Recently, I attended the annual awards ceremony at the boarding high school where we send students who successfully complete our Learning Center program. If you are familiar with Goshen International’s mission, then you are aware that the students we help come from South African townships and are disadvantaged in many ways. Living under the effects of Apartheid, these students are not dissimilar to poor inner city youths in America, but in most cases, their poverty, family dysfunction, and hopelessness is more extreme. This is why when I see these students excel, the sight fills me with hope and pride.
Earlier in the week, I doled out my usual share of accolades and scoldings after receiving report cards and meeting with teachers. Some students were still coping with the transition to the new school, and others were not working as hard as they should. Yet, three students in particular did very well, and the school recognized that effort at the awards ceremony. I would like to share a little about each of them.
Shanice Davids, an 11th grader, strives to be a hard-working young lady. From her early days in the Learning Center, her efforts placed her at the top of the class consistently; a distinction which followed her to high school. She is one of the students who causes teachers from the school to stop me in the store and say, “Thank you for sending us that child!” Shanice and her three sisters were mostly raised by a single mother. They are poor, and one sister frequently gets into trouble. On top of that, we only discovered a couple of years ago that Shanice had a very bad hearing problem. She had been working hard in school and achieving all of these years despite the fact that she could barely hear what was going on in class; and because she is so shy, she never spoke up about it. Fortunately, she now has an ear device which has greatly improved her hearing. With almost straight A’s in her subjects, she was rightfully recognized at the ceremony. She does especially well in math, and she may even pursue a career in the subject.
Sadie Roman seems like a fixture in our lives because she comes from a family of Learning Center students, and we have known her since she was in the 5th grade. Now a senior in high school, she also enjoys the praise of her teachers and holds leadership positions in the school. Being athletically gifted as well, she represented her school and won in the provincial (state-wide) netball competitions. However, Sadie comes from a poor background and lives in a house with at least 12 other people. Her parents, grandmother, aunts, cousins all live together in one small home. I was very proud at the awards ceremony when Sadie not only received recognition for her academic and sport accomplishments, but also received the Fish Eagle award. It is a highly-coveted prize which takes years to earn. To get it, you have to excel in your studies, prove your physical fitness–especially along a multiple-mile hike, and exhibit concern through community service work over your entire high school career.
I saved Suleiman Kriga for last. Suleiman is not marked by high grades like the other students. His grades were actually poor at the beginning of the year. However, when I looked at his recent report card, I immediately noticed the vast improvement that he made. In fact, his teachers consistently echoed the mantra, “Suleiman works so hard,” and you can see the sincerity in their eyes. This translates to sports as well. Although he is short, he plays rugby, runs track and everything else. In all of this, he tries hard and does well. Suleiman has the most broken background of all in many ways. He only met his father when he was 13, and they do not have a strong relationship. His mother is a drunk and a social pariah. Because she was very poor and refused to take care of him properly, he shifted from place to place before finally settling down with an aunt. Yet in the midst of all of the instability, Suleiman has developed a pure love for God. You can look at him and see his passion in the pursuit of the Lord, and you can see how it affects the rest of his life. His personality is infectious, and he is adored throughout his school. This is how he became the center of the awards ceremony. While going on stage to receive a sports award, a teacher handed him a bag. The moderator asked him to open it there on stage. He did this and pulled out a laptop computer! The crowd was amazed. It was the first time anything like that had been given to a student. It was a gift of encouragement meant to acknowledge the effort that Suleiman gives in school. He may not have been the best in all of the award areas, but the school staff sent a message that evening of how much they believed in him!
Having no kids of my own, I sat in that auditorium with a pride and joy as if I were applauding my own children. I guess that is what happens when you walk alongside young people for so long. Resisting the urge to stand up and say, “That’s my kid,” I sat with a cheesy smile and took pictures like any proud parent. I’m proud of all of our kids and the way that they make a statement against their circumstances with effort and work in order to take advantage of the opportunity our donors help us to give them. I’m also very thankful to God that I can be here in this place and this time and do my little part to help these students achieve their goals. It is an honor that I know both Nicole and I would not easily trade.