The Words of the Buono Family
In Steve Buono's previous article, we explained how our IRFF school in Liberia was started. Later, Steve asked me to write an update on the school. I am one of the five teachers on our staff. Despite some difficulties, the Kpanyan Central Elementary and Junior High School is gradually gaining the recognition of the community, the surrounding schools, education officials, prominent citizens, and foreigners in Sinoe County. It is situated 25 to 30 kilometers (16 to 20 miles) east of Greenville, which is the administrative headquarters of Sinoe County, in a village called Kabada.
As well as being one of the most beautiful schools in the chiefdom, it is just a few meters away from the farm-to-market road. This makes it accessible to people far and near by means of commercial or private transportation. The building has four classrooms and provides conducive and well-ventilated space for at least 36 students per room. The building has a spacious hallway, a fairly big auditorium, a library, a registrar/secretary's office, and the Principal's office.
At the time we were trying to get our school permit, all the teachers in the county (about 1000) boycotted classes for nearly two weeks demanding the dismissal or transfer of their Chief Education Official, who was accused of corruption and who had persecuted us in the past. But it was his permission that was needed to issue the temporary permit for our school. Even under such difficult circumstances, we received our permit.
Happy students gather together outside the new school.
Our initial aim was to have only the junior high level. However, due to the sparse population of the area and other uncontrollable factors, we had to include an elementary section. This first year, we have two classes in the elementary year (first and second grades) and one class in the junior high section (seventh grade). I am responsible for the second grade. The initial enrollment was 33 students. It is like preparation for the start, and every year we hope to expand until the desired standard is reached.
I have learned a lot of lessons at this humble stage of our school operations. During the first week of school activities, there was only one student in my class. I prayed to have at least seven students and they came by the end of the second week. I now have three girls and four boys between the ages of 10 and 14. My prayer was answered incredibly.
The next challenge was how I could present the material so the students could understand. Even though I have two years of teaching experience, I'm not a trained and qualified teacher. I lack the teaching techniques to effectively teach, as well as to really express the heart of True Parents to the students. Within the first month, I could feel that I was not getting through to the children.
During a short prayer in preparation for teaching, a clear but low sound echoed in my ear: "Explain the lessons to the students as though they are your own children; teach them with a loving heart; be calm with them, don't be harsh." When I implemented these instructions, the girl who had the most difficulty with arithmetic started catching up very rapidly. I realized how much God is with my class and the school. This was a valuable experience for me.
In addition, my students became very regular and had the best attendance record in the school. They were often among the first group of students to meet school requirements. Best of all, they are always very eager to learn Holy Songs at Holy Song practice every Friday.
Steve Buono giving inspired guidance to the teaching staff.
It was during this time that I had my greatest struggle since I joined this church. My physical mother suddenly called me over the radio, notifying me she was about to visit me. It has always been my desire to make her happy, especially remembering the significant role she's played in my life. I needed to focus on my mission, and turning my back on her was my Isaac; I felt Abraham's heart when he was about to sacrifice his son. Later, I realized that if this has been God's situation for the past 6,000 biblical years, His grief must be unspeakable. I felt God's heart and many times I desperately cried.
At one point during this struggle, Heavenly Father spoke to me in a few words one evening saying: "Fobbie, you're getting 'muddy because you are surrounded by evil spirits." That was all. I realized that a greater degree of substantial commitment and loyalty to Heavenly Father and True Parents was needed during this internal trial. Letters and radio messages started pouring in from my mother. The situation was like a knife cutting into my flesh. But, behind this struggle I learned insights that were profound and beautiful. I will always appreciate them.
These profound lessons took me to a new realm of faith and dedication. As I continued pouring out my heart and strength to the school, the students started becoming more attracted to my efforts. I felt more was expected of me, even beyond academic activities. It was time for me to start opening my heart to the teachers and the students, to set a standard of unity with my Abel by following his directions absolutely. This awakened a sense of new and greater responsibility in me.
I had always wanted to be the standard of everything in the school. I wanted my students to exhibit the highest standard in attendance, punctuality and neatness. The limitation I discovered within myself was that I was narrowing this precious concern to only the students in my class.
Students and teachers on a march through the village.
I started exerting the same concern to other students, especially the first graders, by washing their sores when the clinic was not open. The sores on the children started diminishing. I can really see how spirit world is supporting our activities, and encouraging us to start thinking bigger for the school. I also thought of Hyo Jin Moon's speech at Belvedere on March 6, 1988, when he said that we should "Think Big" (Front Line, Vol. 5, No. 1-Spring 1988). My present determination is to bring Heavenly Father and True Parents' heart of love and care to the students and the teachers, so they may receive True Parents.
I also became more courageous to start visiting and encouraging their parents, re-emphasizing the significance and objectives of our school. I asked them to send more children to the school, for only 10 to 15% of the child population in the area attend school. I learned no matter how difficult our missions might be, when we apply true love then our results become more substantial for God and True Parents. I could feel the good spirits working and wanting us to bring more victory for Heavenly Father.
The school is not only involved in academic concerns. We extend our activities to include community services. Most of our students have diseases related to poor hygiene. Our clinic staff advised us that curative measures are not really the remedy because their environment is the main cause. We found out later that their drinking water comes from stagnant water down in the valley; so we sponsored the construction of two simple wells. One of these wells is now the major source of drinking water for the people in the village. Also, every Friday we march through the village, and occasionally the children carry things that they've made in their Arts and Crafts class home to their parents. As a result, people in the community are getting more interested in our school.
Other nearby schools always have an annual gathering to celebrate National Flag Day on August 26th, but they hesitated to invite our school. They had been informed that we would have our own Flag Day ceremonies. Finally, they decided to invite us, giving us the invitation letter only 48 hours before the event. They asked our school to give the "Vote of Thanks" address.
Ready to cooperate, we mobilized our teachers to be in full attendance. We were the first group of teachers to arrive at the program site. In a brief meeting, we became acquainted with the Teachers' Association, and were informed that our school was eligible to register its teachers with the organization. In the final meeting after the program, our school was commissioned to occupy the secretariat portfolio in the Association. Our school had finally become a member of the school system not only in the county but in the nation as well.
At the completion of the program, Steve Buono, our principal, was to give the "Vote of Thanks" address. As he got on stage, it started raining so heavily he could not be heard. After waiting a few minutes in meditation, he began yelling his short but strong address. While the guest speaker and other impromptu speakers had given politically oriented speeches, he talked about God's love. He admonished parents and teachers to love the children and help them to have patriotic and God-loving attitudes. This was such a surprise for the people! He ended his speech expressing his gratitude to God. He concluded that teaching young children is appreciated by God. The participants, the education officials and other teachers admired his speech very much.
As this is the beginning of our recognition, we are all very determined to have the aims and objectives of this school accomplished. Father said: "with determination, the power will come and God will work miracles..." We are even more determined than ever to raise our school to national recognition and to demonstrate the highest standard of moral, ethical, spiritual, and quality education in Sinoe county -- even in the nation!
My struggles and lessons in the past tell me that as I continue in this mission, tougher and deeper struggles await. But I hope I'll always appreciate them with gratitude.