It seems just a few short days ago, I was preparing and presenting a speech for our graduates about tolerance and trust. I encouraged them that there are things that will happen in life to shake our safety and security when others act on fear and anger.
And, on the weekend, we faced the latest challenge to our belief in what we think the world should become when senselessly, fellow human beings were slaughtered because of hate and intolerance. My heart is broken and I’m left numbed by the long string of atrocities that span the globe. Fear and reproach have no borders of boundaries, it seems, crossing all ethnic and cultural lines and founded in the wrongheaded belief that diversity somehow cripples us.
Somewhere along the way in our development as a species, we have lost track of the common goal of humankind. Like many of you, I’m sick of moments of silence and empty rhetoric. I was always brought up believing that our commonly held goal was not to write laws that carefully restricted access to guns, but that our true aim was to craft a world where weapons of any kind would no longer be necessary nor allowed. I teach children so that they will aspire to craft a planet that values people over property and were “peace and prosperity for all” is the commonly held goal.
In my heart, I’m standing with the families and friends of those who lost their lives in Orlando. I’m also thoughtful of those who have died in similar circumstances around the world, that do not make the mainstream press, but who have succumbed to a similar mix of anger and ill will. Terrorism in all its forms and locations is just wrong.
I believe, as many have stated, that one thing is true. If we seek to fight the crazy person wielding the gun and make him our enemy, we are missing the point. It is not about the gun or the man wielding it. It is about the beliefs that inspired his actions and about how we, as teachers of each successive generation, inspire something far better in the minds of the children we serve. We need a world of peace and understanding, now more than ever. It makes our tenet at AAS of “Respect Self AND Others” particularly poignant.
I wish you well as we leave school in the shadow of these events. I hope you find and inspire peace and tranquility throughout the summer. I wish you safe travels and an equally safe return here or arrival to your new destination. To a school of 65 nationalities that is also diverse in all other ways possible, I can say only one thing: I love each and every one of you!!
Summer is almost here!!
I’m looking forward to seeing as many of you as possible at Closing Ceremony next week as we bid farewell to another school year. It’s hard to believe that, for me, it has been 5 years already — an anniversary of sorts. It is quite amazing to look back on all the many things accomplished in one year, let alone what this school has achieved in five. The many faces that have been involved in our growth and development over the years will forever be etched in our memories. Schools are a transitory place, faced with understanding the nature of growth and transition. This may be why we often use words like “journey” and “pathway” to describe the experience of education. Education, after all, is a means to an end, a bridge more than a destination.
To that end, we wish everyone well on their upcoming journeys. Whether a summer sojourn and a quick return back for the next school year, a trek of greater distance to your next adventure, or the journey returning to home country, we wish all well for a restful and renewing summer vacation filled with fond memories.
My thanks to all for your partnership and counsel. Whenever the opportunity emerges, the community has always been ready to respond. This makes me anxious for August already and the onset of a new year!!
For those who are departing to other places far and away, I remind you as I always do: Once a Penguin, Always a Penguin!!
The 2015-2016 Closing Ceremony will be held Wednesday, June 15 at 11.00 in the North Gym. Parents are welcome! The event will live streamed at the following link: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/aaspenguinlive
Now that we have completed both graduations, Moscow and St. Petersburg, we find ourselves in the midst of final demonstrations of learning that will play out in the remaining days. I value tremendously the remaining plays and programs as they present their “best stuff” to parent audiences. And we have done well to make sure there are packed audiences that reinforce our students for their efforts. We have the Strings Concert tomorrow night, the Elementary School Play today and tomorrow, and a few other opportunities for kids to show how their learning takes form and function that extends beyond the classroom. The time is coming for “pats on the back” and “high fives” for jobs well done.
Please take the time in the coming days to honor your kids for their hard work and diligent effort. They have had many wonderful experiences this year. The cycle of the school year always leaves us with an opportunity in the early days of June to recognize accomplishment and celebrate the fact that learning, like the seasons, has a life cycle of engagement followed by reflection, keeping us ever reminded that learning is life long.
