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Service Trip to Botswana

Tuxedo Park School Freshman in Botswana with students

by Serena Mueller
Associate Head of School for Academics

Walking into the dirt schoolyard, we were struck by the sheer volume of students. They were scattered everywhere, sweeping away leaves, watering plants, picking up trash, and playing chase. The cinderblock buildings bore concrete floors with craters and several broken windows. The forty students per classroom fought for a desk or chair, with not enough to go around. Lunch was served in a silver bucket, set on the floor inside the classroom door.

Despite these conditions, every child was smiling. Their joy and enthusiasm was contagious. It was a swarm of handshakes, high-fives, and unending questions. Most rewarding was the first moment when our students wasted no time getting to know each and every child. They bent down to speak with the younger ones, asking questions back. They picked up soccer balls and started playing different catch games and tag games. They sat down and held the hands of the calmer students who just wanted to chat. There was no hesitation, no uncertainty. They were there to serve these students.

Mahatma Gandhi said, "The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others." This was evidenced by the commitment and engagement of our current students and alumni during their time in Botswana.

From March 11-13, a group of 13 TPS students and graduates worked with students aged 6-12 at Galaletsang School in Gaborone, Botswana. They spent this last year fundraising for supplies and planning instruction in the disciplines of mathematics, literacy, science, art and physical education. The students traveled 7,600 miles with over $10,000 of classroom supplies and athletic equipment in their very heavy luggage. Tuxedo Park School teachers, along with the students, delivered instruction based on Botswanan educational standards and met with teachers to discuss various instructional methods. This was the second annual service trip, and it was rewarding to see the impact of last year's work still alive in classrooms.

By the time we left, the students of Galaletsang knew each of our names and we departed with hugs and cheers. Our students couldn't stop chattering about the children they met, or the culture of the school and what their plans were moving forward for continued service. They began to understand the depths of difference across the world. When we had the opportunity to visit Maru-A-Pula, a private school in Gaborone, they asked questions about school, life and hobbies. They asked the locals questions about life in Botswana, and learned about the systemic governmental and financial challenges. They were curious about all aspects of their experience. We were lucky enough to have two faculty members and two students return to TPS and spend two weeks here with us. This exchange has allowed students to connect with others from across the globe, securing the partnership between the schools.

As the planning begins for next year's journey to Africa, we are reminded that, "No one is useless in this world, who lightens the burdens of another." – Charles Dickens