The Words of the Buono Family
Steve Buono stands in front of the school -- before and after.
Being a teacher in Africa has been the most rewarding time of my life. My experiences with God and the African people have been very genuine and natural. I first arrived in Zambia as a missionary in August 1984, and soon I began teaching English and religion at Chilenje Independent Primary and Secondary School. After regular classes were over in the afternoon, I started teaching the Principle to any students who were interested. However, once the government heard of it, I was promptly ousted from my duties. They saw me, somehow, as a threat to them.
Two years later, my wife and I left for Liberia, arriving there in February 1987. My intention was to start a school for IRFF, so I volunteered my services to the government high school in Greenville and was assigned to teach world history. I began in this way so that I could gain a little experience about the spirit of the education being offered in my new country.
I was surprised to find out that this school of over 600 students had no religious curriculum, and that in fact, religious knowledge was neglected completely. So I began teaching religion to the students during my spare time. When the then disunited Christian churches there found out a Moonie was teaching religion to their students, the united to fight their common enemy. After three months, I was removed from my job by the Christian council.
First, attacks from the Zambian authorities and now, attacks from the Liberian Christian community! I became more determined than ever to open a school to give children a decent, solid education -- one that would include internal guidance as well as academic studies. In Africa, the standard of education is very poor. There are few books, and sometimes there is an appalling lack of personal attention and concern for students on the part of the teachers. I knew that the only way to change this and help begin a new spirit for the nation was to give God a school of His own. Hence, the idea for Kpanyan* Central was born.
The superintendent of the county offered IRFF an unfinished building that we could complete to use for our school. The immediate problem was money. I proposed a plan, had it accepted, and immediately jumped on a plane to New York to fundraise for the school project. I set a goal to raise $10,000 in one month.
Happy students at Kpanyan Central School in Kabada, Liberia.
When I told the brothers and sisters in New York of our hope and vision to build a school in Liberia, West Africa, I received a show of overwhelming love and support that "knocked my socks" clean off, and God's, too! The unity and cooperation of so many American, Japanese, and Korean brothers and sisters -- who helped organize things like a fundraising dinner in Brooklyn and a "School-Aid" concert in the World Mission Center -- were the heart behind this project.
When I came back from the States, I had raised nearly $15,000 for our school, with God's help. We immediately began construction work. During this time, the persecution from the Christian community was a constant harassment. Local officials made me run from one office to another. It seemed to be a very special torment created just for me. Two weeks before the completion of the school, I was told by some government officials to cease all activity at the building site. Their reason: Proper authorization had never been given for us to receive the land. Naturally, I protested and stood my ground. Internally, I realized that I should just digest this obvious injustice and these absurd accusations and carry on.
After much wrangling and flying back and forth from Monrovia, the capital city, to Greenville, I finally secured our right to open the school.
On March 21, 1988, exactly one year to the day when I arrived in Greenville, Kpanyan Central* was opened for classes.
Our school is located in a very impoverished area of small villages, where the houses are made of mud and thatch. The atmosphere is spiritually heavy and stagnant. When we had first set our eyes on the physical location and felt the spiritual environment, we had to overcome a lot of doubt and negativity. We reminded each other that what really counted was our sincerity and heart, and that it was always better to start from a humble position.
The people were resistant to change and so set in their tribal beliefs that each day became a lesson for us in patience and how to constantly nurture and care while pushing ahead with enthusiasm and confidence. We tried to instill that same spirit in the children, and while our experiences were quite rewarding, to make any kind of breakthrough was always challenging. We realized time was needed to change the spiritual climate, and we were determined to do so. Heavenly Father made sure we didn't lose our spirit. He would often send us a wonderful student eager to learn and participate. When you realize God is behind you like that, you find the spirit to go over, and you also find that you have a lot more love to give than you thought. God knows exactly what we need in order to give us the impetus to carry on.
"With God's guidance, more and more children will be able to attend and grow."
Through this school, we hope to generate a new spirit for education in this country. Our motto: "To encourage, to uplift, and to set the standard," testifies to our commitment. We treat our students as spiritual children because, like us, they need to be recreated. We teach them the basic subjects -- math, science, social studies, and English (reading and writing) -- and we also offer them arts and crafts classes and other extracurricular activities. Most important though, is our concern to give them special love and guidance and to create a spiritual atmosphere that can help them transcend their scant environment and thus bring hope to others all over Liberia. Some of our students come from miles away, having to walk for hours, and during the rainy season they sometimes have to swim from one side of the road to the other! At present, Kpanyan Central has just four classrooms, five very determined teachers, and a handful of committed students. Our teachers are all Liberian except for myself and another brother from Sierra Leone. We cherish our unity and help each other to keep our motto and vision strongly intact.
Indemnity comes in many colors, and at Kpanyan Central, persecution is our favorite shade. Being a part of this project has been a lesson in patience and humility for us. I've learned that during swarms of persecution, a humble heart is always the safest investment. It's never easy to tolerate any injustice, but for the sake of the internal and the external mission, this is an essential principle to follow. Despite all the difficulties brought about by the ignorance of others, I never hated anyone inside my heart. When I meet our adversaries on the street, it's an ideal opportunity for me to show them the true love that our True Parents teach us. I always put my hand out in genuine affection toward them. It's up to us who know the truth to win over those who do not!
In the few months of its existence, Kpanyan Central has already stirred up a lot of interest and good controversy. Many people drive out to our school just to see what the "Moonies" are doing, and when they leave, they're impressed. The school's a marvel. It's an imported cosmic love bomb sent by God, which, on impact, causes people to feel good. They see development and feel hope for the future.
In the years to come, we want to build additional classrooms as well as begin a complete system of grades one through 12. With God's guidance, it will be achieved, and more and more children will be able to attend and grow. The true beauty of the school, however, is in how it came to be -- ho• brothers and sisters from so many nations saw a need to lend a hand and did. The family spirit of unconditional giving is definitely a major strength of our movement, and it's on that foundation that we will prosper and look to the future.
It is for God and True Parents, the central focus of history, and all brothers and sisters, as the central family in the eyes of God, that the school is named. Certainly I can say that Kpanyan Central is a school that true love built.
* Kpanyan (pronounced pan-yan) is the name of the district in which the school is located.