Stepping into St Paul’s is like going through ‘the back of the wardrobe’ and into a children’s storybook. A world so familiar from pictures and stories comes to life in front of us! We feel so welcome as we walk through the gates and then we see them, Moses, Martin and Shivan, our email companions, and it’s like greeting long lost relatives!
The trip holds many memories: gathering in the eating shelter for lunch with children and staff; the cackle of laughter as Jane the Matron spots Ruth and spinning her round exclaims, “You are a good size!” Yes, we most definitely feel right at home!
We spend a few wonderful hours with Apothea, the three Joys, Jane and Charles, guardians of project children from the local community. They came to recount stories from their youth, told by their parents and grandparents around the fire. There was so much laughter!
At our assembly on the theme ‘I am Special’, the children and staff love learning the song written especially for them to the tune of ‘Frère Jacques’. We even attempt to sing it in a round – which ends in more hilarity! We leave the words behind so they can keep singing it.
Our visits to the project families in the community fill us with both delight and heartache. Such desolation and barrenness greet us, but such proud, confident children, beam with excitement because we have visited their homes. At times it’s overwhelming: a feeling of being so very useless, but equally knowing that the scholarship programme at St Paul’s makes such an extraordinary difference to every child it supports.
We meet with one of the community groups who cook the most amazing feast for us. We sing and dance together and they tell stories of how the scholarship programme is helping them and the community. Through our translator, we are able to thank them for their love and care for the children. In turn, they thank us for our love, support and prayers. We are humbled at the generosity of these amazingly strong and dignified people and the welcome given to us (and we may have cried)!
On our last day we are invited to spend time with the Nursery children. Oh my goodness, such beautiful faces full of intrigue and confusion, as we try our very best to communicate with them! Colouring, painting, storybooks, building blocks, face masks and finger puppets are the order of the day. We soon combat any language barriers and the children became our very best friends for one magical morning.
And then, before we know it, it’s time to say goodbye, but not until we march with the whole school twice around the field led by the brass band! The children sing a special farewell song for us which includes our names, and if that wasn’t enough to reduce us to tears (again!) they present us all with thoughtful gifts. All that is left to do is hug and say a teary goodbye.
It now appears that we’ve all left a little piece of our hearts behind at St Paul’s School, our home from home.