I’ve been processing the entire experience of our visit since we returned. I find my mind constantly wandering back to Community Eleven, sitting on the bench under the tree in the middle of campus. There was a sense of peace among the controlled chaos that is a school of one thousand students moving about, excited to finish writing exams and start their break.
From the outsider’s perspective, the kids had a lot of freedom. There were students jumping rope and playing about the grounds. They would amble towards the back of campus and the canteen, purchase a drink or snack and wander back. Very rarely did a teacher question their motives or actions. It appeared that they were trusted to do the right thing and be where they needed to be. One time the headmistress questioned a group if they had finished their exams. Their replies were respectful and honest. “No, teacher”, and they returned to their classes. Well, most of them. It certainly may have been our presence and disruption of the regular routine that created this scene, but it had a very natural feel to it.
I should mention that I haven’t walked away with a feeling that this is some sort of educational utopia. I just liked the way it seemed the kids were expected to do the right thing and be in the right place without constant supervision. Within the classroom it had a slightly different feel. I wish we had been able to see a regular day of instruction. Instead we saw the kids sitting quietly and working on their exams. Because of this, there wasn’t a lot of interaction with their teachers. In some cases they were sitting at a desk scoring papers or doing other work. In others the teacher walked through the room looking over the kids shoulders as they worked. In at least one room, they carried a long stick with them.
At the ceremony on the first day, the kids slowly filtered out of classrooms and made their way to the tents and few chairs that were set up. There were no straight lines, no teachers barking orders, just kids talking, joking, laughing, being kids. Azonto music pumped through the sound system luring them into the area. They filled the seats, or stood, occasionally wandering away to the canteen or to investigate something going on in a different area of campus.
Once the program ended they really put the sound system to use. We had walked to the other side of the primary building for the “adoring” of the new computer lab. When we returned to the assembly area, the speakers were turned up to ten and every last one of those one thousand kids, from kindergarteners to junior high, was dancing. It was beautiful. It still gives me a little chill to think about it. Unadulterated fun. Smiles stretched across every face. Robyn jumped right in and got a quick lesson in Azonto dance to the absolute delight of the kids who crowded around her. The music was still thumping as we drove away and I couldn’t help but wonder why it seems that could never happen at one of our schools in the States.
I also think about the speeches that were given during the ceremony. Several of the speakers were politicians and with this taking place a mere four days before the general election, well, they were campaigning. There were promises of major changes, a three to four story, “proper” school building, air conditioning for the computer lab and other such things. It sounded wonderful. It also sounded like politics. As we spent more time at the school and heard of their needs, the lack of supplies, and saw the meager lunch that was provided for the students, it was hard to believe that anything like a three story school building could even exist.
The classrooms had as many as sixty kids in them. Most rooms had one or two bare bulbs hanging from the ceiling, not turned on, and maybe a ceiling fan or two. Technology seemed to be represented by colored chalk. There were a few posters on the wall. The only ones that looked new were promoting a peaceful election.
It all left me with a mind full of questions. Was it really that different from our schools? I don’t know. We generally have better facilities, technology and supplies, but we’re constantly being asked to do more with less. It’s all relative I guess. (I should say that I have been amazed by what I’ve seen the kids have done. The writings that they sent home with us were impressive.) We certainly have the same goals and want the same thing for our students. I do believe we go about it in a different fashion. I can’t say for sure one is better though.
Where do we go from here? Again, I don’t really know. I’m excited to figure it out though. There are seemingly endless options to be explored in this partnership. Certainly, I hope that one day soon we will see CESC connected to the internet. It would be very beneficial to be able to communicate directly with the school through email. At this time, they have other concerns and needs that are more pressing and we’ll do what we can to address those first. Maybe, just maybe, the government will decide to help a little as well. The elections have passed and those making promises retained their power. Only time will tell.
I think the biggest question that weighs on my mind is, when can I go back. I want to visit again, and again, and again. I want it to be a true partnership between Mendenhall and Community Eleven School Complex. Most of all, I always want to be a part of that partnership. I don’t see any way I could have walked away feeling any differently.