My thanks to all the valued families and volunteers who participated in our most successful PTO International Fair ever. After my turn on the dunk tank in the early minutes of the event, I got a sampling of the amazing spectrum of crafted treats that were on offer from 26 of our 64 countries. What a great day that was enjoyed by all in attendance. Thank you, PTO!! All we can say is, “Brilliant!!!”
And Happy Children’s Day! It’s June 1 and today is being celebrated around the world as the day we honor children. It may be that this date first inspired the International Children’s Day many years ago. First proclaimed in 1925 by the World Conference for the Well-being of Children, it was more formally recognized in 1954. It is currently recognized and formalized in 77 countries. My simple wish on this important day is that you take some extra time with your children to assure that they know their importance. It would be fun tonight if you gave your child a hug and told them it was a special one just for them and just for being a child. Because that is important, too!!
May has almost ended and the final activities of the year are before us. Please pay close attention to the calendar as there are concerts, drama productions, moving-up ceremonies, and other end-of-year events scheduled in the next month. For those in attendance at graduation last Saturday, we hope you enjoyed the pomp and circumstance of this auspicious event. Thank you to our guest speaker AAS parent and BBC’s Moscow Correspondent Steve Rosenberg and our student speaker Niels Boender. Both provided us with messages of significance and cohesion to a student-centric event. Our seniors enjoyed this bittersweet moment as one journey ends and another begins. They now move on to colleges and other programs around the globe and we wish them all the very best.
We also say goodbye to some valued faculty members this year, as we do each year. It’s important to note their collective contributions to the school during their time here. Without exception, they have brought tremendous talent, experience, and energy to the organization. Their legacy of helping us continue to build and develop as a school is now woven into the fabric of who we have become. We will forever be in their debt for the gifts they have bestowed on all of us. Best of luck to our departing faculty:
Claire Ansell, John Bishop, Mark Blatnik, Natasha Cowdy, Emily Deutschman, Mary Dolesch, Nicole Doyle, Michael Emerson, Ruth Fawcett, Madeleine Heller, Christina Johnson, Amey Law, Patricia MacMillan, Elizabeth Miller, Dan Miller, Colleen Nelson, Bruce Nelson, Jill Norris, Glenda Semple, Charles Semple, Sheila Singh, James Stratton, Eleanor Weber, and and Martha Medendorp-Allan from our St. Pete campus.
School Year Calendars
A reminder: to assist our community with planning, we publish school year calendars several years in advance. The 2016-2017, 2017-2018, and the recently approved 2018-2019 calendars are found on the website under the About Us tab and in the Quick Links menu. Please note, a small adjustment was made in the 2017-2018 calendar. The Autumn Break was moved one week earlier for better alignment with the CEESA athletic calendar.
To all of our special guests, faculty, administration, parents, friends, and family members – we thank you for your pride and presence as we celebrate this, our 22nd commencement exercises for the class of 2016.
To all of our representatives from the supporting embassies including both honored guests and, especially, those who serve as members of our School Board, I thank you for your ongoing dedication to this vibrant institution.
I offer my gratitude to Steve for his words today. I’m thankful for your message, which like mine, is also borne from the critical role parents play as partners in our community of nurturers. Thank you!
Mr. Boender, thank you for representing your friends so eloquently. You captured the moment brilliantly and served your classmates well.
We know as an international community that many here on stage have had other schooling experiences before joining us in Moscow. Also, some have stayed with us for a time, left for a bit, and then returned. It is part of being an international school that we embrace a unique constancy of change and transition. As has been my tradition, I’d like to recognize 4 students on this stage that started with us in their Kinder years and have remained throughout their school years at AAS.
