I’m here to tell you it feels quite different when you are the one holding the scissors. This building might not be here, if not for me.
The furniture is child-sized. There’s a blackboard up front and plenty of wall space awaiting students’ artwork. There is the smell of new paint.
Whenever Room to Read builds a school, the community must contribute 20%. Generally this is labor, since cash is in short supply.
“Our construction standards are higher than government standards,” says country director Shevanthi Jayasuriya, “so the first step was to teach masonry skills. We want the building to last for many years.” Parents participated in the construction, so did teachers, and so did older students. Most of their contribution, 15% of the total, was labor. The other five percent was lumber. Construction took 4 months and 10 days. “Other projects in the region took about the same. They didn’t rush because of your visit. The only thing that happened more quickly was getting the furniture.”
The two classrooms will house the third grades, fitting since my grandmother, whose name is also on the plaque, taught third grade for many years. The other room is a library, already stocked with lively children’s books. Daddy and I sign the guest register and I autograph copies of my children’s books, Sleep Song and The T.F. Letters for the library. And we check out copies of the very first books for the children to take home.
But as moving and special as it is for us, it seems even more so for the community. They’ve fixed us all kinds of local foods—Beware of that one, Daddy, it’s spicy!—and prepared an elaborate dance and musical performances, all on only 10 days notice.
The women are in saris, the men in ties. The principal coughs occasionally and we learn part way through the day that he will have heart bypass surgery the very next day in a city several hours away.
Children on the one hand.
Heart surgery on the other.
Children come first.