Best seat in the house

27 10 2009

We were greeted by a strange and unfamiliar quiet as we drove up the dusty dirt road to the orphan homes today. No one was weeding the garden, no one was washing dishes in a tub out back, no kids were running around in the yard. The “father” from house number four emerged from his front door and greeted us. “Come,” he said, “all of the children are at the school.” As we tagged along behind him, he explained that there was a ceremony taking place. As it turns out, the Zambian Development Agency (ZDA) was donating 1 million kwacha (about $400) worth of textbooks to the local school.

Gathered in the shade of a few trees just behind the school, we joined a small crowd of people – mostly children in their ragged grey uniforms. In the middle of the group was a small bench where five older men were seated. This was the reserved seating section – occupied by the headman (kind of like a regional chief) and other elders.

Steph and I weren’t really sure what was going on at this point, but apparently the program had just started. We were ushered to the “front” where the headmaster of the school was seated next to three ZDA employees. We tried to insist on standing in the back, but instead we were introduced to all of them and then asked to sit next to the head of the local PTA. I was a little shocked and embarrassed but at the same time curious to see what all was going to take place. We were asked to stand and introduce ourselves to everyone – which just kills me. We just wanted to come hang out with the kids for a little while, and all of the sudden we find ourselves standing in front of a crowd of people, at a ceremony we have nothing to do with, telling them who we are. Ha!

Later I was thankful for our seat, because it was prime for taking in everything that happened. And it was all fascinating to listen to and watch. The whole program was laid out as the people from the ZDA prepared to hand the new text books over to the headmaster. Different groups of kids sang a few songs, a local male quartet preformed a song of thanks they had composed specifically for the occasion (which, as it turns out, no one knew was even taking place until the day before), a poem was recited, and then lots of people gave speeches.

The ZDA representative talked about how the donation came to fruition, and how excited they were to be able to give something to help educate the “future leaders of Zambia”. The thing is, government schools are only free until 7th grade. So books are provided up until that point, but then after that government funding doesn’t offer assistance. And, even in the lower grades, not all the classes have books – and in the ones that do everyone shares or only the teacher has a copy to work from. Needless to say, this was an amazing blessing for the little community, and there was a tangible joy in the air as they danced, sang, and celebrated the gift.

It was cool to see how thankful the students were and how receptive the community was. One of the ladies who spoke talked about how the kids needed to care for these books because “even their great-grandchildren would be using them”. Others talked about the value and importance of education and what an honor it was to help foster growth in their children and in their community. When the headmaster rose to give his speech of gratitude, be mentioned that this wasn’t the only blessing his school has received. He wanted to remind his community how thankful the students and staff continued to be for the one solar panel that was donated the year before. The one solar panel that powered one light bulb in one of the classrooms. “How wonderful,” he said, “that the children can come and work on their homework even after it gets dark.”

Again, watching people with so little give praise and thanks for what they do have left me humbled and in awe.

Some of the local kids watching from the side

Some of the local kids watching from the side




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