Sunday, September 21, 2008


Let me start with a definition: In Kinyarwanda, "ishema" means "pride",... the good kind of pride, not bad, haughty, self-absorbed pride. "Ishema" also connotes an element of "excellence", thus well-founded pride in something "excellent".

I recently received a report that caused "ishema" to flood my mind and heart, certainly not because of anything I had done, but rather it was all about Nathan and his impact upon Sonrise School, Rwanda.
But first, more preface:

Bishop John, who founded Sonrise School as an orphans' school, is the most revered and powerful clergyman in Rwanda (and among the most revered in all of Africa). He serves as a special advisor to President Kagame. On behalf of the poor, he has built community centers, a hospital, a hotel, a bank, a cathedral, and the orphans' school at which Nathan is teaching. The latter is Bishop John's greatest source of "ishema". Bishop John in well known as a man of love and grace and reconciliation, but he is quite distinctive in his clear call and expectation of "excellence".

Many volunteers have passed through Sonrise School. Many of them have been dabblers on a personal adventure. But one recently brought clear definition to what is now Bishop John's "prescription of the ideal for all future Sonrise teachers" (his very words). In a strategy meeting concerning his present vision for his beloved Sonrise School (which meeting I did NOT attend), Bishop John explained that "Nathan Allen is (1) smart, (2) humble, and (3) committed,... and that is what all Sonrise teachers must be." So in Bishop John's new parlance, it is now often stated: "What we need is a Nathan Allen."

Ishema. Ishema.

Nathan and me flanking the iconic Bishop John

Indeed, I have observed Nathan in his classroom, but it was not "the Nathan" with whom I am so familiar. He is in total command,... no nonsense. Very focused. Very intentional. But he does not lecture at all,... rather he launches into a fast dance of discussion causing his students to race to keep up. He pushes them to places where they have never dared to tread. Among other things, he had his class collectively draft, debate and adopt a Class Constitution by which they want their class to be governed. You just don't do that in African schools, which are known for "skill and drill" (and the switch). With Nathan as their teacher, these kids are "bustin' out", and yet they are still learning the required curriculum.

Nathan referencing the Class Constitution

This guy is tough

So, class, what have we learned today?

Nathan was scheduled to fly back to California last week. But he said that he “just couldn’t leave these kids before the end of their school term”, and he cancelled his flight.

Ishema. Ishema.

Nathan and his Dad and somebody's uncle

Click on any picture to enlarge