Date: Friday, 13 October 2017
Attachment: An article for posting. Thanks.
THE RISE AND FALL OF SAN GIORGIO SCHOOL:
AN APPEAL FOR RESTORATION AND RENNOVATION
Dr. Tesfa G. Gebremedhin, West Virginia University
The current Saint George Secondary School is commonly called San Giorgio (ሳንጆርጆ) by its former students and residents of Mendefera. The school is located about 60 kilometers to the southwest from Asmara and a couple of kilometers away from Mendefera. It is situated on a beautiful and relatively flat landscape adjacent to the highway that stretches to Adi Quala. It is surrounded by thick eucalyptus trees and fertile farmlands that belong to the nearby beautiful villages. San Giorgio School has been accommodating students from the city of Mendefera and those commuting from the many surrounding villages and also from others parts of the country. San Giorgio School is one of the oldest academic institutions in Eritrea including a Catholic school in Keren and another one in Segeneiti. San Giorgio School was initially established over a hundred years ago in 1902. It has served consecutively under different colonial powers for over 90 years. Initially, it started as an elementary school from first to fourth grade during the Italian occupation which ended in 1942. Students were admitted to the school when they were teenagers and completed the four-year program when they were young adults. With the exception of a few Eritreans, the teachers were Italians. The school curriculum included teaching the Eritreans simple mathematics, Italian language, and some hand crafts and vocational skills like carpentry, machine and equipment operation and maintenance with the expectation that graduates of the school would provide appropriate technical services to the general operation of the colonial rule. After the defeat of the Italians in the Second World War, the school was converted to serve as a prison and a temporary residence or shelter for war displaced refugees during the British colonial era for ten years from 1942 to 1952. The school was restored as a Middle school during Federation in the early 1950s. San Giorgio School started its high school program effectively in 1961 and it was renamed as Saint George Secondary school during the Ethiopian occupation. It has been one of the biggest secondary schools in the country. Over the years, numerous students counted in thousands have graduated from this school. The history of this school tells us that the most prominent statesmen of Eritrea such as Degiyat Haregot Abay, Degiyat Woldemichael Mahari, Degiyat Teferi Woldemichael, Azmatch Berhe Gebrekidan, Girazmatch Asmerom Woldegiorgis, Degiyat Sebhatu Yohannes, Degiyat Abraha Tesema, Bitiwoded Asfaha Woldemichael, Azmatch Naizghi Semere, Degiyat Layne Kidanemariam, Azmatch Tesfay Beraki, General Haile Baikedagn, Colonel Tekle Goshu, and many other leaders who came from most regions of Eritrea and from some parts of Ethiopia, were all former students of the four-year school during the Italian rule. Later, many contemporary and widely recognized and accomplished professionals and notable scholars who are graduates of this school have completed higher education at various universities at national and international levels and many of them are either serving the nation (Eritrea) in various capacities or working abroad holding prominent and highly respected positions in various international academic and non-academic organizations as university professors in all fields of science and social sciences, researchers in science and information technology, music and creative artistists, community and social workers, public administrators and political leaders, medical and public health practitioners, physicians and pharmacists, engineers and architects, lawyers and experts in law practice, economists and accountants, entrepreneurs in a variety of business ventures, men and women in military uniforms, and other professionals and scholars in many areas of discipline. San Giorgio School has been the main source for attaining and preserving cultural heritage and ethnic identity, traditional rules and regulations, social values and beliefs, customary laws and orders, indigenous knowledge and wisdom, professional career and work ethics, and spiritual moral guidance and discipline. It is also the fountain for learning and applying contemporary academic education, technical and vocational skills. It is evident that the good education received at San Giorgio School has been the threshold and corner stone for the professional career foundation and development and the passport to long term success and pride to its former graduates. Over the years, San Giorgio School has made a significant contribution to the economic, social and political affairs of Eritrea.
San Giorgio School was one of the top leading schools in academic excellence and sport competitions in the country. The school reached its highest peak in its academic excellence under the administration of its middle and high school principal, Memher Asier Gebremedhin, and the leadership of the District Inspector, Memher Saare Kahsay. These two giants in school affairs were the icons of San Giorgio School. It has been observed that both Memher Asier and Memher Saare were the two honorable and meritorious leaders who were instrumental in selecting and recruiting the most outstanding and brilliant teachers for the excellence and preeminence of San Giorgio School. A typical example that signifies the remarkable leadership quality of Memher Asier in his daily administration of the school was manifested in an incident that happened between an Amharic teacher and a fellow student. Due to a certain minor conflict caused by a simple misunderstanding, an Amharic teacher abused his student by scolding him as “ante ahiya” (you are a donkey). The student retaliated by repeating the same insult back to the teacher and said, “ante neh ahiya” (you are the donkey). The teacher got angry and became physically violent. He approached the student and when he tried to slap his face, the student quickly grabbed his hand and pushed the teacher away. In response to the spontaneous physical reaction of the student, the teacher fell down to the ground. He quickly got up and went straight to Memher Asier’s office. He accused the student as a criminal and forcefully demanded with arrogance for the immediate dismissal of the alleged student from the school. He screamed to the principal, “If he is not immediately dismissed from the school, I will go back to my country (agerie ehedalehu).” Memher Asier was a very skillful and meticulous school principal. He listened to the teacher very carefully and calmly. Then, he replied to him with great respect, “Obviously, we do not condone any form of violence in our school. We try to promote good manners and discipline in our school community. We expect both our students and teachers to respect each other and interact with politeness in peace and harmony. With regard to our student, we will properly address and carefully evaluate the case and an appropriate disciplinary measure will be taken immediately. With regard to your intention for your departure, if you desire to go back to your country, nobody will stand on your way. However, we would like to encourage you to stay because you are a valuable teacher.” After listening to the words of wisdom from Memher Asier, the teacher had nothing better to say or do than just to change his mind and to decide to continue teaching in the school. The case was then properly and peacefully settled down with great respect and forgiveness from both sides. The solution of the case was guided and monitored by the decent and humble leadership quality of the school principal.
