Setting A Standard

klc kids workingA few weeks ago an article came out on the front page of the monthly newspaper.  Much to our surprise the kid featured on the front was one of the students we know at the high school.  Wow!  Michael grabbed the paper and started reading the article; then, he threw the paper down in disgust.  The article was about another organization that had a math contest to see who could do the most multiplication tables in a minute.  This 14-year old, 8th grade Coloured boy won because he could do 34.  It made the front page of the local paper.  A local Coloured boy could do 34 single-digit multiplication problems in a minute.

Michael was indignant for quite a while.  He began ranting about how our 5th graders are required to do at least 40 problems in a minute; how we were the first group in the area to even do math minutes; and how we should be getting more publicity for the work we do.  It was quite a rant!  I was upset also, but for a vastly different reason.  First, why would something like this make it into the local paper?  It was embarrassing.  With drugs ravaging our townships, I understood the desire to want to promote something positive, but this was quite a stretch.  Second, how could anyone think that this was front page material?  Then, it dawned on me.  It is not amazing that a kid can do single-digit multiplication.  It is amazing that a kid whose skin color is not white can do single-digit multiplication.  It is so amazing in this town that it is worthy of the front page of the paper.  No white kids were a part of the contest because it would have been unfair.  White kids can obviously outdo a child of color in a test of intellect.

To me this article and its pretend accolades further expose the racism that is still prevalent in South African culture today.  My students and other children of color do not typically have the academic background of their white counterparts mostly because they don’t have their wealth.  Their parents cannot afford for their children to go to school with current books, highly-skilled teachers, and adequate supplies.  Our students are not exposed to anything that could be considered academically rigorous until they pass through our Learning Center doors.  In their regular classes, they are taught to write neatly, but rarely do they have to use their minds to process information and come up with their own conclusions.  Even after 15 years, we are still fighting with teachers about the proper way to divide so that the students consistently get the right answer!

All of this is true, but it is due to a lack of exposure not a lack of ability.  Some white South Africans still think that children with darker skin do not have the intellect to process information, and that is why they do so poorly in white schools when given the opportunity to go there.  I am here to testify that this is not the case.  Students given the opportunity to go to a school of higher learning with greater standards cannot compete without the proper academic foundation.  First, a child’s foundation has to be right, then it can be built upon.  But, to praise a child in the 8th grade for doing 3rd grade work is not the right kind of encouragement; it is demeaning at best.  Someone has to give children of color tasks that are difficult, expect them to do it correctly, then praise good work and critique the bad.  This is the basic formula for any learning.  However, lowering the standard and claiming that easy work is difficult is insulting.

We are here to raise the standard.  One reason we want to start our own school is because we believe in these students.  They are children like the rest.  They have strong qualities and weak ones and need the thoughtful direction of the adults around them to grow in their strengths and build from their weaknesses.  We don’t believe in fair being equal; however, we do believe in giving children the opportunity to try.  Please pray with us that we will be able to build a school that will set the standard and serve as a model for what can be done in education in South Africa.


Turning 40

Michael 40

Turning 40 years old is a milestone in any person’s life. Having recently accomplished this feat, I did the typical soul searching and contemplated the last four decades of my life. There are so many goals that I have yet to achieve—career, home ownership, financial independence.   However, I have come to realize that these are just natural things. Yes, they are noble and worthy aspirations which I still strongly desire. But in the end, these are the things that will one day burn. They won’t mean much in eternity.

The work that I am doing in South Africa is lasting. I came to this country when I was 26 years old, and I haven’t really left. I didn’t know when I was 26 that I would turn 40 in a foreign land. Back then, my whole life was ahead of me. I was young, and in my youthful naivete, I thought I would just spend a year or two serving and then move on to the next thing. The next thing was probably marriage or home ownership in my mind. Little did I know that this nation and these children would capture my heart in a way that would consume my service and commitment for 14 years. It has been the defining chapter of my life.

