It’s a quiet, rainy, Sunday morning – just the welcoming setting I awaited before jotting down some reflections from my recent Kitenga visit. Trip #22? 23? 24? Somewhere along the line I lost count but have come to realize that in reality, Kitenga, Tanzania has become my “second home”.
And as it has happened with each previous journey, the take-ways, learnings, understandings and tasks accomplished, were many and varied. What I thought I would share with you this morning is my reflection on what I feel was my key take-away: The resiliency & ‘rising strong’ we talked about after the dorm-fire has proven itself to be 100% warranted. I think it’s human tendency to put one’s head down after something bad happens and just ‘do’ whatever needs to get ‘done’ – nose to the grindstone, shoulders into it, rubber to the road – all to ensure the ‘bad thing’, in the end, isn’t the defining moment.
I suspect that’s been my approach ever since the girls dorm was ravaged by fire and I surely was joined by the Sisters, the teachers and the students themselves. Everyone just poured themselves into what needed to be done to get the job done. Now that I can look in the rearview mirror, I realize how close we might have come to everything falling apart – triggered by someone’s malicious act. Gratefully, a few serendipitous conditions bundled with deliberate action-steps kept that from happening. In the ‘serendipity’ column: there where newly finished classrooms that were available to house students and become temporary dorms. What if they hadn’t been available? The GEC builder who was ‘already on his way’ to start Dorm 2 could now act as construction manager for the temp housing – they only had two weeks to re-open the school, his assistance ended up proving to be critical. And in the ‘deliberate’ column? The Sisters’ willingness to work almost non-stop till the job was done; the community’s outpouring of support and the generosity of the GEC donor family to raise the funds needed to make it all happen. Ultimately though, I think it came down to sheer will and belief in the vision of the Kitenga School for Girls and the refusal to let that potential get snuffed out.
Dorm #1 still stands burned and empty and it hurts deep inside every time I walk by it. I’m not saying it wasn’t a big bad kick in the gut or significant set-back. BUT it didn’t bring this school down. Nothing could have demonstrated this more than the dedication and ribbon-cutting of the new Theodore & Pauline Cohen Dormitory. Nothing could have demonstrated it more than the after-party where teachers, students, construction workers, myself and the GEC visitors danced and laughed and celebrated together. Nothing could have demonstrated it more than when a student read a poem she wrote about what her school means to her and her gratitude to GEC. Or the play the students wrote and performed about ending child-marriage. Or the feast that was eaten or the joyous sacred blessing of every dorm room.
It was a profound moment of reflection for me to take all of this ‘fully’ in: the closeness we may have come to everything falling apart; the teamwork & trust that brought stabilization; and the hope, commitment and resiliency that turned a new page for Kitenga. A new chapter begins! Like any good story, there will be setbacks and the hero’s journey will be followed. But I’m pretty confident about the ending now – this fire didn’t get us, it only made us stronger.