The official opening of our school was held on Wednesday, August 31. An exciting day for teachers, students, parents – everyone, really. Yet it was overshadowed by a very special visitor to our new school. Nursultan Nazarbayev – President of the Republic of Kazakhstan – decided to pop in.
We had been expecting this. We had two schedules for our first day at school, depending on whether the President would arrive. Throughout our preparation delegations sent by Nazarbayev inspected the school. We were constantly told, however, of the sage of the President seeing our affiliate school in Almaty. He was due to arrive on the first day of school there, in August 2008; he arrived in mid-December at 5.15pm, after all the children had left for the day. We were, however, informed in our briefing on Wednesday morning that he would definitely be coming to school.
President Nazarbayev has been running the country since 1989. Elections here are seen by external administrators as a foregone conclusion – he won 95.5% of the vote in this year’s election. Nonetheless, he is extremely popular for the prosperity, investment and hope he has brought to Kazakhstan. It is investment from one of his ministries that helped establish a school in Astana.
Fun fact: It was President Nazarbayev who wanted to move the capital city to Astana from Almaty.
The first day was a meet-and-greet session where we could introduce ourselves to the students and allow them to be part of the explosion of excitement. This was encapsulated in the releasing of hundreds of balloons from the school quad – a symbol of hope.
Before this was an assembly to welcome the new children, the vast majority looking very smart in their blazers, to the school. Music was played and speeches were made. Oh, and our Headmaster who speaks little Russian tried his hand at doing his whole speech in…Russian. A top effort, and most of the children understood him. A great leader of our team.
After the assembly and the balloons we entertained the children and explained some of the school rules to them, all the while waiting for the call from elsewhere that the President was on his way. Years 5 and 6 were to perform a song for the President in our drama studio. In keeping with the theme of the President being an affable man, they were to sing ‘For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow’. President in Russian is Президент – pre-zee-DENT.
Words and dance moves were learned, and no sooner had we finished practicing were we standing silently in line waiting for the President and his entourage to swing round the corner to see our show. Not literally swing – the guy is 71. But in he came, watched, clapped…and left. No handshake or ‘hello’. But he is a busy man, and had a lot more to see. Kazakh TV crews followed him around the school as he surveyed the newest school in his country.
So enough about Nazarbayev for now. The first day of school was nerve-wracking, exciting, incredible. Not just for us, but for the children as well. They got to see their big new classrooms and meet their new classmates of the next school year. But it was also exhausting, in spite of the children leaving before 1pm. So much energy and emotion was poured into this day by all involved, making it a tremendous success.
This site was steppe less than two years ago. Now it is the base for (hopefully) of the finest educational institutions in Central Asia. Vivalat Haileyburia, as our song proudly proclaims. The first day has come and gone – now it’s time for the really hard work to start.
Love you all