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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 17, Number 2, October 2004

Valuable lessons from a student

by Sarah Wethered

The first time I met Mading Angeth, he had come into our school library clutching a biography of President John F. Kennedy. Short for his 13 years, and painfully thin, Mading told me in faltering English that a missionary had given him the book, and it was his prized possession.

As a teacher-librarian, I knew that the biography was much too difficult for him. I tried to convince him he needed something at an easier reading level, but Mading was adamant. It was quite a battle to persuade him to choose another book, but he eventually did.

With this memory of a stubborn boy fresh in my mind, I was apprehensive when I saw his name on the list of students assigned to my ESL class. But from the very first day, Mading was extremely respectful and eager to learn. Little did I know that he would teach me much more than I would teach him.

Over the semester, I learned more about him. Born in Sudan, Mading had not lived with his parents since he was eight years old, when he was forcibly recruited as a child soldier. During his training, a rival army attacked the village where they were posted. The villagers fled in a mass exodus into Kenya, Mading along with them. There, he lived in a refugee camp and had the chance to receive some schooling.

Three years ago, he came to Canada under the auspices of the United Nations. He currently lives with other Sudanese refugees, his "brothers." Surviving members of Mading’s biological family are scattered around the world. Other family members, including his father, perished in Sudan’s civil war.

Mading taught our class how lucky we are to have the right to an education. When I got upset at the students for not handing in their homework, Mading also chastised them. He told his classmates how so many children in his home country would love to have this chance, instead of fighting a war.

At first, some of the more affluent students teased Mading because he always wore the same clothes. But he told them how he would rather be alive in Canada, although living in poverty, than dead in Sudan. The teasing stopped immediately.

Mading taught us that no dream is too large. His dream is to return one day to Sudan and help govern the country. I believe that he will achieve it. I remember Mading’s speech to our class about Arnold Schwarzenegger, how he came to America with only a few dollars in his pocket and became the highest-paid actor in Hollywood. Now he’s the governor. Why can’t a poor boy from Sudan become a leader some day?

Mading also taught me that compassion and faith can get you through anything. At one point during the semester, I told the students I might be taking a few days’ leave because someone I loved was dying of cancer. Mading asked after her every day, and when I told him that she had finally passed away, he said: "Mrs. Wethered, tonight I will be praying for you and your family."

Over the last two years, Mading has grown in dignity and in stature (he’s almost six feet!). He is known throughout our school and the entire Sudanese community as a magnificent orator.

He won a full scholarship to the Lester B. Pearson College of the Pacific, where he will graduate high school with an International Baccalaureate diploma and a good shot at getting a full scholarship to university. He will have the opportunity to study with students from all corners of the world, some of whom may have shared the refugee experience.

All of us at New Westminster Secondary will miss Mading this year, but we will keep in touch with him and watch his life unfold with great interest and hope.

I hope and believe that one day, Mading’s dream of governing a democratic, peaceful Sudan will come true. He has promised to fly me to his inauguration ceremony and have a state banquet in my honour.

He has touched my soul forever, and I have touched his. I have taught him how to write a five-paragraph essay, and he has taught me to be a better human being.

Sarah Wethered teaches at New Westminster Secondary School, New Westminster.

Originally published in The Vancouver Sun, August 30, 2004.

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