Patrick is a 16-year-old boy I met several months ago. I was returning from a trip and had borrowed a friend’s car. It was filthy so I thought I better clean it up before handing it back. As I gathered a bucket and cleaning bits and pieces this charming young man came running down the hill to the side of my house offering to do the job for me. Never one to look a gift horse in the mouth I gladly accepted (knowing farewell a few Kwacha would exchange hands). I don’t think the car had ever looked so clean, I took him at least an hour, all the mat were taken out, the dashboard was polished etc etc. When he had finished I invited him in for a drink and to offer him something for his hard work. He started chatting and said Madame what I want is to go to school. He had been attending the local school but complained that it was not good enough and he wanted more.
I started asking him about himself and here is his story.
Patrick was born on Christmas Eve 1998, here in Fatima; he was an only child. When Patrick was 4 years old his mother died following a short illness and his father brought him up. When Patrick was about 6 (he has no recollection of actual dates) his father had an accident and also died. With no mother or father Patrick was given to his elderly grandmother. This is an all too familiar story here in Malawi. I can only imagine how tough his childhood was. He grew up in a tiny hut (where he and his grandmother still live) there is no electricity, no running water; to be honest it is 4 walls and a roof. Cooking is done outside on an mbawula. Washing of body and clothes is done in the river. Patrick had to help his grandmother farm a small piece of land; they grew maize to use for themselves and to sell at the trading centre. The small amount of maize they sell provides the only source of income.
Patrick attended the local school when his grandmother could find the fees; his education was intermittent at best. He felt he wanted more, that this was not enough; he knew this school would never give him enough to break this poverty trap.
Patrick had approached other volunteers to support his education and had been offered the fees for the local school, which was wonderful but not what he wanted. So in comes me. His determination is inspirational; he simply was not prepared to give up his dream and was going to keep asking for as long as it took for someone to say yes.
We started to discuss the school that Patrick wanted to attend; I was rather naïve at this point and didn’t really understand what Patrick was asking for. He wrote down some names of schools that he had heard were good and I went off to discuss them with the hospital administrator. Patrick wanted to go to private boarding school in Blantyre, gulp!
This was obviously no small commitment and I would need to make it for 3 years.
In the end it was not a hard decision.
I asked Patrick to come and see me; he sat down his face a mixture of anxiety and hope. I held his hand and told him I would support him and that he would be starting PACT school in September. He hung his head and when he looked up he was crying (so was I) his joy was overwhelming. I recently read a quote “presents are made for the pleasure of the one who gives then, not for the merits of those who receive them”. His was not the only joy that was overwhelming!
Patrick has the most wonderful smile, it is a cliché but it really could light up a room and he has not stopped smiling since I told him about school. He has had to commit to twice reading lessons with me in the run up to starting school. He arrives on the dot of 6 and has come on in leaps and bounds in a really short space of time. I don’t have any doubt about his commitment and his determination to do well.
Yesterday was the start of school for the boarders, I was nervous he was like a 4 year old on Christmas Eve! The journey started at 5 am in Fatima, our dilapidated old bus looked decidedly worse for wear this morning and I was rather concerned that it would get us there, so clearly was Patrick! Well 7 hours later we arrived in Blantyre, time for a quick shop for last minute provisions and then off to school.
Once we arrived at school the process was very smooth and within 30 minutes I was politely but firmly told that Patrick was now home and I could go now! Communication is discouraged and students are not allowed a mobile phone, I will only hear if there are any problems (nothing to report yet). I asked when I could visit and was told the last weekend of the month so I have another 2 weeks to wait to see how he is getting on.
I feel very proud of him, for his determination in the face of such adversity and I hope this opportunity opens up a whole new life for him.