Invited

Monday, December 12

On Sunday, Manyok presented me with a printed invitation to the school’s year-end closing ceremony. The invite was for 10 am Monday, so like an American I arrived early, and like an African I watched and waited. Young boys carried school desks from the school to the church for the assembly. The one-piece desks consist of a bench seat and a 10″ plank writing area. Designed to seat two or three, the children squeezed together four or five to a desk.

On Sundays, each member of the congregation must bring their own seat, and the church is populated with colorful plastic chairs and large bent tin cans—mostly for seating children. Today the church is more orderly, the benches lined up in neat rows. One of the teachers gestured for the kids to stand and reordered them from class one to seven, right to left and back.

Another teacher ran a cable from an outside power source to hook up a sound system—amp and speakers, music and mic. Chairs had already been set up for the invited guests and teaching staff.

The program was further delayed with an announcement that we were waiting for 91-year-old Gideon, the guest of honor, but when another twenty minutes passed without him, they started up. He arrived soon after.

There was much singing and celebration, and the top ten students in each class were recognized by name and invited to the front of the church. The young primary students received a notebook, a pen, and soap—the soap here comes in long bars, scored to break off into individual bars of soap. I don’t think first graders in the US would prize soap the way they do here. The pen and soap supplies ran out, and the older students received only notebooks and certificates.

Two of our ASAH girls, Achol in class six, and Ayen in class three, were number nine in their respective classes, as was Daniel, the boy who has assisted me with videotaping and other tasks over the last year.

One student was asked to speak to the assembly—Achol, graduate of class six. She took the mic like a pro and, in Dinka, translated for me by Manyok, told the crowd how important it is to let the girls stay in school and not to marry them off when they are too young. She spoke in a strong and confident voice, turning to looking at the assembled students as well as the teachers and invited guests. She said, “If you let us stay in school and get an education, then you will see what we can do for you in the future.”

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