Friday, November 23, 2007

Today was not your average Friday for 16 children at the Good Hope Orphanage in Usa River, Tanzania.

At 8:30, a half hour after they would normally be beginning class at their local government school Meru Peak, a bus from a nearby private school came and rounded them up. The words "Usa River Academy" were sprawled across the sides. For most of these kids, it was probably the first time they'd ever gotten on a real school bus.

All 16 of them needed to take placement exams for the beginning of the new school year this coming January. I sat in the same room with them for three hours, watching each and every kid painstakingly complete a series of tests written in English only. Some struggled mightily -- one kid seriously just filled in random letters, leaving his test riddled with words like "jcxcmjakkwjpzaq," "jmzjjlpmcdrgzsw," and "mkiewqalccvru." Others cruised to the finish line -- they were the ones fidgeting and unnecessarily going to the bathroom for the last hour of the tests. But none of them seemed to get why they were there.

What exactly did they think they were doing there, though? Wasn't it obvious they were being tested for admission? The answer is no.

"Tutatsoma shule gani?" one girl asked me when it was done, as they all crowded around my desk and touched my hair. She wanted to know which school we were sending them to.

"Uhh..." -- did she not know? -- "hapa..." Here.

"Hapa?" she asked, her eyes lighting up as she looked around. Usa River Academy, after all, is one of the nicest schools in the area, and by far the nicest these two eyes have seen. This girl had no idea that the whole time, she was being tested to see where she would be starting at that very school. "Kweli?"

"Kweli," I said. Really.

About five of the Good Hope kids all of the sudden started whispering to each other in Swahili, eyes bugging out: I knew we were gonna go to a nice school, but THIS PLACE??

I normally hate playing God. Hunter feels the same way. Having to pick and choose who gets an education and who doesn't is the worst part of this job. But to see the looks on those kids' faces when I told them they would be going to Usa River ... it was an early Christmas present.

An early Christmas present not only for them, but for me as well.

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