Okeke is a priest and teacher, hence his contacts with universities and formation centres in the developed countries makes him sick when he daily sees what could be described as slums called hostels Nigerian students live in to study.
The cleric who believes in formation of human beings and that only when a person is formed that he becomes a human capital, sees institutions of learning as formation centres. That informed his vision for a Youth Village.
The vision has today become a reality with the building of the Holy Family Youth Village Hostel, Amansea, Awka, which is a beauty to behold as a first time visitor would unconsciously feel he is outside the shores of Nigeria.
The hostel is built with the aim and vision of giving our youth a befitting environment to optimize the intellectual potentials in them as to maximize their productivity in impacting positive changes to our already decaying and crumbling society, for the youth are our hope for a better tomorrow.'
Just the access road and entrance to the village would make a visitor wonder where he is going to as the smooth, tarred road with trees adorning both sides of the road welcomes him to the 'heaven on earth' as it is described by some students residing in the Village.
On getting closer, the visitor is mesmerized by the beauty of the serene environment coupled with the double three-storey edifice that is the hostel and the chapel.
The Village has facilities such as chapel for prayers, game facilities, common lounge, well equipped visitors lounge, free television with satellite channels, 24 hours internet cafÃ© services at subsidized rate, constant supply of power and electricity, mini mart for basic needs, kitchens at every floor for private cooking, electric washing machines, hairdressing/barbing saloon, pharmacy and clinic for basic healthcare, bus service at very subsidized rate, mini library/reading rooms in every floor, professionally trained management team and seasoned educationists to assist to any need.
The power supply to the Village according the residents has been so efficient as a Servi-power SP 250KVA generator services the Village while the security in the place is second to none with both military and police keeping watch. Also, arrangements are on to install solar energy power supply in the Village, which is expected to start functioning by the end of July.
Inside the hostel, each of the 1,200 rooms accommodates two students with two comfortable beds, reading tables, wardrobes, television, and there is also water heater in every bathroom.
But most surprising is that with all the facilities, the students only pay N40,000 per year, an amount that is too cheap compared to what is obtainable outside where there are no facilities.
To also show its magnanimity, the church fed the residents free from October 15, 2009 when the Village opened to February this year. They also provided free transport at commencement till April this year and today a meal, which is of good quality is sold for N70 while transport from the Village to the school goes for N20 in an air-conditioned bus.
One of the resident students, Ifunanya Obiefuna, a 100 level Computer Science student described the place as nice, She said: 'I feel secure and comfortable here. I'm thrilled by the water, good kitchen, nice and comfortable rooms, nice dining, cyber cafÃ© and good pharmacy.'
She noted that they are not restricted from living their normal lives but an occupant must be back to the hostel latest by 11pm or sleep outside and that they receive visitors until 7pm daily.
Another student, Felistars Udechukwu described the environment as cool and a world apart from the ordinary hostels in the town. She commended the church for putting up such edifice and facilities for the students.
Obianuju Ilozue, a 200 level Marketing student said, 'This place is very neat, very conducive and secure. We get all our services at our doorsteps. Since I came here, when I go back to my former hostel, it irritates me and nobody would not want to live here.'
While the female hostels are ready, the construction of the male hostel is a step away from completion just like the sports arena that is under construction.
Archbishop Okeke said, 'for you to form a human being, you form the heart first. I visited many parts of the world and saw what obtains there, and I said there is need for such a thing in Nigerian universities and that informed my decision.
'University education in Nigeria has some minus. It concentrates only on intellectual formation, forgetting human formation, moral formation and spiritual formation. What helps moral formation and spiritual formation and human formation is also the environment.
'In a place where five or 10 persons live in one room, struggling to sleep, to study, and rushing back no progress will come from such residents in their educational endeavours. I have a feeling that is not the way this nation can grow if we want to produce quality human beings.
'The Archbishop conceived this place not as a solution to the whole problem but to light the candle instead of shouting that darkness is everywhere. So, he decided not to shout darkness is everywhere, what can we do to this darkness? He decided to light the candle. So this place is a candle light by the Archbishop so that the private sector, public sector, the government, companies, public spirited individuals will see this and get attracted. They should do it in other schools, Nwafor Orizu, University of Anambra State, Igbariam, ESUT, UNN and other places; there are many universities in Nigeria.
One of those taking care of the Village, Reverend Sister Ugo Kristi described the attitude of the students living in the Village as normal life expected from young people.
She said: 'In every society, if you are dealing with youths, you expect them to behave like their age but they behave well here. It is more like a family and not just a hostel. To show you how unique the place is, on Sunday, we take non-Catholics to their various places of worship with the Village buses.
Before one is admitted here, we have rules and regulations that are not meant to limit their freedom so much. They are designed and structured in a way that they have the opportunity to really study, have a good place to stay without problems but then human being what he is, some of them come in here and decide to live their own life especially when they go to the universities, their colleagues tell them they live in an elevated secondary school.
That sounds funny because that is what they will say because they see sisters around, they see priests around but glory to God, their personal experiences have proved otherwise. Here is not a convent, and not meant to limit any person's freedom, they dress up like others, the only difference is that you are not allowed to do some queer things like membership of a cult and then stay here and then go out in the night and come back very late.
'Part of our rule is that you can go out till 11 in the night, but any time beyond that, the student stays where he or she is. The reason is primarily security. So the challenges are the challenges you face in every regular institution but I want to assure that they are taken care of.'
On how the Village could build the character of the students, he said, 'we have many things put in place already. If you had gone up to our chapel for instance, you will see it is meant for prayers only. We also provided some musical instruments to train them in music even though they are not musicians but at least for the social growth, to be happy, play their music, have some relaxed mood and atmosphere. Then, we have some trained personalities that give them information regarding every aspect of the human person and then once in a while, we invite specialists from other fields to lecture them on human personality.
'For instance, psychologists come here to lecture them on human temperament as it might help them in future how to relate with their husbands and their colleagues in the society and we also try to organise social occasions that help them mix with their colleagues outside. For example, on June 5, we celebrated birthdays for all those who were born between January and May but the nature is not little or small.
'If you are to compare the cost we incur in running this place and that which put it up, you will agree that in the next 50 years, we will not recoup the spending.
We have spent about N750 million to put up the hostels and chapel, but the primary intention of the Bishop in embarking on this project was not profit. It is rather to groom youths that will be so well formed to face the challenges of the changing world. I think he was so much concerned with the problems we have in our society, cultism in our schools, irresponsible behaviours on the parts of most of our youths and, so in order to solve some of these problems, his idea is to get a place like this and then try to tell them the truth about life. Surely they will be able to grow up to be more responsible people in the future.'