Thursday, July 11, 2013

Back To The Orphanage

Yesterday I went to visit the Baptist school and orphanage where I was a teacher. To be honest, I was more nervous than excited. Especially after the news about Constance, I was a little scared to find out what has happened to my students over the last two years. And a corner of my mind couldn't stop worrying that they wouldn't remember me, or maybe just wouldn't care.

Two of my former pupils appeared before I'd even made it into the compound. The shorter of the two girls was staring at me with these huge eyes as I walked up. Her mouth popped open, but she didn't seem to be able to make a sound. "Grace?" I asked incredulously. One of my brightest students, she's grown up a lot since I last saw her. "Katherine!" She yelled. Next to her, Jackline, my deaf student, started clapping. I will never forget the look on Grace's face. Like she couldn't believe I was actually standing there. 
I went inside and the energy skyrocketed. However, there was a new restraint in my kids' behavior. They're young teenagers now and they seemed to be aware that they couldn't mob me and start screaming like they might have done two years ago. But there's no doubt that they were thrilled.
One reaction touched me in particular: Mawuko was one of my troublemakers. He was an oversized boy when I first met him, too tall and gangly for his own good. He was constantly cracking jokes and causing distractions, but he was so damn funny about it. There's always been a heart of gold under that joker's smile, and he knew he could get away with anything. Now he's even taller- if that's possible- but he's got the new grace of a young man now. He jumped to his feet when he saw me, but I could see the self-restraint kick in and he simply nodded respectfully and said, "Madame."

Richard, another of my strongest students, has been adopted to America. Others, like Peter & Paul and Edem, have moved to other schools. The orphanage is booming with babies, but Esther and I's three little P's have also gone to families in the US. Only Mr. Quarshie and the nursery teacher are left from my days there. Can't say I'm sorry to see the other staff members go. I met the new headmaster, Joseph. I can't be sure what kind of man he is, but he's got to be better than someone who would pride himself on the nickname Saddam Hussein, right?

The growth in all of my remaining students is astounding. Wonder... Jonathon... Eliezar... Emmanuel... Gabriel... Constancia...Victoria... Francis... Constant... They are taller, calmer, more sure of themselves. Gabriel's jawline has decided to make an appearance; his face looks so different I could hardly believe it was actually him. Stage 2 & 3 when I taught them, they are now Stage 5 & 6. I taught a brief math lesson out of their textbook at their insistence and I was blown away by how far they've come in their education. Even better, they started quoting things I had taught them. They made me sing "One Dark Night," a camp song we would sing as a reward when they were good. They started chanting, "Buy-bought, see-saw, go-went..." I spent hours upon hours drilling them about the past tense. I don't want to sound hokey, but it brought tears to my eyes. I won't pretend that I had the strength to give 100% every day I was there, but I worked hard for those kids. I cared about them and struggled to give them the education they weren't going to get otherwise, but it felt like chipping at the tip of an iceburg...with a Q-tip. But here they are, more mature and still working as hard as ever. And the things I did made a difference. All those times I was frustrated and homesick and angry with my own shortcomings seem validated; they were actually worth something. I can't adequately describe the feeling of that realization. I have never been more proud of anyone than I am of them. They make me feel truly honored that I was their teacher for a little while.

1 comment:

  1. One of the greatest and most needed feelings we will ever have in this life is the feeling that we are making a difference, the feeling that once we're gone we'll be remembered, and if not remembered still, the world will have been a better place because we lived. We made a difference; we used all those talents and blessings God gave us; we were in some small way the Father wanted us to be.

    In your words, Katherine, I sense your feeling that you made a difference. How many people die, wondering if their life mattered, but you went away and came back, and saw the evidence that it did! How wonderful for you.