Our special penguins, nurtured from egg to emperor, as I call your names, please stand and remain standing for a moment so that we can recognize you as a group:
- Michael Melnikas – Kindergarten to Graduation
- Kirill Merkulov – Pre-Kindergarten to Graduation
- Natalia Timofeeva – Pre-Kindergarten to Graduation
- Ingrid Zeilstra – First Steps to Graduation
Please recognize these students as our Penguins of longest standing.
I find it hard to speak to you today as a Director. Sitting on this stage are students I’ve come to know a bit better than other classes and there’s one particular person of special interest sitting amongst them. But, we’ll come back to that later.
I speak to you today as a parent. Someone who, like most of you in this audience, has made many mistakes, always trying to learn from them along the way. And I do believe we learn from our children in equal measure to what we try to teach them.
With that in mind, I have to inform you, graduates, that life is often a paradox. Many problems do not lend themselves to easy solutions. Instead, they seem to come and go like the tide. We confront these problems and watch them recede from view seemingly conquered, only to find them splashing on our heels again as we turn to walk away. There are things in life that simply defy solution and all we can do is understand that some problems offer a kind of polarity where the most we can accomplish is to constantly tip the balance in our favor.
So, two examples of these balances to consider as you head out on your next adventure.
Trust before Fear
When you first started growing up, your parents probably started to “childproof” your home. From the moment you first started pulling yourself up from a crawl, fear set in – in your parents. There was likely a first fall and some crying that only reinforced the concern. You see, parents are instinctively protective. I remember this in terms of the dozens of little plastic covers I shoved into electrical outlets, the padded corners I installed on all of the sharp furniture edges, the locks on drawers and doors that kept my little one away from knives and other dangerous objects. There were cribs and bed rails, cushions and training wheels – all intended to keep you safe and protected.
Some parents look back on this and wonder if maybe we protected you too much. Maybe we should have let you fall a few more times so that you learned to get up more capably. Maybe we shouldn’t have overly sheltered you so that going off to college now would be less frightening – for both of us. Maybe.
But I say, let’s tip the balance on this one by having some faith and lead instead with trust. It is most important to trust yourself and your judgement, nurtured as it has been by those around you. Your parents, your teachers, your counselors, your friends. All have inspired in you a unique spirit that is ready to face anything that comes. Trust that we have confidence in you. Trust that we are here when you need us and we will always carry you in our hearts and minds while you reach out into the world to make a difference for all of us.
Another example: Tolerance over Prejudice
We have provided a cocoon of learning during your time here at AAS. Within these walls we taught many things and certainly much more than just what can be gleaned from books or a screen. You engaged with a talented faculty, a powerful team of educators that challenged your presumptions and forced you to reconsider. They embraced what you brought to the classroom that you thought you knew, and found ways to regularly and rigorously captivate you in discourse and dialog that inspires a thirsty intellect.
You have been taught to be tolerant. Tolerant of ideas not your own, tolerant of disagreement, tolerant of folly, seeing these as opportunities to teach and learn rather than to tease or ridicule.
For those who remember a recent weekly newsletter (you read them all, right?) – I wrote about a special moment I experienced in Africa this year. With a few of the students on this stage and a cadre of others, we found ourselves on a gas station patio in Botswana, shivering in damp cold with more than a hundred local children, while rain fell torrentially around us. In that moment, the most important thing I remember is feeling like we were all the same. A closeness we felt as we laughed at our folly, embracing the moment in song, and celebrating despite our hunger and exhaustion.
When the clouds broke and we lined up to eat the lunch that had been delivered, served from the back of a pickup truck, I held the hand of every child as we led them from the long line to the serving area. I held every hand and they all became one in my mind and heart. Today, when I shake the hands on this stage, I will join them with that memory and with the memory of every graduating class that has come before them. I will join them together as one, knowing that the hands I have held are going to make this planet a place where all have opportunity and respect. Where differences are not just tolerated, but embraced. Where prejudice is replaced by friendship, charity, and lovingkindness.
