I was filled with nerves as I headed back to Banban for the first time since last summer. I wondered if the classroom would be in use, if my favorite kids would still be in school, and if any of them would remember me.
After a long ride by trike Linda and I finally arrived at the school. The first thing I noticed was a new two story building at the front of the property. With electricity, toilets, running water, fans, and a balcony, the children now have ideal conditions for learning. As we walked towards the school, kids began to recognize us. Suddenly we were surrounded by teachers and children who were eager to welcome us back.
My heart felt full as I followed a teacher towards the back of Banban. She was showing me the second grade classrooms that are now in use in the buildings that I helped construct. When the kids saw me, all of them quickly ran outside the room, grabbed my hands, and pulled me inside. It was amazing to see how different it looked since the last time I had seen it. The walls are painted and covered in posters and chalkboards. The ground is finished and provides support for forty students to sit at their desks. The bathroom is now more eco-friendly and provides privacy. Knowing that the time I spent last summer has contributed to the improvement of the lives of teachers and students is the most rewarding feeling I could imagine.
Working nine hour days was an exhausting and amazing experience for me as I spent the bulk of my days at Banban. It is impossible to feel alone there. The second I begin to think about something sad, something good will happen. A child will come up and hold my hand or I’ll hear someone scream “Hi Auntie Nee-Cole!” or a teacher will smile at me. I couldn’t go more than a few minutes without hearing a kid shouting my name and waving frantically at me. And that’s when I realize that my past has happened and is over but my future is right here — right now — with these people.
I spent the maximum amount of time I possibly could building, coming up with new ideas for the playground, playing with the kids, and talking to the teachers. I tried to use as many of the materials possible that were already at Banban to decrease the expenses of the playground. Linda and I were able to construct a sandbox out of entirely recycled materials from an abandoned classroom. I made use of rubbish cement columns by sanding them and painting them so the kids can use them as stepping stones. And I came up with ideas for the construction of swings and rotating tires for the children to play with.
I learned how to use a drill and hammer but mostly I learned the history and strength of the Banban community. After the death of a child and the destruction caused by Yolanda, on top of the familial challenges that are already commonly faced in the farming community, the relationships here are stronger than ever before.
Although I wasn’t there long I can feel the impact that my time had on the kids. Every moment of every day children would shout my name, ask me questions, and tell me stories. When I arrived back at Banban the children had mostly rubber bands to play with, and when I left they had monkey bars, a sandbox, and seesaws—with even more yet to come. And although some of them will continue to play their traditional games—I know my presence lifted their spirits—and added some color to their days, too.