We walked up the dusty track to the top of the hill to visit a brand new school which opened at the beginning of the year. I sat with the school director (also the local pastor) on the steps beside the new school buildings and soon we were surrounded by wide-eyed kids who inched closer to us as we talked, inquisitively staring at their visitor. Kindergarten classes had finished for the day, and a dozen under-5 year olds clustered round us patiently waiting for their parents to come and collect them for the long walk home back up into the mountains.
The new school buildings replaced the temporary shelters used as classrooms after the earthquake destroyed the previous school buildings, creating a landslide which left a gaping hole in the hillside where the school site used to be.
I was shown round the school and taken in to meet some of the classes who stood as we entered the room and eyed me curiously. The pupils were enthusiastic about their new school, pleased that there were now concrete floors and not just dust beneath their feet. The girls thought the school was much more beautiful than the building they had before, and they were all unanimous in their praise of the new buildings that made their learning that much easier.
The director spoke passionately about how the school had now become ‘a beacon in the community’, an emblem of progress for them. The community were proud of such an institution, many of whom had been involved in delivering materials to the remote rural site.
I felt hugely encouraged by my visit, although slightly embarrassed by the applause the children gave me as we left, a token of their thanks for the new school. As we drove back down the hill, winding through narrow paths forged by the river, I could still hear the shouts and giggles of the school children who waved us off, giving me the boost I needed to return to the stiflingly hot office to write up the report.