As for Goshen, we are moving along well. We continue to educate and disciple disadvantaged youth, and though it comes with ups and downs, I am proud of the impact we have been able to have over these many years. I recently learned that all of the elementary students that attend our Learning Center program literally form the top tier in their regular classes. Our older students are also flourishing. While some of our high school seniors have been accepted to premier South African universities, our senior college students are preparing to graduate with degrees in Pharmacy, Law, and Education making them all the exceptional pride of their communities. Spiritually, we are teaching the kids to “shift their gaze” from the distractions and circumstances of this world to focus on the Lord and hear His voice. We constantly reinforce that education and achievement mean nothing outside of the will of God, so it is important to always live to please Him!

Living to please Him in the light of these accomplishments has been the highlight of my adult life. My path, whether by choice or design, did not end up the way I thought or the way that most of my friends’ paths have directed. However, I am grateful to have educated these students in a way which has added just a few more opportunities and choices in their lives. I am grateful for the young men and women that I have had the privilege of mentoring—to shape and mold their choices. I am grateful that my life, though not perfect, has been an example in some ways to show others how theirs can be just a bit better. Finally, I am grateful for a Savior, who gave His life for mine, and how His Father’s plan for this life has pushed me beyond my comfort zone to do something amazing and lasting for His glory. I used to dread getting older, but now I realize 40 looks good on me!

 


South Africa’s Quest for Mediocrity-Part 1

boys behind fence

Listie-Anne Kamm was one of the first students in the Kurland Learning Center.  A graduate with honors from Stellenbosh University, she is deeply concerned with the political, educational and social future of her country.  Like her fellow South Africans, she prays for a better, healthier country in which her children can grow up.

A few weeks ago, while visiting some family in Kurland, I asked my 16 year old cousin if she passed her June exams. She smiled and said, “Yes, of course.” I told her to bring me her report card so that I could see her grades. Without hesitation, she went into the room to retrieve it. As I opened it, she knelt down beside me looking on as I scanned the paper in my hand. What struck me the most was not her poor grades signified by a 40% average, but the look of pride on her face as if she had earned an A+. I asked if she thought her grades were good, which she obviously did by the look on her face. To make matters worse, at the bottom of the report card where the principal is supposed to write his remarks regarding her high school progress, I read: “Well done. Keep up the good work!”

That is the standard that South Africa is setting for its children today. Our society, schools and universities have adjusted expectations downwards, especially in relation to black and Coloured students, which is dangerous in a country with so much promise for excellence. My cousin has been taught that learning less than 50% of her work is acceptable. The message being conveyed to young people is that it is fine to be an underachiever, and that we will applaud them for doing less than is required. Will my cousin strive to do better than 40%? I don’t think so. Indeed, she is being handicapped by the very system that is meant to equip her, as well as tens of thousands of other learners.

Slowly we are digging our collective graves as we fall into a sinkhole of mediocrity from which we are unlikely to emerge. We make excellence sound like a ‘white thing’. Behind a massive wave of populism and in the misguided name of “regstelling” (setting it right), we give young people new levels of access to resources and universities without exhibiting the hard work necessary to achieve these privileges and to succeed once there. Of course, you are labelled a racist if you question this kind of mindlessness. How else can a politician defend himself against the critics of mediocrity in an election year?

 


War of the Worldviews

township laundryOne of our former Learning Center students recently told me that he is applying to the Royal Marines in Great Britain. As one of our favorite personalities from past classes, it was reassuring to hear that he wanted to dedicate at least this portion of his life to defending democracy and justice. Regardless of whether or not he’ll be accepted as a part of England’s naval forces, his choice prompted a conversation concerning the desire to travel so far to serve as a soldier. The conclusion was simple: South Africa does not have any real enemies. He would probably never have to fight in a war here.

As I pondered this probability, I thought about how false the statement actually was. South Africa is in a war and has a very real need for soldiers in this hour. Although there are no guns pointing at South Africa, its people still live in fear. Crime statistics in certain cities in the country make Chicago, one of the most dangerous cities in the U.S., seem safe. Although the economy fares better than many other African nations, one in four South Africans live on a dollar a day. Education is also a major issue. Last year it was reported that only half of the students that started school 12 years ago actually made it to graduation, and only a percentage of that number passed the national exam in order to graduate. Further, recent assessments have found that a majority of the students in the country cannot read or count. There are certainly many more issues that South Africans have to deal with on a daily basis, and there are no real solutions in sight.

