Courage that will inspire me for a lifetime

11th December 2009 at 00:00

It is not easy to stand in front of the class and read out your story. The first time I asked her I thought it might be a step too far. Tino was quiet and studious. She was not one to draw attention to herself. Perhaps she would not have the courage?

Then she held her blue exercise book in front of her and began to read slowly and precisely in her deliciously rich Zimbabwean accent.

I soon learned that Tino wasn't one to shy away from difficult tasks. Last autumn, during our Year 6 residential in the Peak District, the children undertook the Nightline. This is an after dark activity that involves following a winding rope trail through woods. Only the brave attempt it alone. The less brave go in pairs. Most go in groups accompanied by teachers.

Many who set out by themselves found that in the dark their courage faltered. They waited for other children or for a teacher to arrive and accompany them the rest of the way. Only a handful emerged alone from the Nightline.

Tino was one of them, but it was not her most difficult journey. Coming to Britain to live with her aunt after her mother's death must have been an ordeal, but her last journey turned out to be the most difficult of all.

Tino's final weeks at primary school gave little clue as to what was around the corner. She had started using an inhaler and sometimes appeared breathless, but no one imagined that within six weeks she would be dead from a serious heart condition.

Her aunt wept to recount Tino's courage in those final days. For courage is not about being fearless but about facing up to fear. And when her strength was gone and she knew the truth of her illness, she still kept a brave face.

I have many happy memories of Tino during her time in Year 6. The day she proudly came to school with hair extensions; how beautiful she looked in her white dress on the night of the school prom; and just the way she conducted herself in school: the care and attention she gave to her work, her gentle nature, her friendliness, her politeness, her good humour and her warm, sunny smile. But what I will remember most is the courage with which she walked alone into the darkness.

Children like Tino are what make this job worthwhile. The only valid measure of someone's life is by how much it enriches the lives of others. I don't know what impact I had on her short life, but I know she enriched mine and the lives of many others at Arbourthorne Community Primary School.

Even the longest life measures no more than the tiniest fragment of time, and our time on Earth is not about how long we live but about how brightly we shine. I will remember the light of Tino Mupambo long after many others have faded.

Steve Eddison, Key stage 2 teacher, Sheffield.

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