So, I suggest,
- Trust before Fear
- Tolerance over Prejudice
Learn from your lives so far and tip the balance where you can. Look back to plan forward. Heed the wisdom captured from your childhood and embrace all that is to come.
You’re ready. You have reached the time when others will take over guiding you until you are ready to guide others yourself. Whether at university or work, your world just got a whole lot bigger. The cushions are put away, the electrical outlets back in operation, the training wheels long ago sold or given away. It’s time to take that big step and find your path. Only one more thing for me to do…
Jaisen – my son – this last part is for you, the special someone, and I know that all the parents in this audience will feel the same in their hearts for each of your classmates on this stage as I feel for you through these words.
When I say I love you, as I often do, it is not because it’s a habit, or part of a routine. It is because in this moment, and in all others leading to this day, the following is true:
- you inspire me
- you complete me, and
- you give my life meaning
While I will feel lost without you, I’m proud of your launching, warmed by the anticipation of all that I know you are yet to become.
I love you so much!!
Go forth all of you, Class of 2016 — embrace your parents and then the world!!
Belated wishes for happy May Holidays!! I hope all enjoyed the weekend and for those that connected to the festivities here in Moscow, I hope you were engaged in the cultural experience that is a big part of Russia and particularly, Moscow.
We also completed some important work last week during our annual meetings revolving around the school’s strategic plan. The Core Planning Team (CPT), the lead group overseeing the work of the plan during the last 5 years, reached some wonderful conclusions that affirmed all of the work of the school under the three original strategies of 2011: Learning, Systems, and Communication. After reviewing reports of each division and department of the school, they confirmed the belief that the expectations of the original strategic plan had been largely met and that the work going forward was to retain these new practices through regular evaluation and review. The work on Personalized Learning, Systems Review, and our commitment to the Mission and Vision of the school therefore will continue as part of our school culture – embraced and embedded.
Next, we presented the Core Planning Team with work that they requested at last year’s meeting. In essence, they charged us with doing research and design work to suggest the next level of Personalized Learning. All year, a special group convened around this work and, with the help of consultation, have completed it and presented to CPT the next strategic work of AAS. The CPT enthusiastically recommended this work to go forward to the Board as a core strategy under a new approach to strategic work in the coming years.
In meetings with the Board the following day, these two recommendations from CPT were considered and fully adopted by the Board. They have, therefore, accepted the “Learning at AAS” strategy beginning with the 2016-2017 school year and continuing beyond as the next large body of work. We will begin looking for opportunities in the coming weeks and at the beginning of the next school year to involve all stakeholders in this work, as we did with the previous strategic plan. Look for future updates and website based materials that will guide you in our work going forward.
Many thanks go to the members of the Core Planning Team, the Design Team, and to all the members of the administration and faculty who assisted in demonstrating to the CPT and the Board how we are continuously growing and developing as an entire school community.
It’s an exciting time to be a member of the AAS family!!
Ode to Our Mothers
We are coming up on one of the most important holidays of the year in my estimation. In many countries, this Sunday brings us the holiday ‘Mother’s Day’ and our annual opportunity to demonstrate our love and appreciation. It goes without great articulation that the love of a mother is our first love, the one spawned by our birth and the key relationship upon which all others are built throughout life. I know without a doubt that many attributes of self that we hold dear today are rooted in that initial nurtured state where we totally depended on that first significant adult in our lives.
Later, we form bonds with others that are rooted in that early experience where we felt safety and care, protection from harm. Mothers cuddle us so that we could love others. Mothers discipline us so that we build character and earn respect. Mothers support us in our attempts, let go when we were ready, pick us up when we fail, protect us when we are threatened.
To the mothers of our community, I offer this simple praise for all that you do. We honor you for both bringing us into the world and loving us throughout our lives. I hope all will find time to honor the mother in your lives this weekend. For me, it means loving preparation with my children of that annual tradition of breakfast in bed for their mom. I love you, dear!! Will try not to burn the toast!
