Hello my friends.
The fiction entries of the past few weeks have taken me by surprise and the momentum has continued with this week finding me pen another story for these humble pages and yet this story, this week’s fictional piece has clamoured its way into my heart and cries out for further attention and possible competition entry. My apologies my friends, I am sure Rama’s story will find its way here one day, but not on this day.
Rama’s story is the tale of every child I meet at Good Hope. It is the tale of a kid who lives in poverty with family issues and difficulties of some sort or another. It is the tale of his desire to remain at school and succeed, it is the tale of a kids eagerness to learn and be taught in a system that makes that desire nigh impossible for all but the wealthy or semi wealthy. A system that shows no regard for a young person’s right to education.
Rama’s deep desire to learn personifies every single child I have met in my thirteen months at Good Hope. At a quick calculation that amounts to roughly 75 kids. In my head I can scroll through all the faces and as I do I mentally tick them off. I am searching for the one that flouts authority; that skives their lessons, that shows no desire to learn. I honestly and truly cannot find one face that does not deserve my tick.
I wonder, my faithful readers from all over the world, if you look at a random selection of 75 teenagers aged 13 to 17 would you find the same dedication and desire to learn? I have no point of reference other than my three
grandchildren none of whom have hit their teens. They go to school because they must. It is what you have to do. The oldest and closest to her teenage years declares school to be “boring”! The middle child is an able student and enjoys his lessons whilst the youngest is still trying the structure on for size and has not made his decision as yet. They are all three good kids and they will each go far in the world, I know that.
My conclusion is this. When something is a given and there is never any question of its availability then we all slip into an ease of familiarity whatever the topic. We mostly do not stop to reflect and give thanks before every meal because food on the table is a given. It may vary in its form and undoubtedly there is hardship in each of your worlds and there are those who go hungry but I am generalising here. Mostly people expect there to be food and accept it as such with an almost disrespectful attitude and an appalling degree of waste. Education is the same. When it is an organised structure that demands attendance from every child then it is nothing to crave or hunger for and that is as it should be. Every child should have the right to an education but when that right is warped by poverty, warped by family needs that demand work in the fields or in the house; statistics that show 80% of primary school children here do not attend school for all five days, the average is three. It is that removal of the right to education that creates the strong desire for it.
This past week has been a celebration of that strong desire to learn as the tiny rooms of Good Hope see the magic enter and their capacity almost double! Two classrooms that normally house 26 students suddenly swell to over 40 as the school holidays start and our sponsored secondary school kids return. Many of our secondary school children will have no summer break this year as they are in critical study years and as such the schools demand extra study during the holidays. The private and the government schools provide extra lessons during the summer break for kids facing their O level exams this year (Form IV students) or for those sitting their Form II exams which will provide the results upon which O level options are decided at the start of the next year.
I must salute the education system that I so regularly berate. This automatic provision of extra tuition in advance of important exams is laudable and again I don’t think many other countries in “our” world offer the same so freely. No, it is not at the secondary school level that my issues with the system lie, it is at the primary school level.
The kids that have graced us with their presence this past week are the Form I secondary school kids. The kids we successfully found sponsorship for in January of this year and are now embarking on their secondary school careers. Almost without exception they return to us more grown up, more mature and more understanding of the facts of their good fortune. Every one of them understands the importance of working hard and not letting their sponsors down. Every one of them talks of their gratitude and love for their sponsor and their families and most write sending their prayers and God’s blessings to both their sponsors and their sponsors families.
These young people come as mentors to the others, they show them what can be done, they talk to the current Good Hope students about school life and the hard work needed to justify a place within the schools. They offer assistance to the volunteer teachers with regard to translation and they help the younger kids with their lessons eagerly and freely. It is a time for us to talk and review results so far, to spot any study difficulties they are encountering and to try to help boost abilities on a one to one basis. It is a busy and deeply rewarding month.
For me it is the evidence of the conclusion to a year’s hard work by all the volunteers who have graced Good Hope’s hallowed rooms. For without them these kids would never have been given the chance that they have. Every one of the 35 sponsored kids that we have out in an education programme traces his or her support back to a volunteer or a volunteer’s friend or family. It is an amazing network of love and I am honoured to be able to have witnessed the process from the start for the eleven new Form I students that we sent to secondary school this year.
I am honoured to have known and taught these kids at Good Hope, to have witnessed their joy at being sponsored, to have been present as they prepared to leave home and their families came to deliver them and their mattresses, buckets, mops and hoes, ready for life at school. And now to welcome them back with a hug and a smile and a congratulations on their efforts. For these kids and all the kids at Good Hope I am truly proud to be considered Bibi (grandmother) Gilly.