The war that South Africans are fighting has to do with, in my opinion, the roots of the problems outlined above. They include corruption and ignorance. National leaders steal money and look out for themselves while having no clue as to how to address the ills of the nation. Businesses pay extraordinary taxes which limit the number of jobs they can create. Some individuals feel that their poverty permits them to rob and kill as the police force looks the other way; others sit idle, unskilled, uneducated, and unprepared to take control of their lives.

South Africa is locked in a war within itself. If corruption and ignorance are the main enemies, they can only be defeated by truth and knowledge. Hearts must change. Souls must be converted. The will of the nation must shift from demanding entitlements to working to build a nation that cares for itself. Corrupt leaders must be replaced with noble men and women who will stand on principle with courage. Students must be given access to quality education so that they can possess the promises of tomorrow. The very way that people think has to be altered. Worldviews must change. This is the goal of Goshen International. This is what we are doing…one child at a time.


Roxzane’s Story

RoxzaneThis year, we have asked out students to write their stories.  We are going to periodically post them for you to hear from them in their own voice. They want to be heard!  For some, we have changed their names to offer them some degree of anonymity.  Thus, we have noted these stories with an asterisk (*).   For others, they do not mind you knowing who they are and the struggles they have endured in becoming who God has ordained them to be.  You will hear from students in various phases of our program.   The grade levels are evident in their writing, but we did not want to take away from the authenticity of  them explaining themselves in their own words.  This is Roxzane’s story.

When I was in grade 1, I was very lazy, I did not want to do my work.  I thought that school was for playing and meeting friends; so, I let other kids do my work for me. When I was in grade 3, I decided to be better than the other children. I knew that I could do my own work and I really wanted to try.  I studied harder and to my surprise, I became better and better. I was so happy!  My mom and dad were also happy with my improvement and they were so proud of me.

When I was in grade 1 I felt like I didn’t want to go to school. I was at home a lot of times, but when I was in grade 2, my mind became bigger and better.  I was still wasn’t in school very much, but I did learned and listen even if I wasn’t in school.  I didn’t want to go to school, but I still wanted to learn.

If I wasn’t in school I would ask someone who was in school what they did. Then, I would do it too. When I showed up for school the next day, the teacher would ask me where I got the work. I would tell her I got it from my friend and she would ask me if I copied and I would say no. Then I would say she just told me what work to do. Then the teacher was very happy with me, and she gave me a gold star.  I loved getting gold stars! Then, the other children would be mad because they did not get a gold star and I would put the gold star at the front of my head. I would walk around the school and the children would ask where I got the gold star, and I would tell them about my work that I did in class. Then at the end of the school year, I will pass and go to the next grade and I would also do well and it was like that every day and year. I passed every grade.

Then, an amazing thing happened!  My teachers told me that I should try to be in the Learning Center.  The Learning Center is only for the kids who are the most clever.  I never thought that I could do it!  I took the test.  I was surprised when I passed.  Then, I was nervous.  I had to interview to get in.  I never did an interview before.  So, I went to talk to Michael and Ms. Terblanche.  It wasn’t so scary.  They asked me questions about myself and my work.  Then, I waited, and waited, and waited.  Finally, Michael called me from my class and I was in!  It felt good like wearing 100 gold stars on my forehead!

Now that I am in, the work is hard, but it is making me smarter.  One day, I will make my teachers, my parents, and everyone proud of me because I will reach my goals if I keep working hard.


Conflicts of Worship

Face painting - boyA while ago, I was invited to an imbeleko, a traditional Xhosa ceremony honoring the birth of a child (only in this instance the child was 17 years old). This was indeed a unique experience for me. While I would like to say that the highlight of the event was eating a slaughtered goat that was skinned and cut up before my eyes, something else from that day has been lingering in my mind.