There are particular junctures in life that encourage emotional punctuation to assure that these moments don’t pass us by without appropriate recognition. Our seniors this week have reached that moment where their knowledge and associated work of two years has come to a culmination and we move them into independent study mode to prepare for critical exams that will begin shortly. As I’m experiencing this first hand with my own son this year, it is appropriate to pause and ponder the import of this transition from teacher directed to independent study in the final days.
How students move from uncertainty and stress into confidence and calm is still a mysterious and elusive quality. Some will achieve this quite easily, others will never find that calm in the moments leading up to an exam. I would suggest it is a complex dynamic that is only partially dependent upon instruction and study. While those elements are essential, there are other factors at play that require emphasis.
If you have found yourselves concerned about engagement and focus in the weeks leading up to exams, the current moment is not the time for corrective action or additional supervision. In fact, the final stage of preparation for an event of this magnitude is better couched in the domain of unconditional support, love, and encouragement. I think students want to hear that, whatever the result, they will be supported and results accepted unconditionally. It is that level of support and care that may encourage or enrich the way in which students approach the challenge and internalize it as an independent and personal accomplishment. The hope is for focus and confidence to emerge, which assures the level of energy and engagement that is required for their success.
This is complex because our kids are complex. Our seniors have worked hard and demonstrated tremendous growth in their final years at AAS. We owe them our unconditional commitment in the final hours, just as we have done throughout the year. I value very much the help from parents in the final days, including the many treats that are set to appear on each day of exams. In ways both large and small, let’s show them the compassion that we all share. This is a moment of launch, worthy of empowerment and celebration.
Speaking of waypoints, my congratulations to 5th Grade Exhibition for their wonderful display of passion and talent. Another critical event in students’ lives, they again demonstrated tremendous competence as they explored their interests and turned their inquiry into competent demonstrations of learning and insight. Way to go, Grade 5! Thank you to all the teachers and mentors that helped make this work possible.
If you haven’t had a chance, pop over to AAS Videos and watch the CEESA performance if you weren’t able to attend on Saturday evening. I was glued to the Livestream from Bangkok while attending my accreditation trip. It was an amazing performance filled with talented kids, impressive directors, and wonderful entertainment. Combining all of those students from so many places made it all the more meaningful for both the audience and the participants. Thank you to Penguin Life, Bruce Nelson, Laura Burns, and Dan Miller for making it a special night for our students, community, and guests!
Welcome back after a nice Spring getaway. Whether you were just “getting away” to the parks in Moscow or traveling more broadly, I hope this energized you for weeks of packed activity that are now on the horizon. I’m looking forward to seeing you at various junctures between now and closing ceremony.
You got a note on Monday inviting you to participate in our calendar survey for the 2018-2019 school year. While many may think this is far in the future to be planning, it is important to us to make sure we have these core dates in place for long term planning, particularly with CEESA related activities that requires the synergy of multiple school calendars. Each year, we survey for the calendar that is two years out. 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 are already on our website for your advance planning. We would love to have as many respond as possible to the survey at the following link:
My thanks to the early respondents. 30 of you have already taken the plunge, but I would love to have hundreds in the database for our due consideration. Many of the comments are already helpful. Please note that this survey has two additional questions at the end about making amendments to the 2017-2018 calendar. We do not undertake changes to already adopted calendars without broad support, so please let us know your opinions before we make our presentation to the board on May 5th. You have until April 27th to respond! Survey should only take about 5 minutes.
