Sunday, June 6, 2010

The school my sister fought for

(To share this story in its entirety, it would have taken the space for a small book and much more "Haley's insight" regarding this specific situation.  These words were written from my own limited perspective).

While my sister was in Africa, one of her duties (aside from teaching at a secondary school) was to help out the community by taking part in some special project. They identified a project through conversations with a man, Benedict, from a nearby community, whose vision included further developing a primary school for children and orphans who lived near. Haley and her teammates partnered with the people of the village, empowered them to come together to finish this school, and provided some funding to help with the cost of desks and materials. The village developed a committee whose role was to keep the school going after they left Africa. (Haley explained that the people of the community do have the abilities to develop this school…they just needed a kick start and some creative minds to help start the process). The school was finished with success and the first classes were held – what a great moment for the community to finally have this school for their kids.

To preface the next part of my post, let me describe Benedict for you in a few words. Visionary. Minister. Thief. Money hungry. Power hungry. Dominant personality. Large man.

Because Benedict is a thief and is pocketing much of the money being donated to the school by unknowing beneficiaries, the volunteer crew decided to open a P.O. Box for the teacher, Gardensia, instead, so she could use it not only for personal mail, but for supplies and money sent in from them in the future. This P.O. box was paid for by one of the volunteer’s parents, who came to visit.

Gardensia - The teacher

Benedict became irate with Haley (she was the only one left of the original volunteer crew), because they did not buy him a P.O. box. He called and threatened her not to bring us to see the school or else. After chatting with some people Haley worked with, she decided to take us to see the school anyway. (She is strangely fearless at times, but the only things running through my head were “What!! We are in a foreign country with different laws…why is she risking this!!”) So we went and all was fine. The next day, we left for the morning, and while away, Haley received a phone call from Benedict saying he was waiting for her at the farm. He waited four hours until we returned, so he could speak to her. Talk about a nervous sister right here...I mean...this was the real deal. Not a movie script. Not a fictional book.  Here we go...

Haley, Tyler, Jeremy and I arrived to the farm and were introduced to Benedict. My heart was pounding out of my chest…I could not believe how strong Haley appeared in the presence of this angry man. Mamma Betty joined us (She is the mom/owner of the farm who has a heart of gold and is very well respected) and we listened intently to what he had to say. I was ready with my pepper spray about five feet from Benedict, ready to pounce if he tried to do anything to my sister…

This was one of the most emotional conversations I have ever had to witness. It took all I had to stay sitting with my mouth closed for the full hour. I became frustrated when Benedict told Haley she had no right to bring her American ways to this country and do things like this. Africa was different than America. I shared tears with her as he told her he was going to remove Gardensia as a teacher and send all of the donated supplies with her. (And all because he wanted complete control over a P.O. Box.) Haley was strong, passionate, and logical with her words, and back and forth they went as we bystanders stood by...waiting for resolution. Her words were not making an impression and she, feeling desperate because she was leaving in less than 24 hours from a village she grew to love and a people she grew to care so deeply for, turned to Mamma Betty with tear filled eyes – looking for anything she could do or say. Desperation. I was so moved by this and was angry to see what was unfolding.

A community empowered to come together. A school built for a common purpose. Kids who can now go to school and learn. Many hours of hard work. New school supplies and donations. Freshly painted walls. All heading right down the drain, because of ill-willed intentions and the greed of one man. The law didn't matter. The voices of the community would have been stifled. Nothing could have changed the drive of this one man. The school was one phone call away from being back to square one.

Enter the calm, collected Mamma Betty. A true angel. She reached deep in Benedict’s heart and brought him back to reality, all the while teaching us a lesson of forgiveness. Her calm, soft way of speaking sucked me in and it did the same for Benedict. I will try to quote her the best I can from what I remember...

“Benedict, don’t forget the vision. Think about the children. They are the ones that matter. Going through life, we always have those who want to destroy a vision. These obstacles are ones we all have to get through. You have a good heart Benedict. I know your heart and I know you want what’s best for these kids. Don’t think about the other things going on. Think about those kids and what their future looks like…”

There was much more said, but these are some of the words that struck me.
Mamma Betty

I saw a wild lion turn to a gentle kitten in those few moments of speech. The man melted like butter, and asked us all for forgiveness by the time it was over. Gardensia will remain as the teacher, and the school will continue running. Halleluiah. Praise God. After ending the conversation, Mamma Betty invited Benedict to stay for tea and bread. Like I said…a true angel unknowingly teaching forgiveness.

I was so thankful for his submissiveness, not only for Haley’s sake, but for a community and teacher who would now be molding young minds within four strong walls… I was so proud of my sister and will not look at her the same after seeing her tackle this battle – an emotional fight for something so worth fighting for. I can only image how I would have been in that situation....curled up in a ball begging at his feet crying probably!!  She's one tough cookie with such confidence, drive and passion. Go Haley Go!


  1. What an amazing story and an amazing sister. I love reading all your stories of Africa.

  2. Such a great story...thanks for sharing with us! :)


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