Today I learned that I will continue to help fund this project for as long as they need. Why? Because I met the students of the Free High School – and they blew me away.
It felt awkward as we arrived – a group of all white women (and 2 men) tromping through the front gate looking more like tourists than humanly possible – wearing backpacks, carrying water bottles, wielding cameras. All I could think about was how much they must resent us as we walked around with wide eyes, mouths hanging open, and cameras clicking. I wondered if they thought of us as rich American intruders. Boy, was I wrong!
They welcomed us as emissaries for the funding that is making it easier for them to see their own dreams come true. They saw us as eager to learn about them – their needs, their motivations, their dreams, their successes, their challenges. They were amazingly accepting, and they taught me many things.
Here are just a few of the many lessons I learned today:
The students range in age from young to working adult. I was seriously impressed with the teenaged girl who presented at the opening ceremony. I believe she is in the last year of high school. So self-assured, standing as tall as her five-foot frame would let her, holding the microphone with grace and ease. She was also in the English class I audited (for me it was a Spanish class – and I failed miserably) and was the only student who willingly volunteered to come to the front of the class to answer a question on the board.
Then there is the woman who stopped going to school in 6th grade because “she didn’t like it”. She works a full-time job from Monday to Friday, has children to care for, and must take the bus to get to the school. She wants to be a nurse.
There is a man in his 30s who has already attended the technical school (another part of the Free High School). He works every day with the trade he learned; now he wants to finish high school so that he will be “more successful.”
Then there are the kids playing in the courtyard – they are children of some of the students – accompanying their moms or dads because there is no one else to watch them during school time. They are not completely unsupervised (I think), but mom or dad is in class, hopefully not too distracted by what might be going on in the courtyard.
We were allowed to audit classes for a while. Since my Spanish is less than nonexistent, I thought, “Sure! An English class sounds right up my alley!” Foolish me. Good thing, a long time ago, I got over being the focus of laughter. The teacher was great – this student – not so much. The three girls I was asked to sit with and “help” with their English answers, couldn’t get a word out through the giggles, guffaws, laughs, and endless mirth. Eventually, the teacher came over and saved my sorry butt. They wanted to know what I did – so I told them (through the teacher’s translation) about being a special education teacher once, and now a health care partner. They were so welcoming, so fun, so…not what I thought.
The students actually have a responsibility for their education as well. I learned they “payback” by going out into local villages to educate the residents about health and hygiene – checking that filtered water is stored safely to prevent mosquitoes from breeding. They also function as an investigative unit – working to find children being sexually exploited. The head of the school proudly shared a story of how, thanks to the efforts of their students, the police were able to recover two fifteen-year-old girls that had been kidnapped and were being taken to Costa Rica to be sold into prostitution.
My mind is blown.The force for change that is this school is astounding!
I would have liked to have the opportunity for them to ask questions of us. I can only imagine what we could learn if we were the ones in the hot seat.
So whether of not, I am able to return with the team next year, I will be an avid fundraiser for this cause. Those touristy, geeky, awkward, uncomfortable volunteers who walked through the gates, left awed, amazed, floored, humbled, and committed to continue to help.
Follow the link to watch the Random Acts daily video diary: