A day of firsts for CEO, Erna Grasz as she attends mass in Swahili, a graduation ceremony and a harambee (Tanzania style)

We got up super early with the goal of being at Lowassa School by 9am for the day-long graduation event, but decided to stop in Makayuni for chai and chapatti. We arrived at the school at 10:50am and were still the first ones there (if you’ve ever been to East Africa, no one ever gets anywhere on time).

We had 6 graduating scholars at Lowassa: Lepolali, Nolari, Teresesia, Justini, Arnold and Ndukupi. The graduation ceremony was hosted by the Lutheran church student organization. At 11:30am the pastor and dignitaries arrived. Mass was conducted in Swahili and 2.75 hours long. There was a lot of praying, standing up and sitting down with the pastor putting his hand on students’ heads.

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While I was sitting in mass, I enjoyed observing everyone: graduating students, parents, other classmates, the choir and band, and the guests. Everyone was trying to concentrate but it was difficult to do so while sitting on plastic and metal chairs. The kids were very still but many looked bored and parents began dozing off. The surrounding community is primarily Maasai so I was pretty surprised to see many Maasai parents. At 1:00pm, parents were still arriving and it was so interesting to see how walking through the middle of mass phases no one. I think everyone walks from such great distances away that when you get there, is when you get there.

Looking at the graduates, I thought it was amazing how white their shirts were and most were ironed. The boys wore pants at mid butt level but with belts while some accessorized with colorful suspenders that hung down the sides (apparently a status symbol to have suspenders). All the boys’ shirts were tucked in and all the girls wore skirts.
Parents were obviously tired because they came from such great distances to attend, but they sat observantly with so much pride on their faces. After mass the celebration started. Dancing consisted of the electric slide and some side-to-side stepping. I couldn’t help it and decided to join in. Later after watching the video, I realized I was the only adult (other than Albert, our Scholarship Coordinator and Daniel, our Tanzanian Program Manager) dancing. The parents must have thought I was NUTS.

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A lot of speeches soon followed as we sat quietly in the back row. We were suddenly called to the stage to be guests of honor. I tried hard to resist but to no avail. Now that I was suddenly a guest of honor, I was REALLY embarrassed that I had just been dancing. I am sure the adults thought I was a NUT. There would be a lot of funny stories being told over the fire later that night, I have no doubt. About 3pm, my stomach began to growl and churn when Daniel tells me we are only half way through the agenda. OH MY — —

As I watched the graduates sit on stage, it was pretty hilarious to see how bored and ready they were for all of this to be over. They wanted their diploma, the gifts, the food and the dancing already! Funny, how all teenagers are the same worldwide!
One hilarious scene was the way people moved anywhere to get a photo op- at one point a young man walked up on stage in the middle of a speech so he could get a good angle of someone in the audience. I nearly burst out laughing at how accepted this was.

We were then asked to address the group of 400 people. From this day forward I am never going anywhere without a speech in Swahili in my hip pocket. It certainly takes a surprise like this to get your blood pressure up. My Swahili is good enough that I could have pulled it off but not without a bit of practice. I started out in Swahili and then shifted over to English with Albert translating for me. All in all it went reasonably well.

As we sat on stage, we were informed by the headmaster that we would be doing a small fundraiser next; a harambee for the student club. Surprise!! Totally unexpected, and I decided that if they wanted our participation and donation, then I would introduce the concept of ‘matching’ to them. After several attempts at explaining it to Albert, Daniel, and finally Dennis, our Tanzanian board member, I was able to get the idea across. We soon got the flow going and money began to roll in. Parents had a blast pulling out 10,000 shillings here and 10,000 shillings there. Everyone got into the spirit of matching. As we began to call out how much remained to be matched, purses and wallets flew open. It was fun to watch the concept of “matching” catch like wild fire. In the end, we helped raise over 1,000,000 shillings!

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Before the party was over, the kids collected their diplomas and I was asked to jump in line and shake hands with 85 students and congratulate them. Many of the parents ran up to put celebration necklaces made of flowers on their student.

Finally, at 4:30 it was chakula (food) time. I think 400 people were about to pass out from lack of food or drink. The food was FANTASTIC. There were different rice dishes, meat, veggies and fruit. It was impressive!

Charity Organization

At 5:30pm Dennis suggested we get on the road for the 1.5-hour drive home. But before we could do that we needed to round up our 6 students to give them their graduation cards. This turned out to be a bit like herding cats.
It was great to meet the relatives of our students. These parents were incredibly proud of their children. Parental pride is very evident in every language.
After handing out gift cards and chatting with our students, we set out on our journey back to Arusha.

What an exhausting and amazing day, filled with new experiences and so much joy. What a wonderful thing that I was invited and got to enjoy the experiences of these proud parents.

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