November 26th was the last day of school for the 2021 academic year. This year consisted of 8 weeks of in-person learning, 14 weeks of online learning, and 14 weeks of hybrid learning. Class schedules changed five times throughout the year, meaning that (with a family of five) we juggled at least 25 different schedules over the past 11 months. Individually, I have been a parent, teacher, chauffeur, homemaker, counselor, friend, wife, and colleague, among other things. It has been a year like no other and has required an extreme amount of adaptability, resilience, and fortitude.
All of this has made me so thankful that we have spent the last year at Lighthouse. Through it all—COVID, confinement, staff changes, student concerns…everything—I have witnessed a community of individuals who never stopped giving and loving no matter the stress or challenges they were facing. This has been true of our children’s primary teachers who have loved and welcomed our children in such an amazing way that despite moving to a foreign country and starting a new school our children are thriving, happy, and LOVE school. This has been true of the secondary teachers who, despite having to constantly adapt and carry the burden of extra classes when coworkers were ill or in self-isolation due to COVID, stayed positive and kept going. This has been true of the administration who have had to navigate government directives that sometimes changed without warning while managing an enormous load of student and staff concerns. This has also been true of the students at Lighthouse who have continued to care for each other and approach each new day with excitement and perseverance despite the circumstances. Indeed, Lighthouse is a special place.
When we began this journey, our vision and mission was simple—to follow Jesus’ command to love one another (John 13:34) and to do that in a global context using the gifts and talents that God has given us. While I can’t speak to how well we have accomplished our goal—as the saying goes, “You’ll have to ask my neighbor”—I can say that I am grateful to be part of a community that seems to share the same vision and mission. Loving others is at the core of what Lighthouse is all about. From the way the staff interacts with students to the way that students (and staff) are encouraged to interact with each other, the goal is always to show love and to use our gifts to serve others both at the school and in the larger community.
This love has been especially evident to me as I have served on the student care team for the past several months. We have negotiated many difficult situations and student concerns, but the discussion always comes back to one question: how can we best serve this student? And even more so, how can we serve them in the most loving way with fairness and grace? I’ll be honest; this is not an easy question. And often we don’t all agree on the best course of action. But we listen to one another, offer different perspectives, and do our best to make the decision that will best serve each individual student.
My role in these decisions is often to meet with a student individually to assess for any mental, emotional, and personal challenges that may be getting in the way of their academic success. In a nutshell, my job is to get to know them and to advocate for them when needed. Sometimes these encounters lead to ongoing meetings to help support a student through whatever challenges they may be facing, and sometimes they are just one-time meetings. Out of roughly 190 secondary students, I met with 31 this year or roughly 16% of the student body. Most of those students (over 75%) were Mauritian. While that may not sound like much, I count it as a great success, especially given that I didn’t start until July and was only able to be on campus one or two days a week.
One of the joys of my role has been checking in with new students who often transfer from government schools and who tell me that Lighthouse is “amazing” and “the best school I’ve ever been to.” A student who was leaving Lighthouse also told me that “everything” about Lighthouse was good and that there were “too many” good things to name them all. To me, this is a testament to the loving community that Lighthouse is intentional about creating—an environment that these students do not experience in government schools. A similar sentiment was shared by a secondary teacher who left Lighthouse upon receiving a position at a government school only to ask to return in 2022. Despite higher pay and the promise of tenure and government benefits at the government school, this teacher said that there is no place like Lighthouse and that his heart remained here. Another Mauritian teacher commented that this teacher will be told that he is crazy to leave the safety of a government position but that people just don’t understand Lighthouse if they have never experienced it. This is a special place.
Another reason that I am grateful to be serving in my role as a mental health counselor at Lighthouse is because the more I learn about mental health care in Mauritius, the more I see the challenges that exist. First, mental health is still highly stigmatized in Mauritius, perhaps due to a culture that often does not discuss problems openly. I have seen this time and time again especially among male students who tend to say that everything is fine despite the fact that they are failing or that something tragic has happened in their life. The argument I hear is that they would rather just focus on the good things. While this may not be a bad philosophy per se, it does get in the way of them being honest with themselves about what they are really experiencing. When I questioned one student in particular about why Mauritians seem to deny being affected by things, he answered plainly, “Because we don’t want help.” The irony is that as our discussion continued, this student actually asked to continue meeting with me because he recognized that there might be some benefit in addressing his concerns. But he is not alone in having difficulty receiving or asking for help. There seems to be a sense of shame associated with needing help, which is why I always try to give students a choice about whether to continue meeting with me because my goal is never to force or shame anyone into addressing anything.
