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Catholic Activist Wins $1 Million For Helping Educate African Exiles

By Jacqueline L. Salmon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 8, 2007

A Catholic activist who has been instrumental in providing high school and college education to thousands of African refugees will receive a $1 million prize tonight through a program administered this year by Catholic University.

The Opus Prize, given annually to someone who "combines a driving entrepreneurial spirit with an abiding faith to combat poverty, illiteracy, hunger, disease and injustice," will go to Brother Constant Goetschalckx, who founded an education program that operates out of refugee camps in Tanzania.

A committee of Washington area executives, journalists and educators chose Goetschalckx over two other finalists: the Rev. John Adams, president of So Others Might Eat, an interfaith organization that serves low-income D.C. residents, and the Rev. Norberto Carcellar, who leads a Philippine organization that helps squatters. Adams and Carcellar will each receive $100,000.

Goetschalckx "is a man who is absolutely and totally committed to the poor of the world," said the Very Rev. David M. O'Connell, president of Catholic University. The money comes from the Opus Group, a Minnesota real estate firm that develops office and industrial parks, and will be awarded during a ceremony at the university.

Goetschalckx's organization, Ahadi, launched 10 years ago by "Brother Stan," as he is known, organizes high school classes and provides college-level tutors to 26,000 refugees living in camps in Tanzania.

Goetschalckx -- a member of the Congregation of the Brothers of Charity, a Belgium-based religious order -- has been working in Africa since the 1970s. He began Ahadi, which roughly translates to "promise" in Swahili, when hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing violence in neighboring Rwanda, Congo and Burundi began flooding into Tanzania.

"The classical system of education couldn't keep up with the growing population," Goetschalckx said yesterday.

He recruited educated volunteers from the camps to start high school classes and arranged for distance-learning classes for those working toward college degrees.

Ahadi's staff members receive material from colleges via e-mail, he said. Printouts of the material are provided to teachers, who use it in classes aimed at helping refugees earn degrees in education, social work and business, he said.

This is the fourth year for the prize. The Opus Prize Foundation partners with a different Catholic university each year to administer the award.

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