Monday 18th August – The Calm Before the Storm
The school had been a hive of activity all day prior to the opening. Though the actual building was complete there was a large amount of minor aesthetic jobs to be done including cleaning the excess silicon and paint off the windows, complete the sanding of the desks, washing the classroom floors, watering the new fenced grass area around the school and generally cleaning up the school. The motifs on the gable ends of the school were also finished today.
We were joined at the school by some special guests that day in the form of Mike’s mum and brother and one of the co-founders of QUEST, Mike Amphletts. There was an air of excitement all day which could not even be dampened by one or two short rain showers. The rain showers prompted a mass desk moving operation as the un-varnished desks were outside and could have been easily damaged by water. Cue the school kids who all dived in, grab desks and moved them inside. Those kids are surprisingly strong, more than one was found carrying/wearing a desk all by themselves!!
The day finished with the school mostly prepared and with just the desks to be arranged, the blackboards to be erected and the name plaques to be secured.
Tuesday 19th August – The Official Handover
The day dawned bright and clear which bode well for the opening ceremony. The small team who came out for the opening were on site early to put the final touches to the school. The plaques were screwed on to each of the classroom walls, one commemorating (in Portuguese and English) the contribution to the Millennium Project of Stephen Kimmett and the other paying homage to the family generous enough to donate the land for the school. The final plaque, positioned next to the school director’s office, explained how the school had been funded and the contribution that all the volunteers made during the construction.
‘This school was constructed by international volunteers from Scott Wilson working alongside Mozambique craftsmen. The construction was funded by the Scott Wilson Millennium Project in 2008’.
With this, a number of other jobs were finished including moving in the teachers desks, cupboards, shelves and staff table; as well as stocking the library with the 200 new books. After completing these tasks it was time to change out of our scruffy clothes to await the arrival of the dignitaries and for the official opening ceremony to begin. The school looked amazing with its palm leaf arches, hanging bunting, balloons and carefully laid petals in the classrooms.
At about 10:30am the first of the official cars arrived carrying some of the administrative staff who were there to coordinate the proceedings. However, the first impression they made was not a good one. The vehicle they arrived in managed to drive over some glass bottles and spread broken glass around one of the old classrooms. Bearing in mind few of the children wear shoes this was not felt to be a particularly good start, especially considering the officials complete indifference to what they had done. Still, if that was the only problem of the day it would be considered a complete success!
The admin staff went about arranging formalities for the opening. Straw mats were laid out in front of one of the classrooms, a ceremonial ribbon was hung across one of the doors and tables and chairs were readied in the shade for the crowds.
Just before 11am the children all gathered at one end of the school and began to sing in unison (well just about anyway)! It was an amazing sight to see and hear them. This seemed to herald the arrival of the big-wigs from the Mozambique Education Authority (among other agencies) and right on cue two very luxurious 4x4’s arrived at the school carrying the officials and a surprising number of people in their entourage, including reporters from national TV and local radio.
Once the officials had arrived and been introduced to everyone (imagine the Queen wandering down a line of people shaking their hands and that’s about right), the opening ceremony could begin.
The first item for the day was the blessing of the school, and offerings to the ancestors, by one of the village elders who was also a member of the family that donated the land. For this blessing all the officials sat on the straw mats outside the classroom and listened in respectful silence to the elder. His speech was a very animated affair with arms flailing, eyes rolling and even a bit of flying spittle. It concluded with the elder tipping some coconut wine on the ground in reverence of the village ancestors, smoking a cigarette and then eating some bread. Sadly much of this ceremony was lost on us as we had no one to translate the Bitonga dialect used by the community.
After this very dramatic blessing we all gathered round a classroom and witnessed one of the officials (the Provincial Director) ceremonially cutting the ribbon and declaring the school open. This was accompanied by a small drop of champagne and a tour around the new facilities.
After the tour the whole school project team, the officials, guests, teachers, children, elders, mothers and everyone else who was about gathered outside the new building for the beginning of the speeches. These were started off by Robert, one of the teachers at the school, followed by a community elder, and then by our very own John Nutt, CEO of International division, who had also come out for the opening. His speech explained a little about the background of the charity and road to taking on the project. He also thanked all those involved including QUEST and the volunteers and finished by explaining our commitment to the future of the school. During John’s speech we also officially handed over the books for the schools library and surprised Juliao (the school director) with a new bike to shorten his 2 hour walk to the school everyday. At least, we tried to surprise him but the element was slightly removed when Juliao spotted the bike the previous day! Still he seemed very happy with both the books and the bike which was the main thing.
The speeches were interspersed with a selection of the children singing songs, some of which were written for the day, singing about their new school.
The next person to make a speech was one of the main officials. As far as we could work out from the translation this involved telling the kids to look after their school and that any kids found writing on the walls would be ‘appropriately punished’. We just hope that something of the meaning of this speech was lost in translation!
The last speech to be given was by the ever-baking Fernando who, it later turned out, had been cooking for nearly two days straight without a moments sleep to provide the food. His speech was a very heart felt affair, delivered in his full Santa Claus garb as is his way and concluded with the presentation of the cakes. And what cakes! One was a reconstruction of the entire school, another was his now famous swan and little signets, a third was, bizarrely, a Barbie doll (legs and all) stuck in to the top of a big cone cake which represented the children; along with several other smaller cakes (including a cake of sticks, representing the sticks the children used to collect and carry into school every morning to cook the volunteers breakfast and lunch). At the conclusion of his speech everyone clapped their hearts out and gorged themselves on the cakes.
Afterwards the kids were let into the classrooms for the first time and the noise they made was deafening. Mums came to look through the windows to see what was going on and found Mike giving an impromptu English lesson! Brilliant! Everyone wanted to join in; a number of mums even came into the classroom and started to dance.
Once the formalities were over the school team were treated to a delicious meal of mutapa, a volunteer favourite. This was swiftly followed by a some coconut wine and much playing (well…being dragged down, poked, hair platted, scaring, chasing…) with the kids. Later a challenge was thrown down by the gentlemen of the community (including inebriated elders) to play football. Needless to say the football was of the highest standard with some pin-point hoofing, exceptional off the ball sleeping and certainly no ‘shooting from absolutely anywhere’. The game ended in a highly controversial 1-1 draw, the controversy being that the scorer of the equaliser had literally just strayed on the pitch from nowhere and booted in the goal. Half of the players were in uproar while the rest were searching for more coconut wine.
The day finished all smiles and cheerfulness though. The school, looking absolutely magnificent, had been handed over with barely a hitch. We really got the impression that the children and community had really taken ownership of the school and it’s future. Huge praise was heaped on those involved and hopefully the benefits of everyone’s labours will be felt for many years to come.
I think the general feeling on leaving the school for the last time was one of genuine pride and amazement. Pride that it was built almost exactly as it was envisioned so long ago and amazement that it was built almost exactly as it was envisioned so long ago! So what’s next? If anyone has any bright ideas it could be you opening something in a couple of years time…
We want to hear from you…
The Scott Wilson Millennium Project is always interested to hear about new potential projects which will benefit children in countries where Scott Wilson has a permanent presence (outside the UK). Please contact email@example.com, to:
-Share your ideas, for possible inclusion in the 5-year commitment to the Phembane Community Primary School;
-Offer your ideas for new projects to support;
-Volunteer your time and services.