Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Breakfast With Ofelia

I had breakfast with Ofelia today. Ofelia is a day student who attends the school we have at the village.

In order to have full classes, we take in community children who would not have an opportunity to attend school otherwise. Free public education here is not free: there are student fees, and uniforms to purchase, and school supplies. Plus, all students are required to wear shoes to school. Sometimes, this final requirement is enough to keep a child from attending school, as after purchasing uniforms and supplies, there is no money for shoes.
At our school, we do not charge fees, and we provide uniforms and all school supplies.

We do ask that the parents provide shoes for the students. And we do require the students attend school when it rains. It seems that in most Liberian schools, attendance is optional when it is raining! Apparently, it is perfectly acceptable to miss school when the humidity reaches 100%. This makes it difficult for continuity in education as this country receives almost 200 inches of precipitation a year! That makes for A LOT of "rain days".

But Ofelia never misses school. She is in our kindergarten class, and she loves school. She is the first one of her family to attend school. Both her parents cannot read or write. Ofelia is going to break the cycle of illiteracy in her family! Her father tells me that she is up and dressed for school by 6:30 am, because she does not want to be late. She is at the village gate at 7:30 am. A guard walks her and the other day students to the dining hall for breakfast. We feed the day students breakfast and lunch.

Dave supervises breakfast

Ofelia loves breakfast. She eats pancakes, or muffins, or a bowl of hot cereal with gusto. When Ofelia first began coming to our school, she looked thin and tired. Now, her eyes shine and her hair has a good color to it. Ofelia has put on some weight and looks healthy.

And I had breakfast with her today. Ofelia sat primly at the table. She shook her cloth napkin out and carefully spread it across her lap. She used her utensils neatly and with confidence. What a difference from the first time a year ago, when she looked at the fork and spoon and knife in amazement and wondered what to do with the napkin. In her world, sleeves were for wiping mouths and fingers were for shoveling in food! This morning, she deftly held her fork, and eating like a little lady came naturally to her.

Pancakes are enjoyed

I sipped tea and asked her about her night. She politely answered me. After breakfast, she carried the dishes to the kitchen window and washed her hands at the sink. She looked happy and content. Today, she told me, they were going to learn about the letter U. And probably color a picture. It was time for school assembly, and with a little wave and a sweet smile, she was off to the great halls of academia.


As I finished my tea, it occurred to me that Ofelia is a good reason to be here, in this place, doing this work. Someday, Ofelia might be a research doctor and develop a vaccine to prevent malaria; or maybe she will be a judge and make honest, fair decisions for Liberia. She could be a mother who will read to her children and teach them to read and write. Hey, maybe she will become a scientist and discover a mascara that does not smear in high humidity conditions! That would be awesome! Oh, the possibilities are endless and it is a big world out there! With education comes hope and a future. And now Ofelia has both.

Wishing you a wonderful day, filled with hope and promise.

Note: in these pictures, the tailors have not finished making all the school uniforms yet.That is why most of the day students are wearing regular clothes instead of uniforms.