I first said, “Wow!” after hearing the headmistress of Peace House Secondary School share her moving story. Unbelievable trial and tribulation brought her to serve as the special leader of this orphanage and school. Against all odds, she pursued her own education and chose to make a difference for the children of her country.
Several exclamations of “Wow!” followed as we spent time with the students.
Our group traveled to Peace House Secondary School on February 19, 2010. Unlike other groups that traveled before us, we were the first group comprised entirely of women. And boy, did we ever look forward to touching the lives of the 250 students of PHS!
We met many times before our visit to design a variety of activities and offerings for PHS.
- During our first afternoon on campus, we taught the students the art of tie dying. Three days later, each student took possession of his or her self-made tie-dyed pillowcase.
- We worked to put together a computer lab complete with the 27 laptops we carried over in our backpacks along with a server.
- We made chocolate chip cookies during the cooking club meeting (thankfully the chocolate chips weren’t confiscated in customs) and made enough to serve every student one cookie at teatime the next day.
- We hosted a movie-night complete with American-style popcorn.
- We endeavored to enhance the color on campus by adding gardens and planting around the kids dorms.
- We also put on our teaching hats by conducting a session on the importance of short-term and long-term goals for the junior and senior students. We did this by providing small group discussions with volunteer facilitators and faculty, and facilitating open-mic sharing by the courageous students who came forth to share their short-term goals and life long dreams.
This goal-setting session may have been the most powerful and meaningful time we had with the students. We heard all about the dreams and hopes of the kids in our small groups. One female student shared her short-term goal of “not getting pregnant and ruining her future and her child’s future”. Another shared a long-term goal of becoming a member of parliament and representing her country and the needs of those who had no representation. The kids in my group wanted to be an engineer, an accountant or teacher. Two of the boys wanted to be pilots. I was familiar with each of those aspirations — my sons are studying to be engineers, my husband is an accountant by degree and a private pilot out of love, and I am a teacher at heart.
We did other things too, like join classes as observers, teachers and representatives of American culture and values. We were asked questions by students like, “Can you recite President Obama’s inaugural address?” and “How much money do you have in the bank?”
We offered insights on what it means to be female and a leader in our work, communities and homes. We shed tears of sorrow because the students have been through so much, as well as tears of joy because they now have dreams to reach new heights through the support of their teachers, social workers and PHS leadership.
We were impressed with the kid’s diligence and focus on learning. All of their subjects are taught in English, a second language for them. Can you imagine taking biology or chemistry in your beginning years of mastering a new language?! They started their days with devotions and breakfast at 6:30 am, and you would often find them still studying every night in the school until 9:30 pm.
So although our group hoped to touch their lives, the students and faculty deeply touched us with their dedication to learning, growing and reaching beyond their circumstances. Each night as we reflected upon our day, we were grateful for the wisdom of the teachers, the courage and curiosity of the students, and energy of the staff.
As we pause to reflect, it’s the little things that made the biggest impact on our hearts and lives. Each one of us connected with one or more students, as we walked to and from the dining hall, hosted an Art or English class, or danced an African dance with the girls during free time.
I recognize that I am shifting pronouns from “I” to “We” and back again because I have special thoughts to add and we, as a group of empowered women, had a shared experience that can’t be beat. We will be looking for ways to continue to make a difference for these kids. In fact, I have a group of seven girls I will continue to write to as time goes on.
Peace House is looking for donations of black shoes for the uniform and running shoes for the run club. (Most run in their bare feet, which is why I left my shoes and sandals with them back in Africa.). Let me know if you too want to make an ongoing difference in any way.