You see an imbeleko is a ceremony that announces to the ancestors that a child has been born into a particular family, and therefore make them aware of the child’s existence. The blood spilled from the animal is the channel through which the message is delivered. Although I didn’t participate in the ceremony, I struggled over eating meat that had been dedicated to the ancestors. However, it was important for me to gain a deeper understanding of traditional ceremonies since I mentor young people who are raised in this culture. I was also intent on telling someone there just how ludicrous this whole ancestral worship really is.

Enter the old man. I became conversationally engaged with a very talkative, elderly gentleman who was eager to find out more about this American in his homeland. However, he was also quite passionate and informative in relation to Xhosa customs, including the one in which we found ourselves immersed. While he talked about the need for family identity and the ability of the ancestors to protect them from sickness, I was eagerly waiting to pounce on his ideals until the strangest thing happened. The old man seamlessly transitioned the discussion into his faith in Christ.

The man spoke about the resurrection and the Holy Spirit. He quoted scripture to support our need for a savior. He spoke with as much passion about his Redeemer as he did about the ancestors. I couldn’t believe it. On the heels of celebrating Resurrection Sunday, this man was acknowledging the atoning grace bought with the blood of the living Christ, while at the same time holding on to the need to spill the blood of animals in order to secure the protection of those long dead. It was in that moment that I realized that there was a serious disconnect. While we have been fairly successful in helping some of our students come out from under the bondage of these cultural realities, there is a host of others who are not just lost, but very confused!

Then I thought about myself.   I thought about many Christians I know. I thought about how many Bible-believing Christians embrace all of the tenets, ideals, and blessings locked up in Christianity, but at the same time, hold on to things that can be quite antithetical to our Christian ideals. Whether it is money, television, Beyonce, or our pastors, idolatry runs amuck in most of our lives.  While I’m not necessarily equating sin to ancestral worship, I do recognize the hypocrisy in both situations. The point is that while I will continue to emphasize the need to let go of ancestral worship here in South Africa, I must also challenge myself and all of my brethren in Christ to streamline the faith, return to the simplicity of the Gospel, and live a holy, single-minded life before the Lord!

 

 


Changes

kids in town 2

I have always been a justice crusader.  If there was a fight for doing what was right, I was first in line.  I guess that is what made it easier for me to come to South Africa than it would be for most.  Now that I have been here for over fourteen years, I realize that what I thought would take me a year to accomplish has taken much, much longer. And now, the rules of engagement have changed.  Somehow, I feel that I am living in Animal Farm, and I don’t like it. Here’s what I mean:

  1. When I first arrived in South Africa, Kurland Village was a forgotten township on top of a mountain far from the closest town and any aid societies reach. As far as I knew there was the school, one Belgian girl and us.  Now, this township is teeming with aid.  Aid workers are everywhere – at the school, in the community and on the streets.  There are Americans, Germans, Belgians, and South Africans all ready to lend an opinion and a helping hand to those in need.  Some people might think that this is a great development.  I don’t.  Unfortunately, while the help is great, it is not the kind that actually helps.  Instead, it has fostered an entitlement mentality in parents who used to be grateful, and other options for kids who don’t really want to work that hard.  I mean why do we have to work when all of these aid workers will come fix my government-sponsored house, educate my lazy children, and feed my family after I have spent all my money on liquor?  So, although more options for aid are available to the people who live in the village, rarely is the decay of alcoholism, fatherlessness, sexual promiscuity, and violence corrected.  In fact, the progress we made against these foes in our early years seems to be in decline in the midst of all this new assistance.

 

  1. We used to be able to point to the white boarding school in town as a beacon of educational hope and academic rigor. We drove our students by teaching them on Saturdays, taking away vacation days, and challenging them to learn two years’ worth of lessons in one.  It might sound cruel to your average American, but our students were grateful because when they finally made it to boarding school they were more than prepared.  Yes, they still had to work hard, but they had the foundation that they needed to succeed.  Now, our students go to boarding school after spending several arduous years with us learning Math, Science, English, History and the Bible, and are bored.  They no longer feel challenged.  Instead of them rejoicing for the break, they become depressed.  Children who are brilliant and score well on all testing inside and out of our program have a hard time managing the lack of challenge at the best boarding school in our area.  For the first time ever, we had a student not pass their matriculation exam.  It’s terrible that any of our students would not pass, but for her, it was tragic. This student, who scored the highest score of any student on our entrance exam while still in the fourth grade, could not manage to pass her matriculation test and had her teachers convinced that she was mentally challenged.

