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Leaders of Tomorrow

April 24, 2013
Front row: Comfort, Christian, Marie, Ama and Newton.  Back row Morris, Saye, Isaac, and me.

Interview day in Kakata.  Front row: Comfort, Christian, Marie, Ama and Newton. Back row Morris, Saye, Isaac, and me.

About two weeks ago I traveled to Kakata with eight of my student for EARTH University interviews.  It was a trip almost five months in the making.  They had written and re-written essays.  They had read, studied, and all stepped up even more in class.  I was literally watching them become leaders and as we waited for the cars in my front yard I had to bite back tears of pride and admiration.

…and tears of pre-disappointment and pre-heart break.

The truth of the matter is the best-case scenario I can hope for is that one of them will go.  The much more likely outcome?  None.  All that work.  All those dreams.  Deflated.

We talked about it.  I told them about my life’s laundry list of failures and disappointments.  “But am I a failure?”  They all laughed and shook their heads.  “Exactly.  If those other things had happened I wouldn’t be here with you now.  And you know what?  I cried and suffered when I didn’t win, but I’m glad because this is exactly where I was always meant to be.  Keep accepting the challenge and change will find you.  Keep moving forward and you are forced to get somewhere.”

Whatever happens we will keep fighting.  That, after all, is all you can ever do.

To reinforce some of the seams I planned visits to two other colleges while we were on the road.  Booker Washington Institute (BWI) is a vocational school in Kakata and I have a student from last year there studying plumbing.  I called him and we walked across town to the campus.  We were late, however, and he was in class with his phone on silent.  The kids and I stood awkwardly by the football field and I asked if we should just turn back and make the thirty-minute walk back.  They shrugged and I could see disappointment flashed across their faces.  “Whatever you think Ms. RB.”

What do I think?  I think we don’t give up.

I left them and walked up to a group of young men on the edge of the field.  I greeted them, shook hands, and explained the situation.  “I will pay you $100LD to walk us around for an hour or so.”  They agreed and before I knew it we were meeting the Registrar and the Principal and crashing class in every department.  Several professors were alumni of Central High and two of the students had surprise reunions with friends (“yard brothers”) they had lost touch with during the war.  We saw students making ceramics, working at drafting tables, carving chairs, fixing engines, and practicing different roofing techniques.  My student Emeka was even surprised when we crashed his plumbing class.  “Ms. RB, I’m sorry!  You taught me to always have my phone on silent in class!”

Good kids.

As the sun set we headed back to the dorm and they stopped for some light shopping, picking out new t-shirts and baseball hats out of wheelbarrows.  Morale was high when we reached and they spent the night watching the new Captain America movie on DSTV, trying to freeze juice, and eating watermelon.  (Two of the girls had never tasted watermelon before.  They carefully saved the seeds and carried them home to plant.  Symbolic?)

The next morning we left around 10:00 and hoped to make it to see one of the Response Volunteers teach at Cuttington in Suakoko.  We arrived about ten minutes late, but were immediately greeted by another Volunteer and taken to the Dean.  He took us to the chairmen of the Chemistry and Biology departments and we had an hour-long tour of each lab.

Second semester of senior year, six weeks before national exams, this was the first time any of them had been in a laboratory.  The grins breaking across their faces erased every memory of frustration or disappointment I carried from the last two years.  This is why I came.  This is why it all matters.  They were hopeful and excited and I could see some of the tension release.  Even if they didn’t go to EARTH they had exciting options.  Someday they could be the one in the white coat reading a lab manual and mixing chemicals.  Someday they could be the one explaining the parts of the human skeleton and body.  Someday they could be the young professor.

After two hours I had to pull them away but I could tell none of them would ever be the same.  They will always stand a little taller and smile a little bigger.  I asked them to write compositions about the trip and what they learned.  When they finish final revisions I will post them here.  Trust me, though, they’re good.

Whoever goes and whatever happens, I hope they know how proud I am of them and how proud they should be of themselves.

Note: This trip would not have been possible without the generous help of EARTH University and the Mastercard Foundation.  They paid for all the students’ travel expenses and allowed them to travel farther from home than ever before.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. blondie permalink
    April 24, 2013 1:41 pm

    Beautiful, beautiful post. I’m glad your students are having hope, empowerment, and autonomy instilled in them. There’s a big world out there and with perserverence, they will continue to discover and access more of it!

  2. Julie Simpson permalink
    May 10, 2013 1:49 am

    What a beautiful, inspiring group of students. I wish them all well. I’m sorry I won’t get to meet them this winter. I had to cancel my trip because of airfare costs. I hope to get back there before too much longer….. keep up the good work RB

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