He bears names Christians revere. John was the one crying out in the wilderness with a message that heralded the coming of Jesus Christ. Samson was a strong Israelite who single-handedly defeated the Philistines in Biblical times. John Samson may have neither proclaimed the gospel in the wilderness nor finished armies with a jaw, but he sure conquered the world in his own way, as Kondwani Kamiyala writes.
October 5, 2012. Asking 12-year old John Samson what he thought of Queen Elizabeth, the Standard Six pupil at the time only said: â€œI donâ€™t know much about her, but I know she is a really powerful woman.â€
Not surprising. For the Jacaranda School for Orphans pupil, who might have known that one of the biggest referral hospitals in Malawi, Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital, is named after the reigning queen of Malawiâ€™s former coloniser, may have been dazed that one day he would shake the hand of the British monarch.
That time, the diminutive John had just got wind of the news that he was the Junior Award Winner of the 2012 Commonwealth Essay Competition, beating 8 499 other entrants from across the globe. The prospect of being one of the very few Malawians, at home and those abroad, even in the heart of London, to shake hands with the Queen seemed a distant dream.
November 14, 2012 will be a day to remember for John as the dream unfolded into reality. This was the day he not only shook hands with the queen, but also presented her a Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 tablet, a gadget which contains 60 most moving stories from people in 66 countries across the globe who wrote about their life experiences in the past 60 yearsâ€”since 1952 when the queen ascended the throne.
The tablet will be housed in the Royal Collection in Windsor, referred to as one of the worldâ€™s largest and most important art collections by a British online publication, the Yorkshire Times.
All that because of his entry into the essay competition; a story titled â€˜The Day I Wore my Best Clothesâ€™. It is a simple story of how Samson, who lost his mother and father, went on to stay with his grandmother upon their death. When the grandmother passed on, John, then aged nine, stayed with his little sister Eunice and an uncle, who later deserted them.
Destitute, Johnâ€™s story turns into a not so uncommon story of a street urchin.
The climax, however, comes when he finds light and hope in a uniform offered when he enrolled at the Chigumula-based school.
John, who arrived in the country last Sunday, had a field day at the school on Monday. Friends jived to welcome him back to the school.
He was in high spirits, showing the friends the presents he got from well-wishers from all over the world. That included a laptop, which he says he will be using for school work, a bike and other toys.
â€œIt feels great to be back home. Meeting the queen was the most exciting moment in my life. I will never forget it. Meeting some of the big people in London was equally great. I will never forget the experience,â€ he said on Wednesday.
One thing that will stick to his mind from the trip were the elevators. â€œGoing up and up felt good,â€ he said.
Part of Johnâ€™s story, abridged, goes: I did not have any clothes or shoes. I wore my old torn clothes that I had for many years. I wanted to go to school but I never had a uniform. We were not allowed to start school unless we have a uniform and books. I did not have that so I just spent my days begging on the streets and my nights I went home to sleep alone in my house. My uncle never came back and when I went to my other relatives, they said they did not have money to feed me.
One day, I went to a school for orphans near our home, where everything was free. We did not have to pay fees, and the school provided books and uniforms. The day came when they gave me a new school uniform. It was the happiest day, because I had new clothes.
Now I looked like all the other children. I did not look poor like a beggar.
Such was the writing that appealed most to the judges in the competition run by the Royal Commonwealth Society (RCS) in honour of Queen Elizabethâ€™s Diamond Jubilee celebrations in what is dubbed the worldâ€™s greatest history project, The Jubilee Time Capsule. Chief judge Charles Kemp said the story was â€œheart-warming, moving, authentic and unsentimental account of the reality of being an orphan in Malawi.â€
â€œIt resonates with the reader and has a timeless quality. John allows the story to tell itself through his simple, concise writing style. Whilst entirely personal, the story also conveys a sense of the wider context in which it takes place. Read aloud, the entry acquires another dimension,â€ says Kemp on the RCS website.
RCS director Danny Sriskandarajah said the society wanted to bring the Commonwealthâ€”a grouping for former British colonies including Malawiâ€”to life and to do something cool and digital for the jubilee.
â€œIt has not only been about the queen, but also about the people in the Commonwealth and their lives,â€ said Srikaandarajah on the RCS website.
According to the Yorkshire Times, some members of the British royal family (Prince Harry and Princess Eugenie) and the British deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg also submitted memories of their special days in the past 60 years. Another entry was from the Dean of Westminster Abbey John Hall, with whom John had tea on November 9.
Needless to say that Westminster Abbey is where Dr David Livingstone and various other architects of the British Empire, is buried.
So London beckoned the Malawian boy to present something cool and digital to Queen Elizabeth on behalf of Commonwealth citizens. London beckoned the boy you may have heard one day say, arm stretched: â€œThandizeni bwana. Njala bwana!â€
This boy, who loves mathematics, English and Chichewa in class. This very boy who can grab your thoughts with his dancing skills like he did to patrons on the opening night of the Blantyre Arts Festival (BAF).
For his involvement in writing, one would think the boy aspires to become a writer.
â€œI want to be a pilot. I want to learn a lot of things through travel,â€ said John, who was number 2 in last termâ€™s final exam.
Then, if you ask him who his greatest inspiration is, he will tell you it was his mother. â€œShe always told me to work hard in school and get an education,â€ he said, a smile plastered on his lips.
However, he doesnâ€™t forget 2008 CNN Hero Marie da Silva and Malawiâ€™s honorary French Consul Luc Deschamps. The two co-directors of Jacaranda are happy with Johnâ€™s achievements.
â€œAs Jacaranda, we are happy with Samsonâ€™s achievement. Coming out top in a competition which had several candidates from different countries is no mean achievement,â€ said da Silva, admitting several other Malawian pupils sent entries into the competition, including 11 of Johnâ€™s schoolmates.