Pastor Simon told us that today would be a special day, an important day. Every last Saturday of the month, the entire country of Rwanda shuts down their buses, their business and their markets. They spend the whole day helping local schools and charity programs. They call it community day. Today, Ndgenera Foundation was selected to be one of the programs that received help from the entire community.
It was also an important day because it was the graduation ceremony for the vocational school operated at Ndgenera. (Nice job Jodi and the entire Canada team, those classrooms are perfect.) The people who came for community work day stayed for the graduation ceremony.
Graduation took place in the same field where the kids play normally. Today, it was dressed up. The children had taken flowers and tied them to the banana tress that line the field, they had also draped flowers on string across the entrances to the clinic and the school.
Everyone who was anyone showed up. Everyone who thought maybe they could be someone showed up. Everyone who just wanted to watch the circus that came to town (that would be us) showed up. The graduates lined one side and the local people lined the other. The children sat silently watching on one end of the field. At the opposite end of the field were several large canopies and chairs set up for the government officials, local pastors and us.
The ceremony included a song all about the Americans who came to visit, several speeches from the government officials, and a traditional African dance. Those women are gorgeous and they can dance! The mechanics class did a demonstration of what they had learned. They dragged a huge motor out into the middle and set it on a couple of cement blocks. Each student was given a part to the motor and then as a class they spent about 10 minutes repairing the motor and actually started it up. I was floored. Why does it take shops in the US so long to fix your car? These kids had it done in ten minutes in the middle of a field.
Then the actual procession of students started. The principal had all their diplomas in his hands. The first two students came forward, were introduced and the local government officials gave them their diplomas and proceeded to gently head-butt them three times, one on each side, then one forehead to forehead. I thought, oh that must be a way of honoring these students, how nice. Then they handed the next diploma to Deb and gestured to the next student. That was when we all realized we’d be actually participating in the graduation. Way to go team, You all learned the head-butt in quick fashion.
Each of us hugged, cheered, shook hands and head-butted as these great students stood proud. Kids who once had no hope, had a degree. They have an opportunity to work and to help feed their families.
There were a couple of incredible stories. One girl travels three hours a day to go to school. She was given a sewing machine as an honor to her commitment to her education. One student who was learning to make jewelry is deaf and also does not speak. She was given a can of varnish and paint to begin her own business. One student was given his own set of mechanics tools. Another young man who used his construction class has already built his family a new house. He was given a roof today in honor of his dedication.
I was honored to watch and humbled to give the student who stood before me his diploma. These students had sacrificed, they had persevered, they had been given a chance out of poverty and they were standing before us. It was indeed a special day.