The man in this photo is called Papa Kayembe Pierre.
He is well known in Kandale and beyond. He has been teaching first grade at Kandale primary school since 1952. The last time I caught up with him we had a chat about children who are nowadays graduating from school and yet they cannot write with proper grammar and spelling. I teach them alphabet, as always, but I am not sure if they are learning much after that, he said, his body language signaling this was a much bigger problem than mastering the alphabet.
Papa Kayembe must be in his mid-80s now. He has become frail and forgetful. Age is catching up fast with his mind and poverty doing the rest. He seemed to remember me when I last saw him. However, his mind won’t let him do that for long, so he wandered away from our conversation as though he was never present to begin with. It broke my heart to see him like that.
There’s no pension in the Democratic Republic of Congo for teachers like Papa Kayembe. The government allows elderly teachers to arrange for their own substitute teacher so they can share in the one meager salary. This is usually a family member, and in the case of Papa Kayembe, it is his granddaughter who agreed to bail him out. She now teaches class on his behalf. God willing she will teach 70 more years like Papa Kayembe and enable generation after generation in Kandale to learn their alphabet.
I am proud to have learned my alphabet with you, Papa Kayembe. It has served me well, and I salute you for a job well done!!