Our MCM Graduation Party

(Be sure to see photos and watch videos at the bottom of the page!)

On May 1, in the middle of our stay in Uganda, we hosted a graduation party for 33 graduates who have all completed the MCM Program as well as a Vocational school or University since 2020. These students waited a long four years for their party thanks to COVID and the inability to gather in groups or even attend school for some at the time.

Our day began early clearing the driveway beside Ivan’s home to make room for three large tents. Teens from the village made their ways up our long, steep driveway to help prepare. Boys brought large bundles of matoke and helped erect the tents, butcher goats, kill chickens, make chapati and chop wood for already burning cooking fires. Girls sorted through huge bags of rice removing stones and impurities, peeling potatoes and matoke by the hundreds, preparing chapatis, fruit and endlessly stirring huge vats of food over the fire as they cooked. Even little ones came early and helped by bringing up benches and chairs, washing them all down and setting them all in place. Tables were also erected for the graduates to sit in places of honor. White sheets were laid over the tables and soda bottles distributed. The graduation cake was set up in the center, a large three level “wedding”  design surrounded by five smaller cakes. All this was happening in the morning supervised by Ivan and Vastine our housemom extraordinaire!!

Although the party was not scheduled to begin until 2-3pm and although we had light rains all during our preparation time, children from the village began to arrive and take their seats by noon. DROVES of children! Amazingly, these littles quietly and happily sat, their backs ram-rod straight, on their benches watching all the action for HOURS. They watched the DJ arrive and set up his loud speakers, the traditional dancers arrive and get their costumes and instruments in place, the graduates arrive with their caps and gowns slung over their arms giggling up the stairs to change, the sponsors ALL entertained and actively participating in the creating of chapati – a local favorite dough ball flattened and fried into a hearty tortilla-like slice of heaven for our village children. I’m certain their little mouths were watering and yet they patiently waited, quietly watching, eyes round as saucers.

Finally the time had arrived and the music began in earnest. Ivan instructed the 5 “Muzungus” meaning “white people from the west” to begin the festivities by (of all things) dancing our way from the house, around the cakes to our seats of honor! Haha! I got to be the leader… good night, the laughter! Once we were settled, all the graduates in their caps and gowns now also danced down many steps from God’s Refuge, in front of their guests, around the cake (how many times? 8?9?) and to their places at the tables amidst many Bakiga Yee-yee-yeeing appreciative congratulatory calls. 

You may be surprised to know I was not outside during morning preparations other than to take photos on quick ‘walk through” breaks. Instead, during ALL of our party preparations, I remain locked in my room writing Thank you notes and filling them with appreciation “tips” for the men and women workers who make it happen. In addition, this party I had 33 graduation cards to fill in and fill up with gifts for the graduates, thanks to the generous donation of our supporting church Jericho Road! So my high point of the party (other than the MANY hugs I gave to our grads) was the surprise local dancers Ivan hired to entertain the grads and our guests. The Bakiga Tribe of our Kabale area are traditionally farmers and known for their strength and perseverance. The traditional Bakiga dance requires both! It is a series of both stomping the ground and jumping HIGH in the air in an effort to “request of Mother Earth’s blessing on their crops demanding she Wake Up! and yield her fruits for their labors”. It is my favorite! It is full of joy and energy and anticipation of all things good. We have attached several videos below.

I had no idea Ivan had this surprise in store and I was so grateful!

This was followed by a beautiful speech by our graduate Ronah who requested she bring her deep appreciation to the sponsors in a lovely, concrete way.  Ronah not only prepared a beautiful inspiring speech READ HERE which she read but she also provided typed copies to each sponsor to read along with her knowing the accents are difficult to follow sometimes! I was so very proud of her!

This was followed by Ivan and I handing out our graduation cards to each graduate individually in front of the crowd. Ivan, who notoriously is quiet and despises public speaking made it a point to say something special about each student and their hard won journey to this point. You could see by their faces how meaningful this was to each graduate and the crowd cheered each one’s victory wholeheartedly. My favorites were the students who struggled the hardest against academic failure and personal challenges. Our Savi, the child who never smiled for her first five or six years, glowing with pride, a full fledged Tailor now with her own sewing machine thanks of her sponsor! Our Shivan, the child who bravely made her way to our home in the middle of the night, frozen in fear against the side of our garage by our German Shepherd, whose Mum could not afford to feed her now smiling widely, a much sought after Knitter teaching others now in her old school. Prossy, our darling who still cannot greet me without falling to her knees in her humble way, again on her knees in front of the entire graduation class and guests, thanking us for her ability now to design hair. Isaac, who brought his little cousin Rogers for years to MCM events never asking to be put on the program himself, who is now an auto mechanic with tools of his own thanks to his sponsor. So many, ALL actually are my favorites and I gave each a GIANT HUG, I was so very moved and proud!! More of the local dancers followed celebrating wildly and even inviting Alley to join in the dancing!

After this, there was a formal graduation address prepared and given by Head Teacher Armstrong, a local teacher, member of the MCM Education Committee and extremely helpful, wise advisor to MCM.  Armstrong also did a wonderful job and even kept it fairly short 🙂 Following his speech the graduates gathered around the cakes which were lit with Roman candles spitting and sparkling while the graduates together held three knives to ceremoniously cut the cakes. As always, MCM has the tradition of showering the celebrants cutting their cakes with poppers, confetti and shook soda…what a mess and so much more laughter again! The cakes were cut, the children all served and the lines began for eating the main meal. Praise God, we had enough!! 

Mike and Patty planned, purchased, and carried with them over 400 kazoos for distributing during the graduation party. These they generously gave out to the children as they finished in the food line. Soon after all their heaping plates were emptied, we were surrounded by not only the DJ and his dancing music but by the littles all joining in with their kazoo serenades…YES it was VERY loud! And very fun! The dancing is always a wonderful ending to all our MCM parties. Humans, it seems, are the same all over the planet. From little children dancing without reserve, abandoned to the music and their full tummy. Young teen boys milling about watching teen girls self conscious and yet loving the music. Adults amazed at how quickly they tire and gladly taking short breaks sitting and drinking much needed water. To the young men and women having a hey-day fully embracing their youth, vitality, coordination, strength and graceful expressions of joy without pausing. No different than weddings here when you can see all of the same wide range of goodness!

Finally the sky grew dusky, the DJ was silenced (to the disappointed cries of the dancers) and for safety reasons children were hastily sent on their way, all walking the dirt roads home. Ivan never wants any children in danger on a dark road. In the aftermath the DJ put away all of his equipment, the cooking staff gathered all the huge pots, pans and hundreds of plates and cups to be washed the following day, fires were put out, tablecloths removed for dirty laundry, graduates and their families gave final hugs and expressed great happiness and thanks, and the sponsors collapsed into their beds! 

Praise God for another wonderful celebration and the ability to bring such hope and joy to this tiny, forgotten peasant farmland region of Kabale, Uganda. Only our loving God, Who sees even the tiniest orphan in the most remote corner of the world, could have orchestrated such an event. I never cease to be humbled at my role and my imperfect, messy self being used in this miraculous way! I am left, as ever, speechless! 

Many blessings ~ 

Michele Pageau

(Check out the photos and *must-see* videos below!)