Friday, September 21, 2012

Beauty from Ashes


Last weekend we were shocked and terribly saddened to hear about the destruction of ACST, the American Cooperative School in Tunis, Tunisia, by rioters and anti-U.S. extremists.  This is the school where my daughter taught for four years, met her husband who taught there, married, and enjoyed many friendships with Tunisians and other  expats. 

I knew that the rioters didn’t understand what they were doing; most of the students in ACST are not American but African and some from Tunisia and European countries.  The “American” in ACST refers to the system of education that is desired by the attending families so that their children will be prepared to enter a university in the U.S. when the time comes.  The rioters were hurting themselves as well as the school staff and students.

Furthermore, my daughter said that photos of the looting showed neighborhood kids carrying away the Macs and band instruments.  Every piece of technology was stolen.  After the first wave of rioters were unable to get into the embassy, they crossed the street to the school which was more vulnerable.  The guards had to flee for their lives.  The young people saw an opportunity to take advantage and jumped into the destruction and theft.  Photos belied the school’s ability to clean it up and resume classes in a week. 

Sadness comes from the little personal stories that you hear: the band teacher who has eked out enough from her budget to get a few instruments each year and now after several years has enough for a band class.  All stolen.  Then, when perpetrators are identified through incriminating photos, the instruments are dumped in the streets and destroyed.

As the news continued to unfold, the senseless waste grew.  And the news analysts spoke of the Arab Spring and the newness of self-government.  What was reported as the catalyst to the rioting was the offense caused by a supposedly American film desecrating Muhammad.  Further developments revealed that the movie was produced by an Egyptian and Coptic Christian whose hatred of Islam is greater than his love of Muslims.  In this, the movie is both un-Christian and unChristlike.  Because the producer lives in the U.S., the widespread rioting and destruction was directed against Americans.  Misunderstanding upon misinterpretation. I thought, “They know not what they do.”  What a sorry commentary on all levels.  Ashes. 

When I spoke to my daughter midweek there was a lift in her voice.  Good things were happening.  Everyone was pitching in to help at the school: the administration, the students, the parents, the neighbors, the teachers, everyone.  Contributions were pouring in from around the world.  From the high school, students sifted glass particles from the kindergartner’s sandbox so they would have it to play in again.  Librarians were asking where they could send donations of books.  Hillary Clinton called the Tunisian government confronting them with their failure to protect the embassy according to their agreement (it took them over three hours to respond to the emergency call for help.) Consequently,  Tunisia is financially helping to rebuild the school. A young mother overheard her five year old daughter sternly telling her dolls, “Now listen up. We have some very very important rules. I don’t want anybody burning up any cars.”

acst5Someone wrote on the ACST Facebook wall: “This is why hate cannot win in the end. Love is always stronger.”

Someone else wrote: ‎"There are those, I know, who will say that the liberation of humanity, the freedom of man and mind, is nothing but a dream. They are right. It is the American dream." ~Archibald MacLeish  THANK YOU TO ALL ACST FAMILY MEMBERS...AMERICAN, TUNISIAN, EUROPEAN, AFRICAN, NO MATTER WHERE YOU ARE FROM...YOU ARE HELPING TO MAKE OUR DREAM OF TRUE LIBERTY AND DEMOCRACY A REALITY ALL OVER THE WORLD.

acst1Beauty from ashes.


For a firsthand account of this story and the fallout, I highly recommend you read what the school director’s wife wrote:

A recent graduate from the ACST high school wrote this:

More Together Than Ever

It was horrible enough to see the pictures of our school after having been burned, looted, and trashed. But it was absolutely heart-wrenching to be sifting through the playground sand to clean out jagged shards of glass from shattered windows.

I’d walked into school feeling inspired by how solid our school community is, though a little saddened by the relief I felt at the presence of a tank and men from the military. There were parents, teachers, students, and fellow alumni bustling busily about, some with plastic trash bags filled with debris, some with bags filled with salvaged school materials.  Students hosing down furniture in the elementary court yard, parents and faculty members cleaning the remaining books and school materials of soot, and one Ms. Aouatef and Mr. Randall delegating jobs to groups of late arrivals. A little dazed by the hustle and bustle, I observed the process until the momentary disorientation turned to pride in being a part of the ACST school community.

I’d walked into school feeling inspired, proud, and feeling a great compassion towards everybody. But even those powerfully optimistic emotions couldn’t block out the resentment I felt, the deepest sorrow, at digging up mutilated name tags and singed cards that read, “Welcome to our School!”, torn off children’s book covers, and of course, the omnipresent shards of glass and general rubble. I couldn’t even fathom what it must feel like to purposefully cause such destruction to a place where innocent children went to learn.

Walking through the school, I could see some acts of destruction that seemed frighteningly spiteful. Somebody must have made an attempt to wrench open some lockers, judging by the oddly dog-eared appearance of some of them, and the scars of what looked like several vicious swipes intended to rip off the lock. Another instance of destruction was almost funny in its bizarreness; evidently, some looters had taken an ACST stamp and stamped a short row of our seals on a wall. It was, to say the least, confounding to see such acts of malevolence committed toward a school, ranging from irreparably damaging to downright petty.

Despite the dauntingly extensive damage to repair, we worked efficiently, and for the most part, quietly. The way everybody kept busy, it would seem as though we always got up in the morning to pull on our rubber gloves. The work paid off and we made real progress, especially in the elementary playground and the upper school library.  As the day wore on, the chatter of casual conversation grew, drifting easily in to mingle with the shorter conversations of “Do you need some help with that?”

We’d be okay. It had been painful to see our school attacked with such hate-filled destruction, but things were already going back to normal. The sand had been cleared of debris, the salvaged furniture and school materials cleaned, inventory taken stock of; the recovery process went fast, and there was a general sense of optimism in the air.

I felt even better after conversing with Mr. Hopkins, our high school biology teacher. He informed me of the garden that he and students, parents, and faculty members would later plant near the basketball courtyard and school store. It would be called, the Recovery Garden. “We’re going to come back stronger and more determined,” Mr. Hopkins told me. “And more together than ever,” he added, a statement which, I thought, nicely sums up the spirit of our ACST community.

written by Solvie


Beauty from ashes.

Isaiah 61:3  He will give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified.