For several years, I have heard Board members extol the excitement of graduation at the Abukloi school - seen photos, and videos - but nothing can compare with actually being here and experiencing it first hand. The 92 graduates in caps and gowns line up, four abreast, at our Director's office in town, followed by band, and all classes, marching in formation to the school, approximately 3 miles - with local citizens going crazy around them - singing, chanting, dancing in colorful attire - a real carnival atmosphere. I was prepared to walk, but it was decided that I would ride on the head teacher's boda boda at the head of the procession. Oh my goodness - women came to bless me - giving me money, saying "thanka you, thanka you!" and "Abukloi - Yes!" Hands placed on my head, gathered around the boda boda singing and smiling - it was really emotional.
It took about an hour for all of us to reach the school. Crowds had already gathered and the place was rocking. I was seated in a covered area, next to Father John, the Priest, and two seats from the Governor of the Lakes State - pretty high company! Water and mango juice were served throughout the afternoon. I knew I would be asked to speak, and had remarks prepared. What I did not expect was to be handed a cap and gown to wear during the several hour length of the program - speeches by everybody who was anybody.
After all the dignitaries had held forth and the degrees had been conferred, every graduate - all 92 - was hoisted onto the shoulders of adoring family members and friends and paraded round and round the periphery of the schoolyard in the exuberant celebration that went on and on. Oh, the noise! So much dirt and dust stirred up my eyes were burning. VIPs - and that included me - were herded into Director Justin's office and served the food that had been cooking all night long. There were greens prepared the traditional way and greens with g-nut butter, kisra and flat bread, combo, and that steer cooked up nice and tender - really good local food and plenty of it.
Justin, the school director, was all smiles at the end of the day - really happy with how things had gone. According to him, it was the biggest graduation of the three Abukloi has celebrated. When I asked how many he thought were there, he said it could have been 10,000. Wow! It would have been impossible for me to fully comprehend the gratitude the citizens of Rumbek feel for this school and those of us who have made it happen if I had not attended this graduation. I encourage anyone reading this e-mail to go to the Abukloi website - www.abukloi.org - and learn more about this school and how you might plug in to support education that is so desperately needed in this newest world country.
The party was still in full swing when I left at 5:30 - hot, sweaty, dusty, dirty, and tired - but so pleased with the success of this huge event, and how well the staff and community had worked together to pull it off. There were a lot of happy people and a lot of people who should sleep well tonight. I plan to be one of them.
-Graduates lined up and ready to march -Ready for graduation! -In cap and gown and seated by Father John
-Angelo and Ellen -With the Governor of the Western Lakes state -What a repast!