Valentina Gomes is from Pakistan. After receiving a degree Mathematics she took up teaching in the school of Dalwal, a small country village in the centre of Pakistan, a zone that is totally Muslim. She is now the director of the school that had been nationalized in 1970 and nearly abandoned until it was returned to the Catholic Church in 1999 and entrusted it to the Focolare. The school was re-opened with classrooms that were unfit for use, but it was still a school in the real sense because the essentials were there: respect for each one’s human identity, relationships, witness and dialogue.
Valentina recounts: “We’ve experienced that beyond the enormous religious and cultural differences, which in the beginning seemed insurmountable, the children, parents and teachers have placed in us the hope for their future. This opened the possibility for dialogue.
We tried above all to form consciences that were open to universal values: respect for religious freedom, forgiveness, sharing. Thus we proposed the ‘cube of love’ to teachers and students, with the goal of promoting values such as loving everyone, sharing in the joys and sorrows of others, forgiveness. We constructed a gigantic cube and on each side we wrote a motto that we would try to live together.” A new mentality was created with the help of the game and some direct teaching, even a new school subject: Character Building.
Let me give an example. One week we were living ‘Love your enemy’. “Jawaid[i] was playing with his pencil and an rubber band when the rubber band flew and struck Zubair in the eye. Fortunately, it was not serious. The next day when the teacher saw Zubair at school she was expecting the worst. When his mother learnt from Zubair that he hadn’t retaliated, she was prepared to go to Jawaid’s mother and take it up with her. She recounts: ‘But my son stopped me, saying that he had forgiven Jawaid and asked me to do the same.’
Dialogue is expressed through many of the activities that we do during the year. In the month of Ramadan, the Muslim fast, the children gather the money they’ve saved from buying food, and give it others who are in need. Recently we were able to purchase a wheelchair for one of the village children. We join together to celebrate during Muslim, Hindu and Christian feasts. We’ve provided space in the academic program for acquainting children with some of the religious practices of non-Muslims.”
After visiting the school, the Bishop of Rawalpindi noted how “in this school Hindu, Christian and Muslim students play and study together in great harmony!”
In this school we not only teach, but we train the children to be good citizens, able to construct fraternal relationships at all levels, with teachers, classmates, family and society. We teach them to be honest people, true to their own faith and, because of this, in solidarity with those who profess other beliefs. They learn to be sensitive towards and respectful of nature, beauty and peace. In this way they become better people, people of integrity, bearers of values that can guide them in every moment and circumstance of life.
[i] Names have been changed to respect privacy.