Ubuntu

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There is more than one story here.

The first is the story that Dr. Freddy Kaniki told at a recent Upper School assembly.

Freddy and Esther Kaniki

Freddy and Esther Kaniki

Dr. Kaniki is a pharmacist working in Alaska. Originally from the Eastern section of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Dr. Kaniki wanted to tell us about the school he and his wife Esther have started in Burundi.  Dr. Kaniki is a Tutsi.  In the late 1996, when he was working towards a degree in pharmacy, his family was caught up in the ethnic violence that gripped central Africa, most famously but far from exclusively in the 1994 Rwandan genocide.  His father and three brothers were murdered; Dr. Kaniki fled and eventually found himself in Portland, Maine, as part of a growing population refugees from that region.  Here he rebuilt his life.  He got married, had children, became re-certified as a pharmacist, and found employment.  In the process, no doubt, he gained the respect of all who knew him.

But he didn’t feel happiness.  Instead, in spite of all that he had accomplished, he felt depressed and even angry.  Then he remembered from his upbringing the shared core value of ubuntu, the belief that because individuals belong to a greater humanity, happiness comes from working for one’s community, not for oneself.  Since fleeing Africa, Dr. Kaniki had done everything he could to succeed, but he realized that he had pursued the western ideal of individualized success, instead of the communal ideal with which he had grown up that would define his success based on the impact of his actions on those around him.

IMG_4151With that in mind, Dr. Kaniki and Esther developed a vision for a school in Burundi.  They believed that providing as many young people as possible with a first-rate education would be the best way for their society to heal itself.  Using their savings, Dr. Kaniki and Esther purchased land in Burundi, built a school building, recruited teachers and students, worked through the myriad tasks and decisions necessary to create a school, and opened the doors of the Burundi American International Academy in the fall of 2014.

Dr. Kaniki describes the school’s mission as two-fold:

  • Creating a strong academic foundation by administering a technology-focused curriculum that reflects the needs of the country and the region through Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math;
  • Planting the seeds of personal responsibility, respect for others, and recognition that we are all bound together in ways that are invisible to the eye – the oneness of humanity – so that future generations realize a different reality than their predecessors.
The tablets BAIA students use to take class notes.

Slates Dr. Kaniki used as a boy in school.

In assembly, Dr. Kaniki said that BAIA had been nearing the conclusion of a successful first year when a spike in political unrest in Burundi forced the school to close for the year prematurely, just two days prior to his visit to Waynflete.  In spite of the circumstances, which many fear could slide the country into a period of prolonged violence, Dr. Kaniki expressed his faith that the school would somehow be able to open early at the end of the summer, so that they could finish this school year and begin the next one on time.

Dr. Kaniki ended his talk by saying, “What we do for ourselves is gone when we are gone, but what we do for others remains and is called legacy. The best legacy is to always live in the hearts of those whose lives you touched.”

The students responded with a standing ovation.

Ubuntu.

Another story lies with the reason for Dr. Kaniki’s visit to Waynflete.

Last year, Sue Stein, whose job at Waynflete is to work with our students for whom English is an additional language, took a semester’s leave of absence to travel through Africa.  In her inspiring blog, Travels with Sue Stein, she described the intention of her trip this way:

Waynflete alums Cynthia and Axel Kanakan standing in front of their home in Burundi…..on the exact street where Sue lived during her stay.

Waynflete alums Cynthia and Axel Kanakan standing in front of their home in Burundi…..on the exact street where Sue lived during her stay.

For years I have listened to students tell stories of their lives in Africa. I have worked with parents who have no frame of reference for school in the US, and I have read essay after essay on what it is like to be living in different worlds. I decided to take a six month leave of absence from my job and go to Africa myself to experience life there first hand. I want to feel what my students feel and know in my bones what it is like to be a foreigner in a culture where I am the minority. I want to be surrounded by languages that I don’t understand. I want to see the schools where my students and their parents attended. I want to be an observer, so that I can come back and do my job with more of an in-my-bones understanding of their experience.

The teacher aspires to be the student, a story unto itself.

Prior to taking her trip, Sue had been put in contact with Dr. Kaniki by Norbert Runyambo, the father of two of her students at Waynflete.  She learned that the school Dr. Kaniki  and his wife were building in Burundi  needed books for the students.  In a truly communal effort, Waynflete’s Friends of the Library swung into action, packing up 104 boxes of used books and shipping them to Burundi.  As it turned out, all of the books that were used during the school’s first year came from Waynflete, a school district in Florida, and Burundi Friends International.  Sue visited BAIA just a few months before it opened, an experience she describes in her blog.

photo (79)Sue, in turn, put Dr. Kaniki in touch with Lydia Maier, Dean of Student Affairs. Lydia introduced him to Bob Bandoni, the Executive Director of Students Shoulder to Shoulder, the international school of global citizenship of which Waynflete is a member.  They are discussing the possibility of opening an SStS site in Burundi, once political stability resumes.  They are also discussing the exciting possibility of having BAIA students serve at an SStS site, potentially one in the United States such as Detroit, New Orleans, or Pine Ridge.  Imagine the power of the experience for a student from Waynflete working in Detroit shoulder to shoulder with local people and students from across the country and around the world, including Burundi. Imagine the power of that experience for everyone involved.

Another story unfolding?

And the reason that Dr. Kaniki’s traveled from Alaska to Waynflete, in the midst of a mounting crisis well beyond his control that imperils all that he and his wife have worked so hard for over the past dozen years? He came to Waynflete simply to express gratitude to those who have given hope to children in Burundi by helping to build a school.  And, no doubt, he came to feel our common humanity.

Hope.

Humanity.

Ubuntu.