I want to tell you a story. There has, up until now, been a conspicuous lack of personal narrative to our mission. We can talk about our goals, what you’re making possible at Amun Shea, and why we need your help all we want—and we’ll keep doing it. It’s a vital part of our work and our outreach process and it’s something that you rightly care about. But it’s high time that we bring you a firsthand account of the impact that your generosity has had.
I do want to say a word about this story and its protagonist, and more particularly about my process in picking this story and this protagonist: I didn’t have a one. It was getting towards the end of school today and one of the students had finished his work before everyone else. I saw this as an opportunity to do an interview with him, something I had been (and still am) planning on doing with as many students as possible. I didn’t have many expectations going into it, but I definitely wasn’t prepared for what I got. This is Diego’s story.
We walked outside of the classroom into the bright afternoon and quickly found a spot in the shade on some nearby steps. I had prepared a set of questions in my notebook but I felt silly using them here. I just wanted to talk with him. So I just jumped in.
“So, Diego. Tell me a little about yourself.”
He looked a little caught off guard by such a general question but he jumped in quickly. “Well… My name is Diego. I’m a student in seventh grade but right now I’m in the pilot project class. I’m twelve years old.” He paused briefly, contemplating what to say next.
“My mother’s name is Elsa. And my father… I never met him. He left my mother and me when I was two months old. It’s always just the two of us now. But my mom, she made it possible for me to study at Amun Shea. She’s studying to become an engineer.”
“From kindergarten to second grade I went to a private school (colegio) where I suffered from bullying. In third grade I started at a public school where I was bullied. They told me to give them my money, my toys, anything I brought to school. If not, they would hit me. I moved on to fourth grade at the same school and these two boys kept bullying me. Then I moved on to fifth grade but I only spent three months there in fifth grade.
“They broke my arm two times and on top of that they hit me in the mouth with a bat and now I have false teeth. I returned to that private school halfway through the year in 2014. I started here at Amun Shea for seventh grade and I think here I’m good.”
I wish I could say I responded elegantly or supportively but pretty much all I could do was stammer out, “Wow… But, um, you feel better here?”
“What do you think the difference is between other schools and Amun Shea?” At this point I had just reverted to my prepared questions, being at such a loss for words.
“We learn better here, in a different way from other schools. It’s… I don’t know how to describe it. It’s… the education is through examples, through showing. It’s good.”
“I’m happy to hear that!” I say, because I am. All of the teachers here work so hard to provide a better, more hands-on learning environment. It’s hard to know if it comes across unless you actually hear from the students.
I already know the answer to the next question I have written down but I need to ask it anyways. This is the question that really matters, after all. “Could you say that your life has changed because of this school?”
“Definitely. Even though I was beaten up and have false teeth and don’t want to talk about it sometimes and push it down, I don’t want to cut it off completely. Yeah, it’s different here.”
“If you could change anything about the school, what would it be?”
“The truth is, I wouldn’t want to change anything.”
I chuckle, “Really?”
“Yeah, I think it’s good the way it is.”
“Good!” It’s always nice to know you’re meeting standards. “Is there anything new that you would want to see here?”
“Well, there’s one thing. One project we tried to do in 2014 a kind of playground out of recycled materials. Tires and stuff like that. A good place for us to play. That would be nice.”
“How cool!” That’s definitely a future microproject. I continue, “Well, Diego, this story is for our donors to see how the school has impacted your life. Is there anything you want to tell them?”
“Well, yes. There’s a good quality of learning and we all get along with the professors and the other students, and the volunteers too.” I think he snuck that last part in for my benefit. I certainly appreciate it.
“Is there anything else you want to say?”
“I think that’s it.”
“Well, thank you so much Diego. Thank you for sharing your story with us. I know it’s a difficult one.”
He nodded somberly and went back to class. My eyes were brimming with tears sporadically for the rest of the day.
I was flabbergasted. Not only was the story shocking and tragic, albeit with a happy ending, but Diego’s bravery, his ability to tell his story so openly and candidly was amazing. I hope not to come across another story like this at the school, but I don’t know if I will be so lucky. His spirit, though, is something that permeates the entire school.