On April 24, 1994, Brother Constant Goetschalckx, F.C., tried to cross the border from war-torn Rwanda to Burundi. A gang of armed bandits approached him, demanding that he kneel and empty his pockets. When the Belgian brother pulled out his rosary, the gang leader surprised him by grabbing it and simply ordering him back to the Rwandan refugee camp.
Thinking about his near brush with death, Brother Stan, as he is known, looked to the Scriptures for guidance. Drawn back to the passage he had read that morning about the burial of Jesus by Joseph of Arimathea, Brother Stan felt that God was calling him to bury local victims of the ongoing Rwandan genocide of Tutsi tribesmen. He started digging graves the next day.
Continuing his refugee work, Brother Stan in 1997 founded the AHADI Institute, which is based in Kigoma, Tanzania. AHADI has changed the lives of tens of thousands by providing education for refugees.
In November, The Opus Prize Foundation, in partnership with The Catholic University of America, honored Brother Stan for his dedication to transforming the lives of others by naming him the recipient of the fourth annual Opus Prize and giving his organization $1 million. The faith-based humanitarian award is presented annually to an unsung hero — either an individual or an organization — whose driving entrepreneurial spirit and abiding faith are aimed at solving persistent, large-scale social problems.
Brother Stan, 53, was one of three awardees honored at a Nov. 8 dinner at the Edward J. Pryzbyla University Center. The foundation, which funds the Opus Prize, also awarded $100,000 prizes to honor Rev. John Adams, president of SOME (So Others Might Eat), a Washington, D.C., organization that provides essential services for the homeless, and to honor the Homeless People’s Federation Philippines, represented by its executive director, Rev. Norberto Carcellar, C.M. The federation aids the thousands of squatters living on the sprawling Payatas garbage dump in Quezon City, enabling them to create community savings and credit programs, purchase land, build housing and set up waste disposal and water distribution systems.
The dinner and awards ceremony, which took place shortly before CUA Magazine went to press, were the culmination of a series of Catholic University events tied to the Opus Prize and its theme of social justice. The Opus Prize Foundation, a philanthropic organization affiliated with The Opus Group real estate development company, each year partners with a different Catholic university, with the intention of inspiring the next generation — today’s college students — to pursue lives of service.
To that end, in October Catholic University sponsored the screening of a three-part documentary film series called “In Pursuit of Human Dignity,” which explored the theme of social justice. On Nov. 6, two days before the dinner, CUA hosted a discussion at the Pryzbyla Center titled “Witnesses to Human Dignity: A Conversation With the Opus Prize Finalists.” Brother Stan, Father Adams and Father Carcellar each spoke and answered questions from an audience of CUA students, faculty and staff.
For seniors Anthony Buatti, Tori Engelstad and Jonathon Meyer the campus visits of the three awardees had special significance. This past summer the three students traveled around the world — Buatti to Tanzania, Engelstad to the Philippines and Meyer to inner-city Washington, D.C. — to help CUA and Opus Prize Foundation staff evaluate the three prize finalists.
In the Philippines, Engelstad saw people scavenging on the Payatas dump for pieces of metal, plastic and other materials that they would sell to junk shops. At night a typical family of eight would go home to a “slumdweller” — a one-room house made of corrugated tin and plastic tarps. Through the Homeless People's Federation Philippines, many people have been able to move away from the dump and into better homes.
“Before going to the Philippines, I knew I was called to enter into service after I graduated,” says Engelstad, an architecture major from Bradley Beach, N.J. “After seeing what a lifetime of service can accomplish, however, I know that I want service to be more than a phase in my life. I want service to define my life.”
Introducing the 2007 Opus Prize Honorees
Brother Stan Goetschalckx, a teacher who has served in Africa since 1979, had been working in Rwanda and Burundi until intertribal genocide and its aftermath forced him and others to flee to refugee camps in Tanzania in 1996. Working with contacts in his native Belgium and with his religious order, the Brothers of Charity, he then secured instructional materials and funding for teacher salaries. His efforts led to the founding of the AHADI Institute, whose name means “working toward the fulfillment of a promise” in Swahili.
The institute provides post-secondary education for 1,000 students annually via a distance-learning program and instruction for 25,000 students per year studying for their high school diplomas. AHADI employs 800 teachers at 30 school locations.
Brother Stan also has created several community homes in Tanzania for orphans, the elderly and disabled people who formerly lived in the refugee camps. Like a family, the residents of the homes look out for one another. Brother Stan lives in one of these homes with the people he serves.
Father John Adams, 66, has directed So Others Might Eat, an interfaith charity that serves the poor and homeless in Washington, D.C., for 29 years. Under the leadership of this CUA alumnus (S.T.B. 1968, M.S.W. 1970), SOME has grown from a soup kitchen where one employee and two volunteers served 50 people daily to an organization that serves more than 800 meals a day and offers a clinic, dental services, job training, addiction treatment and transitional housing — with a staff of 250 employees and several thousand volunteers.
A model for other urban outreaches to the poor, SOME provided nearly a quarter million meals in the past year. During that same period, its clinic provided 9,000 medical and dental care visits to homeless people, and more than 100,000 permanent and long term housing nights to homeless men, women and children.
In addition, SOME provides addiction treatment at two 90-day rehab facilities in rural West Virginia. When those who have been in rehab return to D.C., SOME helps them get back on their feet by providing transitional housing and counseling.
Last year SOME also provided 44,760 hours of job training to 68 homeless and low-income men and women through its Center for Employment Training.
The Homeless People’s Federation Philippines was founded in 1998 with 6,000 member families. Today, the federation is a national network of urban community organizations, associations of poor people and scavengers, and community-based savings groups. It now has more than 70,000 members in 18 Philippine cities.
The federation grew out of the Vincentian Missionaries Social Development Foundation Inc., an organization that Father Norberto Carcellar, 66, started in 1991 after a parish was created to serve thousands of squatters living in makeshift shelters at the Payatas dump.
Among other activities, the federation maintains six savings and credit funds to enable poor people to buy land and construct housing and community infra-structure, send their children to school, create small businesses and participate in health insurance programs.
After its creation, the federation collaborated with other organizations established by the Vincentian foundation and with similar groups in other cities in the Philippines. Through the federation, organizations have worked together on projects, shared financial resources and lobbied the government to ensure that the welfare and rights of the poor are considered in local and national land use decisions.
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