Today I woke up in my own bed in Virginia Beach, but all day my thoughts have been filled with the children from Akramaman who were in our reading camp. I especially find myself thinking about Samuel Kasum.
The first day of camp Zach and I gave an informal assessment to each child so that we could form groups based on skill levels. I volunteered to teach the kids who could identify the letters of the alphabet, but were not able to identify the sounds associated with the letters. Samuel was one of my children.
Most of my students were five or six, but I had four who I figured were a little older, and Samuel was one of them. I thought he was probably about eight. From the beginning I could tell that Samuel really wanted to learn. He worked very hard and quickly grasped each new concept. When the children worked independently, he always went above and beyond what I asked of him, and his face would beam with pride when he was praised.
In addition to working on phonics skills, we also had the children make a book about themselves. One day they were directed to draw a picture of what they wanted to be when they grew up. Samuel drew a wonderfully detailed picture of a doctor with a stethoscope examining a patient. Later in the week Debi told us that she wanted to tape some of the children talking about their future dreams, and I picked Samuel to be one of the children she interviewed. When it was his turn, he proudly sat down in front of Debi, and she asked him, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” He quietly and clearly said, “I am Samuel Kasum. I am twelve years old. I want to be a doctor.” Twelve years old. My heart sank. How could this be? Samuel obviously has the ability to learn. How could he be twelve years old and just learning to match sounds with letters? But the answer is obvious. When Samuel was two, three, and four, there was no pre-school in Akramaman. When he turned five, the nearest primary school is four miles away. There were no school buses to take him there. No one in the village has a car. His parents struggle every day just to put a little bit of food in their children’s mouths. It is not astonishing that Samuel is 12 years old and only beginning to learn phonics. It is incredible that he has managed to learn the alphabet and that he has retained a strong desire to learn.
This fall a new primary school is opening in Akramaman, so Samuel and all the children in the village will now be able to do what we take for granted in the United States. They will be able to look forward to the first day of school. Still Samuel’s image is always in my mind. I know the odds are stacked against him. I know the school lacks materials to help him bridge the gap between what he knows and what he SHOULD know. I know that time is running out for him. I know that in a few years he must take tests that will determine if he can go on to high school, but I also know that Samuel wants to be a doctor. Every night I will pray for Samuel and his dream.