In addition, when Memher Asier suddenly died at his young and productive age in April 1967, it is unfortunate that San Giorgio School lost the most dignified and highly respected and appreciated school principal in its memorable life. It is quite interesting to learn that after his death his family members wanted to take him to Adi Keyih, his birth place, for his burial. However, residents of Mendefera came out in masses and said, “Memher Asier is not going anywhere. Adi Keyih could be his birth place, but Mendefera is his real home town and he is going to be buried in Mendefera with great honor and respect because he is the son of Mendefera and the father of San Giorgio School.” Surely, upon the consent of his family members and the best wishes and desire of the residents of Mendefera, Memher Asier was buried with dignity and pride in his home town Mendefera. It is historically evident that San Giorgio School was beautiful and well-maintained when the two legends, Memher Asier and Memher Saare were in their respective leadership positions. The great fame or good name of the school is also attributed to the endless hard work of Memher Eyob Araya as an excellent school principal (for a few years) and as a wonderful teacher and the major credit mainly goes to the remarkable dedication and productive teaching skills and guidance of those outstanding teachers who produced outstanding students to become outstanding citizens capable to serve the country in all national affairs. However, after the departure of Memher Asier to his eternal life in heaven and the transfer of Memher Saare to a higher administrative position in Asmara, the situation of San Giorgio School was adversely affected by changes of leadership in the school administration. The amazing and glorious journey in its academic excellence and the general environment of San Giorgio School started to decline rapidly during the Ethiopian occupation, especially in the late 1970s and 1980s. The physical appearance of the school started to deteriorate and change to the worst and despicable conditions after the end of the Ethiopian rule. Currently, the horrible situation of the school has continued to slide down the hill at an alarming rate. In contrast, unlike the other secondary schools in the country, San Giorgio School has been neglected, marginalized and deprived of any desirable opportunities designed for its salvation and innovation.
The rich historical background and the dire current dreadful situation of San Giorgio School do not match at all. Intellectuals of history should not stop recording and collecting historical facts and events without mentioning or including the most despicable conditions of San Giorgio School. The school has suffered a great deal from the cruel occupation and operation of the Italian, British and Ethiopian colonial rules for a long period of time. Recently, with the exception of adding a few barracks similar to those kind of simple classrooms generally built for elementary schools in remote areas, no apparent restoration or reconstruction has been done in the school. The school buildings are in shambles and became faceless beyond recognition because they have never been renovated or rehabilitated since its establishment in the early colonial era. The historical old buildings of the school are now in a very awful and deplorable conditions. The walls and ceilings are almost falling down. The big holes and deep cracks in the walls and the ceilings have become the convenient residential quarters for the co-existence of snakes, rats, squirrel, lizards, and birds, especially in the winter season and also whenever there are no school activities. The roofs, gutters and ceilings are also the comfortable dwellings for the spiders, crickets, beetles, wasps, mosquitos, and other insects. The wooden structure and frames of the old buildings are constantly attacked and severely damaged by termites. The windows and doors in every room are also intensely mutilated and do not serve the purpose of the buildings. The flowers and beautiful plants which used to beautify the school compound have disappeared and they are now replaced by dry shrubs, dead grasses and weeds, and scattered ant mounds. The toilet and wash rooms are abandoned and became out of use. The chalk boards are old, rough and hard to use them in teaching students in a classroom. The classrooms in the old buildings are overcrowded with not less than 80 students in one room and three students to one desk. In the old days students used to learn carpentry and other hand crafts. Now all those progressive and essential technical and vocational skill related programs are removed from the school curriculum. In general, walking in the school compound and looking at the rundown old buildings, it is really hard to call San Giorgio School as it is a real school for teachers to teach and students to learn under normal situation in a conducive environment. The school is barely existing by gasping hardly the last breathe of its life. Thus, San Giorgio School desperately needs an immediate rehabilitation and renovation before it soon becomes a big junkyard characterized by a collection of rubbles and ruins of old buildings and before it ends up to look like a small ghost town situated on the side of a busy highway outside the city of Mendefera.
