In many areas of life, flexibility is key to success. Mission work is no different. Our plans to revisit yesterday’s school fell victim to an eleventh hour postponement, ostensibly owing to a need for exam preparation. No worries! We took the opportunity to visit one of the reading rooms set up by our mission partner.
The reading room initiative is an excellent example of long-term vision. The idea is to dangle the carrot of literacy in front of mothers with school-age children explaining that children who have parents who read to them are far more likely to develop a life-long passion for learning. Interested mothers get ten lessons (one per week) on story telling – the use of tone, inflection, voice, etc. After ten weeks a relationship has been created (hopefully) with the mission leaders, thus opening the door for future contact and discussion on a variety of topics.
The room we visited was sponsored by a local farmer; we’ll call him Joe. A gentle man with a caring heart, Joe transformed an alcove in his own home, supplied it with a modest number of books and magazines, and decorated the walls with pronunciation charts for those interested in learning English, though that is not a requirement for use of the library. Joe also allowed a small building the size of a 4-car garage to be erected on his land. The interior is divided into four sections and will serve as a community school. We spent a couple of hours getting know Joe and his family. Though they have very little, Joe is a firm believer in the power of education and has successfully put both of his children through high school and one through college. To supplement their income, his family makes and sells kain tapis – gold thread embroidery. The two-piece garments consist of a long skirt and a sash. Worn by both sexes, the kain tapis are formal attire worn for graduations, weddings, etc.
After lunch, we were invited to visit a state-run school. State-run is not the same as public in the United States. The school is not free, it’s just not as expensive as private schools, and there is a small mixing of faiths. Following an introduction to the headmaster, five young ladies in their mid-teens were escorted into the office and introduced as the top members of the English club. We began to chat, but were soon interrupted to be escorted to a classroom.
From an elevated platform at the head of the classroom we introduced ourselves to the group. Each of our “hi’s” were greeted by a 40-voice shockwave of “hi” in response. For the moment, the teacher was able to maintain order…until Justin spoke. After that – pandemonium the likes of which have not been seen since the Beatles landed in New York.
Justin was the perfect person to have on this trip. The students, though respectful and interactive with Gary, Jon, Joanna and me, were clearly more comfortable with Justin, a fellow student and someone much closer to their age. Between autographs and photo ops, they flooded him with questions, many of which were similar to the other group. The wanted to know why we were there, specifically in this particular city. They were curious about life in the States, and at the teachers request, he discussed making heathy choices, like not smoking which seems be a common plight among the boys. For the most part, they were just ordinary kids; the boys were jokesters, the girls were shy. Ambition was not in short supply. One student wants to be an ambassador, another a police officer, and yet another wants to be a programmer. These kids were driven by a desire to grow and achieve. For example, the original five girls we met told us that they’d never taken an English class. Unlike languages in the Islamic school, English is not taught in this school. These girls are self- taught from English music and television.
As with the rest of the populous, our experiences with the children have been very positive. Of course, it’s the behind-the-scenes aspects that really tell the story. Our mission leaders had to overcome great resistance to allow us to come and visit the children. We continue to pray that our efforts will thaw the ice for future generations.