A MISSIONARY nun who founded a school in a shantytown in Peru has been awarded the 2017 Palmas Magisteriales Award for “significantly contributing” to the development of education in the country.
Sister Patricia McLaughlin, who is a native of Loughgeil in Co. Antrim and a Loreto missionary nun ministering in Peru since 2000, was presented with the award this month.
It is the highest honour granted by the Peruvian state to teachers whose work has contributed significantly to the development of education.
Sister Patricia said she was both honoured and humbled to receive the award on behalf of the Fy y Alegria School, where she is the founding principal.
“Children everywhere deserve a good education. God has no favourites. If our work can make a difference to the life of one child, then, it is worthwhile” she said.
The Irishwoman, who attended Loreto College in Coleraine and joined the Loreto sisters in 1976, did her teacher training at St Mary’s University College in Belfast before taking up teaching posts in Omagh and later Gibraltar – where she was the headteacher at the Loreto Primary school for eight years.
In 2000, she volunteered to work with children who were in greater need and, after learning Spanish, went to Peru where two Loreto sisters were working in a shantytown in Jicamarca, not far from the Peruvian capital Lima.
The people there were looking for a school to ensure that the poorest and most vulnerable among them had access to an education.
The Loreto Sisters were asked if they would be willing to run it and Sister Patricia accepted the challenge.
There was no water, electricity or sewage, but the school was started in April 2002 - with three very basic classrooms, without doors or windows, for 120 children.
From the outset, Sister Patricia was determined to give the children the best education possible and now the school boasts 1,000 children and has won awards for its achievements and results.
“We now have a beautiful school with a good library, and computers,” Sister Patricia explains.
“They’re learning how to cook. They need music and dance for a well-rounded education – so we have a choir …and a football team.”
“It’s not just mathematics and English and language,” she adds, “I try to give at least 500 children a good meal every day – the only nutritious meal they get.
“I can’t afford to feed them all, but I give it to the children who need it most. Many of the mothers are single parents who go out to work to provide for their children.”
Today the school is considered to have one with the best reading levels in the country, with pupils reading more than 300 books in the year.
In 2013 it won The Best School Award, which was decided by the Ministry of Education, local businesses and the national television channel.
“I think we got that award because we had shown that poor children can achieve as much as any others if they are given the chance,” Sister Patricia said.