Another challenge to mental health care in Mauritius is that there is very little regulation of the practice of psychotherapy. Even though government entities exist on paper to regulate the practice, the reality is that many people practice as psychotherapists in Mauritius without having received the proper training and supervision required by most international standards. At best, this can result in care that is costly but unhelpful to the individual seeking support. At worst, it can be dangerous or even deadly if certain warning signs or diagnoses are missed or ignored. I have met with a few students who see or have seen therapists in the community, and more than one has commented that I was more helpful than their community therapist. While I am glad to be helpful, it also makes me concerned about the services they are receiving in the community. All this is to say, there is a genuine need here for mental health support.
The school year ended online again (thanks Delta variant), but Lighthouse was still able to hold various graduation and recognition ceremonies outdoors with limited attendees. First, Eden and her peers in the Reception class had a ceremony to mark the end of their preschool year and their promotion to Grade 1 where they start wearing uniforms and are officially in the primary school.
Then, Lighthouse also held a special ceremony for two students with learning differences who have completed their studies through the first ever alternative program at Lighthouse. These students, Kaushav and Shekeena, had the opportunity to not only learn academically but also to learn practical skills that can help them with future employment. They assisted the kitchen, administrative, and grounds staff at Lighthouse; they learned carpentry and painting skills in the woodshop; and they completed internships at a local store to learn retail skills. Both of these students have been at Lighthouse for many, many years. During that time, Kaushav has struggled with a blood disorder that requires him to get weekly transfusions, and Shekeena’s father passed away. Through it all, Lighthouse has loved and supported them. When Kaushav was a baby, his mother never would have imagined her son standing in front of a group of people and giving a speech in English. She also shared that Kaushav loves Lighthouse so much that he would cry everyday during confinement because he just wanted to go to school. Both Kaushav and Shekeena’s mothers spoke about their gratitude to Lighthouse for all of the care their families have received. I witnessed this care firsthand not only from staff, but from students.
While doing a class program about test anxiety in September, I inadvertently called on Kaushav to read aloud to the class. I had never met him before, but I soon realized who he was. Before I could intervene, the student next to him read and whispered the words to Kaushav without missing a beat. Kaushav repeated the words out loud to the class, and we moved on. It was impressive how Kaushav’s classmate stepped in to help without hesitation. But what was most impressive about this situation was that no one—and I mean, no one—in the class smiled, laughed, or even made a sideways look. It was as if everyone understood that we take care of each other, and that was it. When I saw Kaushav later, he gave me a big smile and waved. I couldn’t help but think that my “mistake” was not really a mistake at all because it helped him feel included and let him know that I saw him and valued him as part of the class just like everyone else.
By far the most exciting ceremony of the year was the graduation of Grade 13 students who will now go on to university or job training. The reason this was so special is because the class of 2021 is the first graduating class from Lighthouse Primary and Secondary School. As I have shared before, the school was founded in 2009 and has grown exponentially, adding more grades as the students moved up. There were eight graduates, two of whom have been at Lighthouse since Grade 1. Although COVID restrictions limited the number of attendees, the children and I were able to watch the ceremony live streamed online. The focus of the ceremony was less about academic achievements and more about the sense of community that the students have experienced at Lighthouse and the character that they have developed. The highest award given was in honor of a student who has demonstrated Lighthouse’s core values of grace, resilience, care, integrity, curiosity, and citizenship and who sought to serve God and the community in a practical way. Indeed, it was a very special occasion at a very special place, and at the close of the ceremony, I couldn’t help but feel honored to be part of such an awesome community. (To watch clips from the ceremony, click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CgBqjtRaZTM )
This year, 2021, has definitely been like no other. But despite the ups and downs, I can say with confidence that I have no doubt that this is the place we were meant to be during this time. It has been a reminder that when we live with purpose, peace will follow.
Primary Science Fair
In October, Ezra participated in the science fair at the primary school. Her experiment was to learn which type of chocolate melts the fastest. There were so many entries that the original venue for the fair had to be expanded, but everyone did a great job and Ezra had a blast!
Also in October, Ezra’s class went on a field trip to the local science center, and I was invited to go along as a chaperone. Ezra was super excited for me to go with her, and her classmates seemed equally as excited. As we moved through the exhibits, students kept running up to me saying, “Miss, look at this!” and “Miss, what is that!?” Their welcome and excitement to interact with me was heartwarming. It reminded me of our first visit to Lighthouse and how the students didn’t seem to know a stranger.
November 4th was Divali, the Hindu festival of light. This being our second Divali in Mauritius, we were prepared for the strings of lights and fireworks, but we were especially grateful this year to receive Divali treats from our Hindu neighbors. Aaron received a few from students last year, but to receive this traditional gift from our neighbors was especially meaningful because it signified that they see us as part of their community and wanted to share their celebration with us. We hope to return their kindness by sharing Christmas treats with them this year.
Our Thanksgiving celebration was smaller this year and a few days late since we had school and graduation on Thanksgiving Day. But we still enjoyed our “feast,” as the children called it, and took turns sharing what we were thankful for. What a blessing this year has been!
Farewell for 2021. We hope 2022 is filled with peace, love, and gratitude for all of you!