During our visit in March, we were able to see the partially completed examination hall, built in very close proximity to the other school buildings. While construction was underway, we had concerns as to whether or not the building would be complete for the exams, scheduled during the window of March 15- April 30.
Similar to the SAT exams here, the West Africa Board Exams (WAEC) determine a student’s preparedness to enter university. Students study and prepare just like here with review sessions and practice tests.
Our Nigerian partners made a wise decision in determining the hall as a critical next step, acquiring the needed accreditation for Graceland from Zamfara State. The hall was cleverly designed and reinforced to provide an exam space on the second floor and administrative offices, library, computer lab, and teacher workroom on the first floor.
Work progressed enough to allow just over 30 students to sit for their exams. The exam results should be available in late July.
Classroom Block 2 has been completed both inside and out...and is currently full of students! The single-story structure was easier to complete and less costly than the original two-story structure. This design was chosen for those reasons and the fact that it was needed quickly. Currently, almost all grade levels are being serviced at Graceland International.
We are grateful for the contributions that have provided the necessary funding to complete this part of the project. We are especially grateful for our partners at St. Paul’s in Akron, Ohio, who have been so faithful and generous.
In order to be an accredited school, Grace International School must have a separate Examination Hall.
Building Two has a Roof!
AEP members recently received photos of the new roof just completed on Classroom Block 2!
The roof matches the bright blue of Classroom Block 1. The addition of the second building with its seven new classrooms now provides space for another 150-200 students. Additional funds have just been wired to Gusau to complete the interior work in the building, including plastering, electrical wiring, and classroom fixtures.
This structure was begun early last spring when the original building reached capacity. Parents continued to bring children in to register for classes. Originally designated to be a secondary school complex, Graceland International now houses students of all ages.
Now that Nigeria has been declared ebola-free, students can head back to classes. Schools in Nigeria had been shut down by the government while the virus was contained and were recently reopened at the end of October.
Bishop John Danbinta has plans to return to the U.S. in the spring of 2015. He will be traveling with his wife, Helen, who has just received word that her visa application has been approved. This will be her first trip out of Nigeria! The trip is tentatively scheduled for May, but at this point, travel plans are still in the discussion stage.
While here, the Danbintas plan to spend time in both Connecticut and Ohio, visiting the partner churches and spending time with supporters.
A benefit dinner is now in the planning stages in order to raise funds for a bus and the third school building.
We are extremely excited to have Helen travel this time. The message she brings will give everyone first-hand understanding of a woman’s perspective of life in a society where women often struggle for social equality. We look forward to her speech.
The first major milestone for Graceland International School was achieved with the completion of the first block of classrooms and administration offices. The building was completed in time for the September start of school. Graceland International School will open its doors to register and receive the first classes of students.
Our fervent hope is that this group of students will achieve great things in this academic year.
Announcing the Completion of the First Phase of Graceland International School.
It is with a great sense of joy and gratitude that we announce the completion and opening of the first phase of Graceland International School. The building was completed in August and was opened in early September. The first group of pupils is now attending classes.
It is exciting to see the pictures of the completed building; as students fill the classrooms, we are planning the next steps in the Graceland International School complex! Many thanks to all of our supporters- we all share in this success!
Visit to the construction site of Graceland International School.
Our visit to the construction site was a highlight of the trip. It was amazing to see the first building already under construction! The second floor just needed to be roofed so that the internal finish work could be done.
We were also able to see the adjacent tract of land, approximately 160,000 square feet which more than quadruples the size of the school property!. At the time of our visit, it was being leased to farmers during the growing season, but Bishop explained that the balance of the purchase price was due at the beginning of December. The amount needed for the land was $30,000. In addition another $10,000 was needed to put a roof on the existing building. The thought of raising $40,000 in just three and one half months was a bit overwhelming, to say the least, but after discussion and prayer, we pledged to Bishop John that the money would get to Gusau.
Since property boundaries are often marked with cinder blocks, the idea of selling virtual cinder blocks seemed to be a viable option to get the fundraising started- 400 x 400 = 1600 blocks; 1600 blocks x $25 each gives us $40,000- simple! We tearfully ended our stay in Gusau with the $40,000 figure in the forefront and fleshed out the fundraising campaign on the plane ride home. This involved approaching our respective churches, writing to newspapers, approaching friends and personal contacts. While the figure seemed totally out of reach, we took comfort in the chain of events that initially provided the land and the down payment.
Photo: View of adjacent property Photo: View of classroom block
Phase one of Graceland International School saw the delivery of building materials, such as stone, sand and wood for the scaffolding. These items were delivered by truck and unusually, for us in the west, by camels. Once these materials were on site and laborers hired, the work of marking out the footprint of the first building was undertaken. The school committee has purchased their own concrete-block making machine. They made and stockpiled blocks in readiness for the building. Once the trenches for the foundations were dug and the foundations completed, the work of erecting the walls started.
Before long the walls were up. All was soon ready to begin the second floor.
Our first project is in Zamfara State in north west corner of Nigeria. The economy of Zamfara State is principally agricultural, and the educational opportunities are limited.
Our partners in Gusau are men and women of vision and dedication. Their vision includes providing a co-educational, non-discriminatory learning experience of high academic standard, open to all children regardless of ethnic or religious background. Named Graceland International School, the plan for this project is to accommodate up to approximately 500 children at both the primary and secondary levels.
We were woken at 5 am by the dawn call to prayer from all the neighboring mosques:
Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar: God is great,
I bear witness that there is none worthy of worship but God;
I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of God;
Hasten to prayer, hasten to prayer.
Prayer is better than sleep, prayer is better than sleep.
The call goes out 5 times a day, the last after dark; it is a regular reminder that Zamfara State, like the other the northern states of Nigeria, is overwhelmingly Muslim.
After breakfast, we were taken to the Cathedral Church of Christ the King. The Cathedral compound consists of the Cathedral itself, a community center and several other buildings including a primary school and two smaller churches, one Igbo speaking, the other Yoruba.
During the Cathedral Church service, we each brought greetings and explained the purpose of our mission..
Lunch, rest, supper and back to the Cathedral to discuss with the board of the Diocese and their Education committee...our decision to partner with them to build Graceland International School was a focus of discussion. We were very encouraged by the evident enthusiasm for the project and the thoughtful comments and insights that were shared by the community leaders.
Why this project is important
Like parents everywhere, these folks wish to provide a quality education for their children, in an environment free of ethnic, gender, and religious discrimination. Our Nigerian partners recognize that girls need to have the same opportunities for a quality education as boys. Our partners also recognize that having an educational milieu that is free of discrimination ethnically and religiously will help to promote peace in the society at large.
Graceland International School will therefore accept students from every background. The school will aim to offer a high academic standard, an environment that fosters understanding between different ethnic and religious communities.
Graceland International School building committee
After returning from church, we all rested a bit. We returned to the church at 5:00 for a meeting with the school building committee - those interested in building the secondary school. This was a very fruitful meeting. We explained our purpose in gathering data to build the school, and listened as the building committee described their vision to us. It was really a wonderful meeting, and as tired as the Americans were, I think we all communicated nicely. We left the meeting to return to Bishop John's house for dinner feeling very satisfied by the enthusiasm of the Diocese for our mission.