 

  1. The school where our program is housed decided to free itself of its eighth and ninth graders. I was told that they were a behavior problem.  So, now, instead of the average child in our community dropping out of school after the ninth grade, they drop out after seventh.  Thus, instead of being told to settle down in class, they are roaming the streets of the town with nothing to occupy their time, brains and life.  At the same time, the boarding school in our town, which has increasing numbers of black and colored students, decided to comply with the South African government and LOWER their standards.  If you don’t have to teach the majority of students math, why do it?  Instead, they send children to consumer studies which I call lessons in becoming a housekeeper.  No one has to go to school to learn that; my students can learn “Intro to Housekeeping” hanging out in the township. Sadly, even with these lower standards, the average child in the township cannot pass their matriculation exams which means that they cannot go to college.  So, they are stuck right back in the township where they came from.  The cycle is successfully unbroken and no progress is made!

 

  1. Somewhere along the line, my students discovered television. With it, they discovered covetousness, jealousy, false ideals of beauty, and social mores that work against community and family.  With it, they lost the desire to learn just for the sake of learning, the ability to read, concentration and focus, creativity and the ability to dream of an attainable future.  When I first came to South Africa, boys wanted to be soccer stars and some girls wanted to be singers, but most of the children wanted to be things that would help their community like teacher, builder, doctor, lawyer, police officer.  Now, more than ever, they all have one goal: to be famous.  They want to be famous more than they want to be useful to their greater communities.  I know that there is a wave of people who think that giving every child in a developing nation an iPad and allowing them to watch “educational programming” would solve all academic issues.  Well, I am here to declare that too much media clearly muddles the mind.

 

I know that all is not lost.  My students still have the flashes of brilliance that I long to see.  Their attitudes, although in need of the occasional fine tuning, are still open and loving.  We are constantly blessed by the fact that they still fight to get into our programs and are willing to embrace the difficult tasks we place before them.  However, more than all of that, they show an increasing love for Jesus and willingness to do things His way that warms me.  So, in the midst of all of this challenge, our desire to inoculate them against this so called progress seems to be working, a bit too slowly for my taste, but working nevertheless.  We do know that the answer lies in getting them out of their current environment, and we are working on that.  However, in the meantime, we are still justice fighters and we will not stop until the battle is won.


Thandie’s Story*

not too happy2

This year, we have asked out students to write their stories.  We are going to periodically post them for you to hear from them in their own voice. They want to be heard!  For some, we have changed their names to offer them some degree of anonymity.  Thus, we have noted these stories with an asterisk (*).   For others, they do not mind you knowing who they are and the struggles they have endured in becoming who God has ordained them to be.  You will hear from students in various phases of our program.   The grade levels are evident in their writing, but we did not want to take away from the authenticity of  them explaining themselves in their own words.  This is Thandie’s story*.

This is the story of a little girl who was devastated by her parents’ separation.  She was raised by a drinking single parent, her mother, and a father who was almost never there for her. That’s my life.

When I was a teenager everything in my life turned from bad to worse. During my second year at Wittedrift High School while I was doing grade11, I started to do things I never thought I would do. I didn’t realize that I was digging my own grave.

Nothing was right in my life. I left my best friends because we started fighting.  As with every group of friends one of us had to be the leader, and I was tired of living in her shadow.  Two new girls came to our school that year and they had no friends at all.  I was more than willing to join them because they had the money and popularity that I longed for.  They had everything I ever wished for and that was more than enough to draw my attention. I had rich friends now and that was all that mattered. They paid for the cigarettes and alcohol, and I was more than happy. It was us against the world.

While the fun increased, my grades started dropping.  I didn’t care. I was having a great time! We were smoking in the school’s bathroom and drinking at school functions. We had friends with cars who took us anywhere for free. Everything was too good to be true. We were living the good life.

