Mpolonjeni | Swaziland
Some kids want to be doctors, others wish to be dentists. Some want to save lives by becoming firefighters while others wish to uphold the law and become police officers.
More still wish to follow in the footsteps of those of who taught them and dream of becoming teachers. Others look ahead and visualise themselves as social workers or nurses, supporting those around them through care and medicine.
If any of this were in doubt, a graduation ceremony for preschool students in the town of Mpolonjeni, Swaziland put those doubts to rest.
The ceremony for the eight graduating students, aged 5 and 6, was held at the Nkoyoyo Swedish Free Church in the Motshane region on Thursday 4 December, 2014.
The Bright Future Preschool, which has enough resources to teach 20 children, is run by non-governmental organisation Shamba (Self-Help Action to Mitigate the Burden of Aids) in partnership with the Swedish Free Church. It began operating in 2011 to teach children and young people who have been affected by poverty and illness.
Waterford Kamhlaba College, a local high school, was also represented at the ceremony. Shamba and Waterford have a program that equips older students from the community with computer skills. Several of these students were in attendance to collect their certificates of achievement.
About 70 people attended the graduation on Thursday. Friends and family and many members of the community cheered as the preschool graduates showcased their knowledge and dancing skills before collecting their graduation certificates.
Reverend Anthony Masilela kept the program on track as master of ceremonies. Masilela summed up the mood of the day, saying how proud the community is of the kids and their teachers. He emphasised the varying ambitions of the graduating class, telling the audience how these dreams need to be nurtured so they can become reality.
One young student aged 5, who dreams of becoming a nurse, told the crowd that everyone should know their HIV-status.
Swaziland, a country in southern Africa wedged between South Africa and Mozambique, has the highest prevalence rate of HIV in the world. About one quarter of Swazis aged 15-49 are living with the virus.
Another young graduate, an aspiring dentist, told the audience in a loud voice that everyone should brush their teeth after breakfast and dinner. The crowd enjoyed the confidence and knowledge of the youngsters, laughing and nodding their heads in agreement as the students spoke.
Shamba, who also run reading and maths clubs for children in the community, describe the pressing need for early years education in Swaziland.
There is currently no publicly-funded preschool education in the country. According to research, this leads to inequality for the children of poor families who cannot afford private preschool fees.
Moreover, says Shamba, only 51 percent of children in Grade 1 attended preschool in the previous year, and many children in Grade 1 repeat the year because of a lack early years education.
Back at the graduation, director of Shamba Dr Anne Low said the organisation was “very proud of all the children” involved with their various programs.
She made particular mention of the support from the community and the Swedish Free Church, noting that this year’s graduation is the largest yet.
Sabelo Hadzebe, Bucopho (head man) for the region, said he was “very impressed” with the graduating students and the ceremony.
“This institution has greatly helped people in need,” said Hadzebe.
“We thank the Shamba group and the teachers who give the children an education.
“It is not only about education, it’s also about giving them the social skills to succeed in life. We wish that this institution can grow bigger.”
Hadzebe explained how the Bright Future PreSchool started with only 12 students, then grew to 16 and is now teaching 20.
Tekhaya Fakudze, a teacher at Bright Future, was lost for words after the ceremony, overcome with pride for the students she taught during the year.
As the graduating kids accepted their certificates, well prepared for the rigours of primary school next year, they sang a salutation of thanks: “Now we are the salvation of the nation,” went the chorus. “Thank you Shamba for giving us loving teachers,” the children sang to loud claps from the audience.
As the midday sun shone down after the ceremony, a brighter future could be seen for the eight graduating preschoolers.
A shortened version of this report appeared in the Times of Swaziland