This post is dedicated to the current and previous members of the ISK PTO, who continue to astonish me with their kindness and generosity, even from thousands of miles away. Thank you for your support!
I think I am in need of more cultural orientation training, because yet again, I have fallen foul of accepted social behavior and cultural diversity. Publicly. In my defense, I didn’t think I was doing anything wrong, but it appears that there are very different rules governing the donation of money to the PTA here and in the rest of the world.
Take Wales, for instance. I don’t even remember there being a Parent Teacher Association at my own secondary (high) school, unless you counted parents being called in by the Headmaster to remove their child from the school. As for donations, anyone offering money was lucky to leave without sustaining whiplash, so quickly was their offer accepted. Most donations took the form of school prizes, and as the highest paid recipient of my year (The Service to the School Prize and the Headmaster’s Prize) at £45, I can verify that the financial commitment involved in bestowing a gift year on year was not exactly onerous to the benefactor. It was the one time I was rewarded for my lack of academic prowess; the Best Academic Performance prize for the year was a £20 book token from WHSmith.
When I had children of my own, the school had a PTA which held a few fun events a year, designed to part everyone from their money as quickly and painlessly as possible. This usually involved keeping the kids entertained for as long as possible while parents either caught up with each other, the rugby scores, or work. So events like the sponsored bounce (hire a bouncy castle, wear the kids out by making them ricochet off PVC walls for ten minutes, give them a lollipop and certificate, and send them home exhausted) were a guaranteed winner – parent involvement went no further than sending in £20 in an envelope, and they had an excellent night’s sleep in return.
In Kenya, things were only slightly different. Admittedly, the PTA had to be temporarily disbanded due to a fist fight between two of its officers in the High school canteen, and it did take us a little while to re-establish a membership. But the the policy of being pitifully grateful for any and all efforts was part of our core values. Mainly because once people signed up for any job on the list, we swiftly implemented a bait and switch routine and they found themselves cooking appetizers for 600 at the International Food Fair. Our heartfelt appreciation was the only thing that made them forgive the ruthless abuse of their time and labor, and turn up for the next meeting to have the whole process repeated..
Which brings us to our current location, and a somewhat different approach to the world of fundraising. Judging by the incredible amounts of money raised every year by the various parent and community organizations, people are very supportive of education, but there are members of the school staff that have an interesting, even somewhat unusual way of responding to this largesse, and I got the prickly end of it..
D Day is held a week before school begins, and if you haven’t already been worn to a nub by the endless documentary requirements for school attendance, it’s there to finish off the job. In recent years, in an effort to make the process run more smoothly, most of the paperwork was transferred to an online site where you could sign away six month’s income at the click of the mouse. However, you were still required to attend the D Day to have student ID photos taken, collect your schedule, and get more information about the various sports and clubs running at the school.
I thought I was being a dutiful parent when instead of donating online, I wanted to talk to the various committees to see how my money could best help. So at 7.30 am, the only time that didn’t clash with Tom’s (school) football practice, we were circumnavigating the room, signing away significant amounts of money, and feeling warm and fuzzy. All that remained was the very long line to collect my son’s ID and schedule. Twenty minutes later, I was nearing the head of the queue, which was by now filled with rather anxious parents wondering whether they should be calling work to explain their absence. But another hurdle awaited me. It seemed, that despite all the contributions listed on my form (apart from the PE kit) being entirely voluntary, one’s ID and schedule were held hostage until such time as you could present an actual receipt for the donations. I was not the only one startled – the poor Leadership teacher who wanted to hand over this documentation essential for school attendance also seemed very bewildered by this somewhat Machiavellian turn of events. And getting hold of the receipt required leaving the queue and heading to the other gym, and yet another line.
In my innocence, I thought this whole performance was just one of those glitches that inevitably happen when a new system is implemented and large numbers of people turn up at once. So when I once again reached the ID table, I suggested to the Vice Principal manning the counter that if the people in line knew they had to pay first, it would reduce the bottleneck and wait time considerably. But my worldwide travels had left me completely unprepared for the his response. Not only was he well aware of the problem, he was doing it on purpose to punish those naughty, naughty parents who had the audacity to make their donations in person.
I am ashamed to say, I failed. Actually, I was rendered speechless. My attempts to point out the flaws in his plan (if one donated nothing, one could get ones student ID immediately; parents who had paid online were also stuck in the queue with the rest of us delinquents; and it was only 8.30 am, and he had succeeded in p***ing off a considerable portion of the financially supportive parent body) were met with narrowed eyes and the politically correct, “I’m sorry you feel that way”. Unfortunately, years of extricating myself from sticky situations around the globe have polished my non-verbal communication skills, and I am here to tell you that he most definitely wasn’t sorry. In fact, his body language was a billboard to the slogan “I couldn’t give a fig what you think.” It was all very perplexing.
So I have a new plan. When D Day comes around next, I’m telling them that my donation will be going to support a school in Africa. I bet they won’t make me stand in line for an hour to hand over the money…