Monday, 13 September 2010

The School a Community Built

Six months ago the ladies of the Pink and Yellow flats were working on a couple of projects for the Vincent Kawai Memorial Foundation in their spare time – the launch of an album by the Foundation’s 2008 Talent Show winner, Steve Bako and the construction of a community primary school.

I picked the album launch. Laurie, Dori and Teleri picked the school.

On 7 August 2010, Steve Bako’s debut album ‘Gani Nan’ was successfully launched to a packed Kagoro Town Hall.

(Left) Steve performs one of his songs 'Zam Oegworok' (Kagoro Youth)

Today, 11 September – and far more impressively – the latest UBE (Universal Basic Education) Primary School in Uzah Kpak ("Upper Kpak" - our part of Kagoro) was formerly handed over to its headmistress, Alice watched by about 400 village children and well-wishers.

Steve Bako launch: unfortunately I sacrificed photography in favour of management on the day of the launch. But in the weeks before the organising team took time to meet all the local Paramount Chiefs (here of Mor’oa, left) to ensure that we had a full house of appropriate dignitaries. (centre) Welcoming the chairman of the Kagoro Development Association Youth Wing on the day itself, as the stage is set for the event (thanks to VSO Ariel for the picture)

Until recently, Uzah Kpak’s primary school has been located in a semi-derelict house next to the Pink House. Local and village government have had plans to move to a more permanent site but... well.... they just haven’t really unfolded. Six months ago, there was the breeze block shell of two classrooms.

The classrooms begin to take shape, and are impressively ready for visitors on the day of the launch.

But then Mrs Aka’ahs got involved and got the Pink House ladies involved and, between them, Laurie, Dori and Teleri raised enough money from friends and family in their respective homelands to not just build four classrooms but equip them with furniture, blackboards, toilets and school books for all pupils.

The school children excitedly try out their new desks: a far cry from the derelict house they use to receive their lessons in. Teleri shows off the school books each pupil will receive whilst Laurie fits one of the school bags, given by friends in the US, onto a pupil.

Under the stewardship of the Foundation’s only permanent member of staff, Chris Felix, the building blocks were bought, and the community mobilised to build, paint and finish the new school block.

It’s not been easy. Rumours and accusations of diversion of funds split the building committee.. Despite his best efforts, the community town crier was not always able to get enough people along to volunteer to dig pit toilets and grade sand. But, the school, school books, furniture and teachers are ready for the start of the school year...although the new term has now been officially delayed for a week due to the late sighting of the moon for the Sallah (end of Ramadan) celebration... but that’s a different story.

Tomorrow’s leaders gather in the corner of the venue (left) and take time to dance with other VSOs (centre) before leading the guests out towards the school ............

........and down the road for the official ribbon cutting and handing over of keys

As I sat in the front row seats next to Laurie, Dori and Teleri I felt both a tremendous sense of pride, and I felt a bit of a fraud. This school was funded by them and their friends’ and family around the world, and was built by the community. I played my part by making dinner for Teleri on those evenings when she was busy in meetings with the planning committee and the headmistress, Alice. But that’s about all.

Dori, Laurie and Teleri pose with school founding headmistress Alice and Justice and Mrs Aka’ahs, whilst I play my role – as photographer and dancer, though I can’t unfortunately compete with the moves of the professionals in the audience.

However I am incredibly proud of what my sisters have done. For many years to come, this community will remember the volunteers of the Pink (and now also Yellow and Red) house. We hope that all future volunteers based here will set the bar high and help this amazing community that has provided a family to us for two years.

The children of the Vincent Kawai Memorial Foundation appeal to all adults present to send their children to school. The Paramount Chief’s representative, flanked by Kpak’s own District Head (who lives opposite us in the Pink House) address the volunteers directly whilst the Dogaci (Village Head) thanks those families who donated the land for the school.

The (innumerable!) speeches yesterday all focused on thanking the Turawa (plural for Bature), and it’s difficult for anyone with a white skin to walk down a road in Kpak, and possibly in Kagoro without receiving a little bobbed curtsey (the women) or bow of the head (the men) and a deeply felt ‘mungode’ (we thank you).. But I can only reply ‘nagode’. I thank you.

This morning (Sunday) I felt the need for a run but, having danced my legs off at Nick (Fantsuam’s Ugandan volunteer)’s party on Friday night and (I confess) being scared of the dirty looks I get when running around the village at 08:30am on a Sunday morning when all proper people should be in church, I decided to take my morning exercise up Kagoro Hill rather than through the village.

As I sat at the junction half way up (as far as I got) I looked out at the view and drank it all in. It’s not often that you have something like this in your back yard... Even the vista of Royal Herbert Pavilions in SE18 can’t compete.

A picture from the first time at the junction in November 2010 –and some views from the way down.

Last Sunday Teleri and I took a walk around the village and received our customary warm welcome.

Teleri greeting the kids near the market, and another group near our house whilst we bump into my friend Jonathan’s mother Esther

I won’t forget Kagoro and now, thanks to the UBE primary school, I don’t think Kagoro will forget Fantsuam and its VSO volunteers in a hurry. Thank you Dori, Laurie and Teleri. Thank you not just from the children of Kagoro now and in the future, but for me too. And please forgive me if I share just a little part of this community’s memory with you.