Welcome to New Voices, a new section devoted to columns written by members of African, Spanish-speaking, tribal, Asian American and Pacific Islander, and Arabic-speaking communities. If you are interested in contributing to New Voices, please write to [email protected].

By Roseline Souebele

In the United States and Europe, schools are opening again in September. The pandemic is still hitting with this new variant, masks are still required, and vaccination is highly recommended – with the possibility of being mandated – but most parents are ready to send their children back to school. Everything will depend on how the pandemic evolves.

In Africa, schools will reopen their doors in October, and parents are already scrambling to be ready for this great moment of relief for parents. Make no mistake – of course parents love to spend time with their children – however, they look forward to no more headaches and screaming kids! For some children, this time of year can be frustrating – they think they have not yet fully enjoyed the holidays, and would still like to have a few more days.

In Africa, the pandemic is still hitting. Perhaps not at the same level as elsewhere in the world, but it continues to claim victims, and continues to mess up the plans of many organizations and governments.

But let’s not ruin the good news! Schools will be open, and the children will be able to continue on their journey to create a brighter future. As Nelson Mandela, the former South African president, said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Schools give one the opportunity to face the world’s challenges and make our communities better.

In Africa, the pandemic is still hitting. Perhaps not at the same level as elsewhere in the world, but it continues to claim victims.

There is so much fun in going back to school. Students are excited to meet up again with their schoolmates, and begin making plans together. Some new students may feel a little bit of anxiety and fear of the unknown on the first day. Old students may tease new ones, creating discomfort and fear. But a week is usually enough for them all to start mingling and getting along well. Any fear generally fades away as students learn about their new school and make new friends.

When I think back to the end of the long vacation season in Congo, I remember that the last couple of weeks were about choosing the most fashionable school backpack and supplies. The markets in the Republic of Congo are full of mobile merchants that carry their supplies in a wheelbarrow. These include fabric for sewing school uniforms at this time of year.

The government has mandated the same school uniform for all national public and private school students – navy blue on the bottom and khaki on the top for elementary and middle schools; navy blue and sky blue for high schools. Parents have the choice to make their own uniforms or buy them ready-made by a vendor. But uniforms are a requirement, no matter the financial situation of the family. Some families request help from their relatives, friends, or organizations in the community. Also filling the markets at this time of year are books and copybooks, notebooks, pens and pencils, and other school supplies.

Everyone is busy every year during this time. Tailors have lots of work making uniforms for their clients. Schools are all repainting their walls and refurbishing their facilities. Nonprofit organizations are working hard to launch their new vocational programs to provide professional training to those adults who dropped out of school or just want to diversify their skills. Everybody wants to make the school year a success. The fact that schools are reopening despite the challenging times we are going through is a sign that a better tomorrow is ahead.

Roseline, former Hope House resident, now lives independently in Portland, works as a Certified Nursing Assistant and as an interpreter at the House of Languages, and is a nursing student at Southern Maine Community College.