One short additional note for those who might be interested. I’m sharing this only because it requires a targeted audience and limited by nationality that can apply. One of our founding embassies, the British Embassy, is looking for a technology support staff member to help in their IT department. If you think you might be interested and are from the United Kingdom, USA, Canada, New Zealand, Australia or EU countries, please click on the link to read the details: CLICK HERE
Finally, I wanted to let everyone know that I’ll be at Concordian International School in Thailand next week as a member of the CIS accreditation team. Accreditation work is part of being a school leader and many of our AAS administrators are occasionally asked to take part in these teams. Accreditation work is an important aspect of international school work and provides a platform for professional development and improvement of the profession in schools around the world. I’m looking forward to being part of a team reflecting on another school’s growth and development journey and look forward to bringing back insights into our own work in this area. Ian Forster and Melissa Schaub will be available during my absence to address any needs in the Director’s office. I’ll return on April 30th.
Nicely done! While this was completed and shared before our trip, it deserves some additional play time, now that we know the initiates captured here are really working!
As I look around our neighborhood, there are increasing signs of Spring on the horizon. With that comes a new burst of energy that matches the sunrise each morning. We have a quickened pace, and all eyes are on the prize that is dangling ahead of us, whether it be graduation, transition, or just completing our goals for the year in spectacular demonstrations of accomplishment and pride.
Speaking of accomplishments, a big shout out to all of the families and friends of AAS in attendance at the PTO Gala and special thanks to all the ladies involved in planning, preparation, and delivery of a spectacular evening. It was a wonderful testament to our most cherished possession at AAS, the sense of community we all enjoy as we come together for one event or another to show our commitment and involvement as partners in this noble journey we call education. Of special note is the video presented during the evening showing our kids having fun at school. It’s worth a watch now that it has been published:
I also want to thank elementary school parents and teachers for supporting students today during Student-Led conferences. This was a wonderful waypoint of reflection as students shared their learning with parents and took center stage on assessing status on goals and charting their path for the remaining weeks of this school year. No matter the grade level, there were many proud children taking the lead today and showing parents their array of accomplishment.
I wish you all well on the upcoming Spring Break and hope you will enjoy the brief breather that we will all take before heading into the final rush. During the vacation, I’ll be releasing a survey on our annual calendar review. We will actually be giving feedback on the calendar for 2018-2019, but will also ask some additional questions that might result in small adjustments to the 2017-2018 calendar as well. You’ll have the rest of April to submit your results before board action in May. Watch for a personally addressed message in your primary email mailbox.
Please note you can find our 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 yearly calendars on the AAS website at this link.
As you have likely been reading in my blog, you will note that I’ve had an amazing experience with our HS students in Africa. It was in all ways a profound experience, one that is still impacting my thoughts and feelings in the aftermath of our adventures in Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Zambia. It is important to note that you were all represented in Africa during each of our stops, recognized for the collective contributions of the community through the many fund raising activities orchestrated by our AAS Ambassadors throughout the year. Not the least of these were the contributors to the Director’s Challenge who have all but completed the list of 20 contributors, with only two spots remaining. As I noted, these donations helped to finalize key projects in Africa and our students witnessed the results of these donations in the form of installed equipment, prepared foundations, and classrooms receiving finishing work. Inspired by their successes, the Ambassadors have already embarked on their next goals, gleaned from interviews and interactions with deserving entities that emerged in each of our target locations. To my Challenge participants, I thank you with all my heart and soul for your participation and trust in assuring that these funds will inspire hundreds of kids throughout this region of Africa and instill the pursuit of education into these challenged communities.
AAS Admin Team
The Indian Community at AAS
Parents of the Class of 2016
Vafeidis Family .
In Pandamatenga alone, we worked with over 200 children from impoverished homes, each of them endowed with intelligence, energy, and enthusiasm for education and accomplishment. Our work encourages and sustains them through the many challenges they face. More on this in the coming days, so please stay tuned for my ongoing thoughts in blog form on this topic.
Coming next week is an important traditional activity here at the Anglo-American School. Our Eco-Green Fair is upon us with many activities that will highlight and enhance our efforts in this regard that occur throughout the year. There is a full day of information and activities planned on April 7 that will capture our attention and remind us again of how important it is to be good stewards of our planet. In honor of the day, I’m announcing the first Director’s School-wide Spirit Day and directing all students to dress in the earthly colors of green and blue. I want everyone in all divisions, parents included, to don the appropriate colors and join us on the day for the splendor of the Eco-Green focus of the school that now spans many years. Please join us in supporting these activities and initiatives, both on the 7th and throughout the year!!
