Mabel said all of this in a strong, bold voice for a 5 year old who had never spoken in front of 400+ people before. The year was 2010 and it was the first “official” graduation ceremony of St. Paul’s preschool in Akramaman village. They had gowns and diplomas. The parents were so proud and truly amazed at what their children could do. They were also grateful that their children would be starting 1st grade in a new primary school built by GMH with funds from the United Thank Offering of the Episcopal Church.
Fast forward two years and I am once
again sitting in a plastic chair in a field watching the new graduating class of St. Paul’s preschool march in. 19 children, 16 boys and 3 girls, graduated to 1st grade.
The day started with a little anxiety on my part. My all too Western World mentality questioned just how far had we come in the last five years since the preschool opened. Truly Akramaman village has come a long way. There is now a restaurant on the main road. I am not quite ready to order a meal. There is even new construction on a “strip mall” or sorts. Many people have begun to build homes in the area. The preschool, the primary school, the health post have all made Akramaman more like a little city. But there is still a village mentality about education, especially if it involves money. Jobs are scarce and every pesewas (penny) counts. It is hard for them to see the value of something that creates a reward that is so far in the future.
When the van arrived at the school very early in the morning, I didn’t even want to step out. I couldn’t see beyond the poorly mowed grass (they use machetes to cut the grass). Unlike the two previous graduations this graduation was being sponsored totally by the PTA. The only thing GMH contributed was a small bag with a jig-saw puzzle for each graduate. Mercia has been sending two of her preschool’s teachers out to St. Paul’s for the last month to help them prepare. She also lent them the robes. Like me, she feels this is partly her school. I was so afraid of being disappointed. Then I stepped out and was surrounded by my children. All doubts and fears few away. They hugged me and clung to my hands. The bottom button to my top came unfastened to reveal my very white belly. The children could hardly believe it. I am white even on my belly!
Leaving my little band of cuties for a quick walk into the village I enjoyed watching the primary school kids carrying chairs for the ceremony. Plastic chairs are a pretty big business in Africa. Most people don’t own enough chairs. Chairs are rented for every event. Canopy renting is also big business, especially for the many funerals. These girls carried the chairs on their head but several of the boys decided to use a big cart to carry their chairs. There were easily 400 people in attendance. Mabel is actually the second girl in the photo on the right. Notice the patch on her uniform. She is still using her preschool uniform. Most children wear their uniform until it can no longer fit. Unlike our children, most girls grow tall but gain little weight. From our experience 70% of the children in Akramaman are -1 on the WHO standard for children. A -3 is severely malnourished so these children are just below average.
The graduation was fine. They had even printed a small program (2″x3″) cut with pinking shears. The kids were so cute. The little ones recited their poems and sang songs. The older ones danced to some funky tunes. It was very 1970’s. One little boy about 2 years old went up on the stage and started dancing with the older kids. The moms went crazy and began dropping money in a bowl. The primary school kids were all clapping and enjoying themselves. Chief Nii Akramah sat very patiently as the day wore on. The day began late–no surprise there– and there were several technical difficulties with the rented music and microphones. You haven’t lived until you’ve experienced giant speakers and screeching mics. In all the whole thing lasted about three hours. It felt like 8-10. The weather co-operated with no rain. The sun was hot and we could have used several more canopies. Mercia was the guest speaker–I’ll tell you all more about that on another day. Everyone left happy and satisfied that their child just might be President some day.
But Mabel made the day for me. She is now ready to enter class 3. She was part of our first Reading Camp. Every year when I say my last good-bye at the village, Mabel cries–and so do I. As soon as she saw me she ran over to ask if I had brought her any reading books. She lives in the village and she wants to read. YES!!! How far have we come–One child at a time.