“I don’t even want to go on Christmas break!” The young man’s eyes were serious, but filled with light as he talked to his teacher. “I love school now, and I just want to keep coming back!”
Even six months ago, a statement like this would have been a shock to staff at Great Oaks Academy in Nigeria. The first trauma-informed school in Nigeria opened its doors in September, and recently ten students from a partnering home enrolled. “The children have been at the home for a while, but didn’t speak or read English, so were unable to attend school,” explained Meredith Messer, Back2Back staff. Weeks before they were set to start, staff began transitioning them to help them understand the changes that were forthcoming; they showed them around the building to help them adjust to the new environment and helped them understand how their days would run.
“One of the beautiful things about Great Oaks is it doesn’t follow a traditionally strict classroom set up,” explained Meredith. “Many children are behind in their learning and are much older than their peers; at previous schools, this would create insecurity, making them stand out, but at Great Oaks, they are comfortable being among friends and still receiving a proper education.”
Three of the ten students were recently named top of their new classes and on the last day before break, there was an assembly for the valedictorians. Each of the students echoed the same message when they were honored – they encouraged their classmates, insisting hard work pays off and to keep trying.
School psychologist, Kuna Bittim, has worked closely with the students from the beginning and shares just how much she’s seen them grow. “They talk about what they want to accomplish in the future and what they want to be when they grow up,” shared Kuna. “This is a drastic change from when I first met them.”
Teachers and staff at the home all see transformation in each child, a growth in their confidence, in their identity in Jesus, and in their ability to articulate their hopes and desires. These changes wouldn’t be possible without dedicated advocacy, prayer, sponsorship, and safe adults. Each child who went from knowing no English and had little confidence now exhibits hope for their futures and a calm that only comes from knowing they are safe and cared for.