We left Pandamatenga on Wednesday with much sadness as we considered all of the many things we had experienced in Botswana. The previous night gave us opportunity to say goodbye to our friends in the community, but on the morning’s ride, we contemplated our farewell’s to this wonderful country that had exposed us to the wildlife and wonder of the heart of Africa. We headed toward the border after a mishap with one of our vehicles that required some redistribution of our belongings. No one was hurt in the minor accident and students all collaborated to make the boarder crossing on time and as scheduled. We had some minor problems when we found that the new visa program had expired. Therefore, the visas into Zimbabwe and Zambia were purchased separately and for higher cost than projected. Once in Zimbabwe, we visited the Baoboa Primary School and paid our respects to a teacher who was tragically killed in an auto accident. We have helped this school for a couple of years and were able to see the fruits of our labor helping with the whiteboards and other installations in the computer lab of the school, where the teacher had taught. On this project, we have collaborated with a local artist, Larry Norton, and we left the school to head to his studio where he demonstrated his painting style for all the students. We then proceeded to his gallery at the Vic Falls Hotel for prints of some of his work.
We proceeded to the border to Zambia, bought our second visa, and crossed (long paperwork time, again).
Thursday was dedicated to our work with the Kamatanda Primary School. We got to the school site and found construction all but complete on this new two classroom facility – a hugely gratifying feeling came over ambassadors to see their work in near completion stages. The afternoon was capped by a dedication ceremony and time working with the children.
We had a late lunch in town at another YCTC training center that is responsible for retraining disenfranchised youth into new career paths. Then, it was time to do final shopping and we headed to the African markets before dinner at Cafe Zambezi, a common final stop for the Ambassador trip.
We’ve packed this morning, Friday, and will be heading to the airport shortly after morning walks with the Rhinos and a second group to the Zambia side of Victoria Falls.
This is my last details post for our trip to Africa. I’ll post some final conclusions after we are all home safe and sound. Other than some bug bites and sunburn, we are all in good shape and enriched by our experiences. Looking forward to seeing all of you soon!!
Greetings from deep within Africa. As I write this we are packing for our trek from Botswana to Zimbabwe. We’ve had a lovely sojourn here in Pandamatenga and are all very sad to leave this wonderful village and country. Earlier today as the sun was setting in the sky, we said goodbye to the village kids. At dinner tonight and afterward sitting around the fire, the feelings flowed and the conversation centered on our experiences during the first half of our trip. We all met special children that we will miss. We learned much, and our hearts were touched by each person we encountered. We will all have tales to tell upon our return.
I note with sorrow the events of recent days in Istanbul and Brussels that have us all devastated and thoughtful about safety in the world again. Our thoughts are with the families and friends of those who lost their lives, and our prayers go out to those who were injured in the terrorist attacks. Please know that the team in Moscow and our chaperones on all of our trips continue to assure the safety of our students, whether in Moscow or traveling far afield. We have all the necessary protocols in place to keep our kids safe, and we monitor the advice of all relevant authorities to assure prudent decisions where warranted. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact us as needed.
We started this morning walking with the children to their current school that is quite a distance from their neighborhood. It was a 45 minute walk through the bush area behind the highway and we had a long line of over 100 kids walking with us. Shortly after we started, we encountered a “new” river that had opened up due to the recent rain (remember yesterday). We helped the little ones cross the stream and only Ms. Francy and two other ambassadors got wet. But, we kept almost all of the kids dry and the trek continued. We arrived at school to some drone shots from overhead (a local student brought his drone to help). All gathered in the courtyard and we said our farewells after waving to the camera flying above us one last time. We promised to return the next day with cupcakes for all of them. More on that later.
