Your school exists contrary to local laws, your deputy principal has been missing for 3 months, you have 2 weeks to raise $40,000 to keep the education for 450 refugee students going, parents complain that you don’t beat children, and your best teachers would barely pass grade 7 in Australia.
Welcome to my life of the last 18 months as principal of African Hope Learning Centre for refugees, Cairo, Egypt. Things are certainly different as I settle back into leading a Lutheran primary school on the outskirts of Melbourne but these 3 lessons I hold onto from experience.
As my school in Cairo was under-resourc ed and had an annual budget of less than $120,000 finding good quality staff was very difficult and the students often suffered as a result. I had a few good teachers who did some amazing work with nothing but a blackboard and a class of students. I try to invest as much time as I can into developing teachers in my new school as I know they are the school’s biggest asset. Good resourcing can hide poor teaching practice if not done well.
My wife and I drew no salary while in Cairo and thus survived on our savings and through the assistance of friends and our church. In such a situation you learn a great deal about yourself and others. You see people who are deeply committed to serving others and others who simply enjoy a lifestyle free of accountability. Are we in Lutheran education because of the perks, or because we believe in the vital ministry it provides? What is our motivation as leaders in this system? Would we do this work even if we were not getting paid?
The Middle Eastern author Kahlil Gibran writes. ‘Once every hundred years Jesus of Nazareth meets Jesus of the Christian in a garden among the hills of Lebanon. And they talk long; each time Jesus of Nazareth goes away saying to Jesus of the Christian, “My friend, I fear we shall never, never agree.”’. Working in a multidenominational and multi-faith environment challenges your worldview. I met Muslims who were closer to following Christ’s teaching than many of the Christians I met. As Lutheran schools we need to look at what image of Christ we are projecting. Are we introducing families to Jesus of Nazareth or Jesus of LEA?
Thomas Brennen is now Principal of Sunshine Christian School, a small Lutheran primary school in the Western Suburbs of Melbourne. More than 70% of the students are from ESL backgrounds and some current students were refugees in Cairo prior to arriving in Australia. You can read more about Thomas’ time in Cairo (elsewhere on this blog!)