Friends, I’m so sorry for being MIA from blog world!
So many great things have happened here. Some really hard stuff has happened too, and sometimes I just couldn’t figure out how to put my heart thoughts into words.
I can’t tell you everything, but I want to give you a glimpse into what my heart has felt over the past few months:
Awe as we celebrated our school’s first graduation
Coming from the humble beginnings of twenty-nine uncertain ninth graders learning under a tree four years ago, we could not have been more proud to watch these students, plus a few more COTN children who joined the school along the way, receive their diplomas. Honestly, I really didn’t grasp how far the school has come until I listened to stories from a former education consultant who helped start the school and taught its very first students. She returned to Malawi to deliver a moving graduation speech to the graduates. In day-to-day life, I think it’s easy for me to forget how far these students have come and the challenging backgrounds from which they have risen. Several years ago, these children couldn’t imagine that one day they would graduate from secondary school. Even the education consultant who helped start the school and relentlessly believed in the students admitted that she never thought she would witness the school succeed to graduation day. Graduation was more than a celebration of diplomas; it was a celebration of a miracle many never dreamed would become a reality.
Excitement in hosting a successful teacher workshop
Thanks to an awesome team of teachers from the US, this year we hosted a teacher seminar with specific workshops for all three school levels (preschool, primary, and secondary)! The team of teachers from the US brought great ideas and resources upon which I can now build by following up with teacher development trainings this year. This year my work extends beyond the secondary school as I am assisting one of our Malawian education staff in overseeing COTN’s preschools and primary schools; so I loved seeing specific ideas for all three school levels! As I prepared to begin the new school year and worked with fabulous teachers who brought fresh ideas to our schools, I found myself feeling renewed excitement for my work. More importantly, teachers from our COTN-run schools, as well government schools in the community, which many of the children in our Village Partnership Program attend, were able to gain new ideas and left the workshop excited to implement what they had gleaned. Even one of our COTN university students majoring in education attended the workshop! Perhaps most exciting, I have already seen some of the teachers using the teaching methods and resources in their classrooms this year – the true measure of success!
Sadness, confusion, and frustration as I grieved the death of a student
Some things just don’t make sense. It doesn’t make sense when a healthy boy who graduated just a couple months before and had a life of great potential ahead of him suddenly dies, and no one can explain why. It makes me frustrated that there isn’t better medical care here, and death is so commonplace. I’m still not fully over it. It’s just not right. I know God is still God, and that He brings good out of situations where I can’t see the light. I learn to cling to Him in times like this. At the same time, I’m honest with Him that I don’t understand.
Joy to begin the new school year
Despite challenges leading into the new school year like the student’s death, the school year started off even better than last year at all three school levels! I love being able to visit the preschools and primary schools in addition to working at the secondary school. It is a joy to partner with our incredible headmistress, Esther, who oversees the preschools and primary schools. I love working with Esther to improve the quality of teaching, help to make sure each school has basic resources and knows how to use them, and encourage the teachers. Esther is a get-it-done woman, so we had our first preschool-primary staff development training in the second week of school, and now we’re making follow-ups in the different classrooms. I love how eager many of these teachers are to learn. When Esther asked one of the teachers if she had any questions, she asked me how we help young children learn to follow procedures (the topic I had presented at the staff development training). I couldn’t have been more excited to witness a transfer from doing what she was told to a desire to know how to make it work in the classroom! When we visited the preschool in the most rural village with which COTN partners, the teacher, working hard and doing her best with her limited English, told Esther in Chichewa, “I haven’t been trained as a teacher, but I love teaching and want to learn. Please keep coming and teaching me how to be a better teacher.” Last year, the preschools didn’t have anyone coming to visit them and help them improve. It is beautiful to see the teachers so eager to glean new ideas!
At the secondary school, we have added a couple new teachers to increase the quality of our math/science department and allow the teacher who finished last school year as acting headmaster to step into the role as full-time headmaster. Thanks to some generous gifts toward our science lab, we are able to take our next steps in completing the science lab, which will help our school meet the requirements for becoming a certified school. Many of you gave toward the new girls’ hostel, and it is moving right along – we are almost ready for the roof! Because of the construction of a new double classroom, our ninth and tenth graders were able to move out of the temporary classrooms this year. In equipping our school with these facilities and qualified teaching staff, this year we are able to serve not only our COTN children in providing a quality education, but also tuition-paying students from outside COTN. This allows our school to become more self-sustaining, gives our COTN students exposure to other students and positive competition that is increasing the academic level of our school, and opens opportunities for other ministries serving vulnerable children to send their students to a school where they will receive a quality education in a nurturing environment. This year we have students from at least two other ministries serving orphaned and vulnerable children, as well as many students whose families are able to provide for them and wanted their children to have the quality education that International Christian Academy offers. It’s a very exciting time in our school!
We have many goals to continue improving the quality of education we are able to offer at all of our schools. In addition to working toward completing the science lab and girls’ hostel at the secondary school, our primary schools have expanded to each include one additional grade level. At “Big John’s” COTN Primary School, our wonderful headmistress partnered with the village chiefs to acquire classroom space for a fourth grade class. Thanks to the work of another education consultant last year, the current fourth graders received an excellent foundation of reading instruction in third grade. As a result of the additional classroom, our little readers are now able to continue receiving the quality education that COTN provides at this school. Please join me in praying for (or giving toward) the funds to hire two new teachers at this school. With the addition of fourth grade and the change of Esther’s role from school headmistress/classroom teacher to headmistress overseeing all COTN primary and preschools, the school is currently making do with one of our preschool teachers and two of our girls who just graduated from the secondary school and are waiting for the government to release exam results to enter university. The school would like to hire two experienced, qualified teachers to meet our standards for providing a quality education to the children at this school.
Gratitude for YOU and so many others who are continually supporting the work that is going on here. It means more than I can ever express to know that I am never walking the dusty feet journey alone. Zikomo kwambiri! (Thank you so much!)