We returned to the lodge to prepare for the afternoon’s activities and trained our team captains for mosquito net installation. They chose their team members and together, over a 5-hour period, installed 96 nets in 53 homes throughout the village as directed by the local social worker. We installed for all ages, including a man who had just recently been moved into a new house that was sponsored by the local farmers. The man, born in 1937, had never lived in a house his entire life and had touched the hearts of the community. We were very lucky that he was our first install.
Overall, a hot, but wonderfully fulfilling day was enjoyed by all ambassadors, despite heat and loose lug nuts. More details on that when we return.
Lazy morning preparing our games and materials at the lodge got us prepared for a wild afternoon at our Fair in Pandamatenga. In simple terms:
- Finding the children
- Coming from all directions
- 200 kids playing games and enjoying the activities
- 20 adults in sessions with Project Humanity on the risks associated with alcohol
- Games go on – kids keep them going – in the mud (go Yuki!)
- Quick decisions as lightning a few miles away.
- Load the vans, send the children – meet at the filing station just down the road
- Pouring rain
- Gather on the covered porch of the filling station – 200 kids and all the Ambassadors
- Singing, handing out colorful bracelets
- The rain subsides
- Playing circle games while waiting for food – Chugga Chugga Clara!!!
- Hot dogs arrive – setup makeshift distribution line
- I get to hold every child’s hand as we lead them to the food and feed 200
- Enough hot dogs for one more – start the line again Clara!!! Chugga Chugga
I know that was short and simple, but I can’t begin to put into words how amazing this experience was. The crew was wet and muddy, but they fed a village and turned the sunshine on in the sky and in the hearts of all these children. I’m going to sleep tonight with much on my mind – trying to absorb it all. One picture for the moment. More later.
We had a wonderful day on Saturday meeting the village elders and getting permission to enter the village. They had a wonderful dance that greeted us (video later) and the assistant chief of the tribe welcomed us to the village and gave us permission to enter. Later, we were invited to a church setting a little bit further down the road from the village center and were invited to join the tribal chief as she led a bible study. She welcomed us and we enjoyed some time together, including a couple of songs.
Next we were only planning to see the “bread lady” and her family, but word got out in the village and the kids started showing up from all corners. We spent some extended time with them at the “bread lady’s” home before heading back to Wildtrack, with a slow pass by the school site to check on the foundation and well. We headed back to the lodge and the kids had some time preparing for the fair on Sunday, plus some much needed down time with some swimming and relaxing. Then, we had a wonderful dinner with a selection of other dignitaries from the school project in Pandamentenga, Project Humanity, and Walk with Lions. This is where the Ambassadors shine. As true ambassadors, the worked the room, making connections with all of the adults in attendance, weaving their magic of engagement and collaboration. Those in attendance were in awe of the presence of these kids, their ability to stand their own in deep conversations with the interests represented in the room. Was very proud of them at the end of the night. All were asleep after a long day and a number of great experiences.
Additional note on connectivity: we are all competing for use of a single satellite line here at the lodge. There is no direct cabled internet service in this part of the country and all services are via satellite dish. Speeds, particularly upload, can take a long time. The two pictures attached to this message too 15 minutes each. I know some of the kids are finding that they cn get posts and chats out to you via various services. For now, this may be the best we can do with bits and pieces. We’ll certainly have much more to share when we arrive home with the video and pictures that are being gathered throughout.
I’m sorry to say that I’m having tremendous difficulty with connectivity with blog from here in Kasane. I’ve gotten through some of the material and trying to upload more things, now that the first day is coming to a close with dinner in a couple of hours.
I was a bit more successful with Facebook and have some content from yesterday posted here: https://www.facebook.com/russiazurfluh/posts/10153331202476945
It’s publicly posted, so you should be able to see the picture collage from the boat trip. I’ll get more loaded when possible and as connection allows.