There's a real sense of community at that school, almost like belonging to one big family. Everyone knows everyone else and I guess there's a strong social interdependence. I spoke to my teacher-friend, Mr Misthar whose daughter was starting today and he not only seemed to know all the parents but he knew all the children too!
The parents had arrived, with their offspring in smart, new, spotless whites and blues, and the children were all mingling and chatting away. There was no hanging on to Mum's coat tails - these kids were happy and excited, if perhaps a little overwhelmed.
The other children arranged themselves (the older ones organising the younger ones) into two lines, but after about 15 minutes in the baking sun it became apparent that power was needed for playing the national anthem so there was a half hour delay while coils of wire and extension leads were found and slung up to convey the power to the classroom. The older boys took charge of this - no one told them what to do as far as I could tell. OK, it was a bit chaotic but they got there. I can't imagine "Health & Safety" allowing kids to climb on the roofs, twist bare wires together and stick the ends in power sockets using matchsticks, can you? Heaven forbid they actually operate switches!
The boys also wired up the sound system and microphone - we were having the full works today! You may remember that I said the school had no electricity. Well, the bill was finally paid by the Education Department and the power restored last Friday. The Principal was quick to remind me that my organisation, AdoptSriLanka, had promised them a CD player. I said I'd get that ball rolling.
So, after the electrics had been sorted and decorations hastily (but skillfully) put up, the new children were escorted by Grades 2 and 3 between two rows of cheering and clapping kids to their new classroom. And they really meant it - they were truly welcoming the little ones into this next stage of their lives.
I was the only White there and I felt very honoured and privileged to be accepted and permitted to join with the celebrations. As in India, there were a couple of VIPs there who may have been from the mosque or the council, I have no idea, and they made their long and impressive speeches. Truthfully, they weren't too excessive, thank goodness. All the time the kids were popping out to the toilets or chatting, as were their parents - no one batted an eyelid. The speeches were followed by the Grades 2 and 3 doing little routines and recitals, and all with about fifty of sixty hot bodies in the not overly-large classroom, with little or no ventilation. I was dripping and embarrassingly smelly by the end. Not pleasant!
After all this, the new children took a turn at the microphone! They had apparently learned songs and movements at pre-school classes and they were proud to share them. It was great! These kids felt totally unfazed and at home, even after an hour and a half of celebrations. Amazing, and a pleasure to watch!
At the very end, each child was presented with a stack of government-supplied workbooks and three sets of clothing, plus a brown bag with bits and pieces in - maybe some pencils and pens. Whatever it was, the children were happy to receive it.
The whole thing was compèred by a young girl, not from the school, who was obviously very practised in such things and did her job very professionally. And finally, juice and bites appeared from nowhere, served by some of the Grade 6 students. In all, there was great involvement from all the students, whether in front of the audience or behind the scenes, and all of them seemed to accept their roles and duties as if it was the most natural thing in the world - they simply got on with it.
I was the only one there with a camera and I snapped away as much as possible but the light was very strong outside and the room poorly illuminated by natural light inside, but I did what I could. The Principal side-lined me later for prints of the photos - no problem.
As an aside, the boys in Grade 11 ('O'Level year - about 15-16 year olds) have been begging me to help them with computing. The school itself has only one computer and I don't know if that even works. They tell me that they use Internet Café computers when they can afford it. At Rs.50 an hour (about £0.28 or US$0.45) that turns out to be about once every one or two months. I arranged for six girls to come to use ASL's computers for an hour on Saturday mornings, and six boys for an hour in the afternoons, but only if they're accompanied by teachers. Willing teachers were found so the kids were delighted! Bearing in mind that I plan to leave in April, I'm not sure how these sessions will work out or what we'll achieve but I'm sure we'll think of something. I'll ask what their expectations are and see what I can do to meet them.