A few years ago, the former students of San Giorgio School and residents of Mendefera established Committees in Asmara and Mendefera. The Eritreans in Diasporas, mainly in Europe and North America, respectively established similar committees. All together they formed nominally the National Association of Eritreans for the Reconstruction and Rehabilitation of San Giorgio School as the umbrella organization. To this effect, it was admirable to observe that the Eritrean-Americans residing in Washington DC and its vicinity, organized for all Eritreans a unique and special social gathering in Arlington, Virginia in October 2010 to celebrate the good name of San Giorgio School and for the purpose of fundraising to advance education for San Giorgio School and subsequently for other schools in Eritrea. The social gathering was attended by about one thousand former students of the school and invited guests who came from all corners of the United States of America Canada and elsewhere. The social gathering was the only one of its kind in which the participants got the opportunity to rekindle and cultivate again their old friendship and fellowship after living apart for a long period of time. It was a celebration with traditional music, food beverages, speeches, poems, and humors. The main objective of the fundraising project was to solicit material and financial support from humanitarian organizations, governmental and non-governmental agencies, cultural institutions, scientific societies, development and relief agencies, business companies, professional associations, trade unions, and concerned individuals in the United States, Canada, Europe, and elsewhere. The main target of the project was to build 58 classrooms, which also include offices, a library, an auditorium, and more with an estimated cost of about 6.5 million US dollars. The Committees in Eritrea, Europe North America and elsewhere were established with the clear objective and purpose to rehabilitate the buildings and to improve the teaching resources of the school. After a significant fund was pledged and the necessary plan of work was prepared, it is very unfortunate that the National Association did not acquire the blessing of the government of Eritrea to accomplish the goal. The green light was denied for no apparent reasons and unknown justification from the city government of Mcndefera. Subsequently, the enthusiasm and aspiration of those supporters of the project was crushed and the drive to further raise funds for the project was suspended for the time being. It is as if all the odds and evils in life seemed to gang up against the noble and just cause. Present and future students of San Giorgio School deserve a good education from outstanding teachers taught in a formidable school. We need to be aware that the students of this school are actually members of our immediate families because we all belong to the only one big family of Eritrea. To this effect, nobody in his or her right mind should hold all of us back from advancing education in every corner of our country Eritrea. In fact, it should be a blessing to appreciate and encourage the zeal and tenacity of those devoted and dedicated former students of San Giorgio School who strive hard to successfully implement the dream project.
The residents of Mendefera and Asmara and the former students of the school residing in North American and Europe were successful in mobilizing and bringing together former students of San Giorgio School and invited guests for the fundraising drive. However, they have not been successful yet to accomplish the long awaited project. This could be a temporary setback to our goal and a short term drawback to our aspiration until success is eventually and ultimately achieved. We need to develop the courage to fight and overcome first our battle against despair, hopelessness, and negative attitudes. Though for the last few years the project has been kept captive and buried to its neck, it should be clear that it is not quite dead because its constituents are still alive and well. Thus, there is an urgent call for the reunion of all Eritreans, particularly the former students of the school and others who believe in advancing education in Eritrea by starting tangible programs first to rehabilitate the forgotten San Giorgio School. We need to be on a mission, fully committed and determined to renovate the structure, to restore the beauty, to improve the image, to regain the fame, and to renew the good name of San Giorgio School once for all. We should never give up on our beloved San Giorgio school because we can never go a day and night without thinking about its wounds and sufferings. It should also be known to anyone that no one has the ultimate human power, with the exception of the Almighty God, to shatter and kill our noble dream unless we drop dead and buried in the ground. We should not settle down for any promises or gratitude short of implementing our dream project for the restoration and renovation of San Giorgio School. We need to be strong and confident in never giving in and up because things always get better, or the obstacle itself will get tired of creating problems for us. It is clear that cowards never start a project and the weak never finish it. Winners are not those who never fail, but those who never quit. We have neither the pleasure to quit nor the desire to entertain the agony of our past failures. We have a lot of work to do right now and we should not wait any longer to waste more time for nothing. The younger generation are kindly urged to take the lead and initiative to mobilize and bring us all together (both the old and young generation) to rally behind the San Giorgio School project. The young former students of the school have the capability and energy to get organized and to call all former students of San Giorgio School and invited guests again for a similar unique social gathering to be held at a convenient time and place in order to make the dream project a reality. The former students of San Giorgio School should live up to their moral obligation to honor the memorable name of San Giorgio School and cherish the legacy of the praiseworthy teachers and admirable school administration. The best and greatest deserving gift we all can give to San Giorgio School is another quite different, beautiful and memorable life. We need to raise our spirit up by holding the torch high and keeping the flame burning to give us strength, hope and pride in order to keep the project alive. Hopefully, one of these days will be the turning point for San Giorgio School to come out of all its difficulties shining bright so that it can start the beginning of a new chapter of its life. We pray to the Almighty God for His gracious and glorious blessings because all miracles that may come to San Giorgio School will surely happen only through the divine intervention. Long Live San Giorgio School!