That was my own way of forgetting about everything that happened in my life –My suicide attempt, the separation of my parents, the men in my mother’s life and all the violence that came with them. Everything was my fault. I thought committing suicide would be better for everyone. I thought that it wouldn’t make a difference if I was gone because no one noticed me anyway. No one could see the pain that I was feeling. I just had to take the blame. Wasn’t I a mistake, anyway?  No one had time for me and I just had to do it.  Everyone was too busy with their own broken lives to notice that mine was also reaching a breaking point.

After all that drama in my life,  I dealt with more drama. Things were now way more than worse. In my matric year I was kicked out of the Learning Center because of changing the subjects that they believed I needed. I was furious and sad at the same time. I was their responsibility; at least, that was what I thought. It was now time for my parents to do their job. They had to pay my school fees on their own. My mother could afford my school fees if only she drank less and wasn’t in debt. But, she wouldn’t. What else could go wrong in my life? Why was I being punished? I started asking myself questions that I couldn’t answer. I needed answers.

One day I decided to make a change in my life. A good change. A spiritual change. I felt a need for God. I just had to turn to him for comfort and answers. I needed to be uplifted; so that, I could live a better life. It was time for a new life. I’ve been through so much, but it was time to put all that behind me. It was time to move on, and with the help of the Lord I could learn to forgive and forget. I had to break the cycle. As time went on my mindset changed. I grew mentally and spiritually. I learned how to make the right choices so that we don’t have to be caught up with consequences. My self-image was once broken but I had a choice. I could either rebuild it or keep it broken. With the help of the Lord and my spiritual leaders, I chose to rebuild it.  My life is still not perfect, but I have hope that it will only grow from here.


New Year, Continuing Vision

Children Fun

The new year typically brings a feeling of anticipation and renewal to the hearts and minds of most people. The team at Goshen International is no different. 2015 marks the beginning of the 15th year of our service in and love for South Africa. In that time, we have watched the Lord move in the lives of many people and establish us as a place of refuge for those we reach.

15 years ago, I was sitting in a church conference when my dad stopped in the middle of his message to say these words: “I’m sending my daughter to South Africa.” Those who know me well know that those words did not settle easily on my heart. However, after yielding to the voice of the Lord speaking through him, I planned my trip and charted my course, and a few months later I landed in Cape Town, South Africa. After some awesome moments in ministry while traveling with Sigi and David Oblander, my heart settled in a little village near Plettenberg Bay.

I was invited by a local woman to come help her for a year to feed and minister to abandoned children in Kurland Village. While doing that, I did what I always do—I looked for needs to be filled. After my now infamous conversation with the youth who were insecure about their futures, I decided to start the Kurland Learning Center. That decision not only altered the course of my life, but also the lives of the many children we have reached through the years.

From that faithful step so many years ago, we have taught and mentored a number of students through the Learning Center. In that time, more than 400 students have been a part of the academic program. More than half of those qualified to attend the college preparatory high school where we send students to build a foundation for university. Essentially all of the students successfully graduated from high school, and about 30% of those have gone on to a university, college, or skill school. The remainder went straight into the work force. We have worked with each student from the time they started with us in elementary school throughout their educational career, whether that ended at the secondary or tertiary level.

We have also been blessed to reach hundreds of other children through teen churches and home cells, after-school programs, and other community enrichment activities. We have built, supported, and influenced people while training community members, teaching abstinence and Christ-like character, and affecting the overall quality of education in the area.

We are humbled by the success we have seen, and as we start the new year we look to the Lord for new ways to provide more and better opportunities for these children. We are hoping to remodel the Learning Center as many things have become worn or dated after 15 years. We want to recruit new staff members and volunteers to further the mission. We are increasing our efforts to raise awareness and funding for our own permanent school, Goshen Preparatory Academy, to greater serve the students of South Africa. In all of these endeavors, we need the prayers and support of our partners.

As always, we thank you for walking with us and supporting us through this journey.  We love you and hope that we can walk together for yet another 15 years.


One Proud Moment

Sadie Suleiman Shanice

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.