Graduation day. A day most of us remember to be joyful, significant, even life-changing. Graduation from college marks the beginning of a new career and adventure. Graduation from high school gives way to the excitement of the grown-up world out there. Graduation from Kindergarten probably just meant new crayons and shiny shoes, but to our parents it signified a new chapter of growing up and learning the hard way. Since I spent the first 22 years of my life in America, I can only speak knowing that context best, but I’m sure this occurrence happens many other places around the world. Graduations have become a common thing, for me, for my peers and neighbors. Sure, the school graduations are a big deal. We work hard for them and celebrate them hugely. But we also attend other “graduations” that seem to minimize the greatness of the word, like from puppy training class (not judging, I’ve totally been there), from VBS, from social clubs, from sports leagues. Even if it’s not a “graduation” we seem to group the phasing out, moving up event together with this notion.
So when I attended the first graduation ceremony of the ladies at the Chikondi Community Center, I went in with this belief- it was just another “graduation” ceremony. Yes, we should celebrate. Yes, we danced, we ate, we laughed, we made it a big deal. But only at our second graduation ceremony, the one just one month ago, did I realize that I was hugely underestimating the power of this party.
Graduation: the ceremony of a student receiving a diploma or degree upon completing a course of study. There’s a lot of goodness in there. The student has completed a course of study. She’s tested. She’s studied. She’s completed final exams. And she has passed. She has achieved the goal. She has earned the diploma.
And specifically for us at the Chikondi Community Center, she stuck with it, she endured oppression, she overcame obstacles, she persevered, she sewed with a baby on her back for 12 months, she tried new things, she worked diligently, she chose a more difficult path, and she accomplished her goal.
Graduation for our ladies is a BIG deal. We celebrate their accomplishments that pierce through the despair and oppression that many of them face on a daily basis. We recognize them for the brilliant, brave, creative women that they are. And for many of them, this is the first recognition of their entire lives.
Many of them have not been able to receive a secondary school diploma. Some of them did not even have the luxury of completing primary school. All of them are responsible for their families first and foremost, and have sacrificed greatly for those they love, even to the point of sacrificing their chance at an education. Food for their siblings after a parent dies is first in their mind. Their dreams take last place as they live each day for the sake of others.
But as life goes on and opportunities arise, women of the Ng’ombe compound decide to take a new step. A step toward achieving their dreams so that they can benefit their families in a greater, more significant way. No longer will children have to beg for money. No longer will mothers have to wonder where the rent money will come from. No longer will the voices that speak words of hatred, of insignificance, of degradation be heard. These graduates, these women, have risen above. They have recognized their worth, their value, their place, their ability, through a 12-month program, and this is the start of something new. This is the start of a confident, proud, independent, self-sustaining, hope-filled life.
And that is worth celebrating.
When we dance, we do so celebrating victory in spite of darkness. When we sing, we do so celebrating hope greater than fear. When we laugh, we do so celebrating a joy that cannot be silenced or shaken. And when we hand that paper to a graduate, we do so celebrating her bravery, her endurance, her steadfastness to accomplish something so great, so huge for herself, her children, and generations to come.
So celebrate with us, friends! Celebrate with the graduates of the Chikondi Community Center who have been recognized for the accomplishments, some for the very first time in their life. The photos we take and hand out to each graduate are photos that are cherished deeply and evidence of how HOPE can truly change lives, one stitch at a time. Thank you for helping to make all of this possible.
With Chikondi (Love),
Yvonne with the completed garments from her final examinations
Patricia and son, Mwila, in custom matching outfits made by Patricia
All 4 of our September 2014 graduates: Patricia, Yvonne, Anastasia, and Maureen (with Regina)