Asha taught Angela Pollard the meaning of friendship and kindness
Asha breezed into my class before she'd even joined the school. It was induction and Asha was the first six-year-old to turn up. She walked in, plonked herself in a chair, picked up a felt pen and started to colour a worksheet. Her concentration was unbroken until the last child arrived. She slapped her pen down on the table and proclaimed: "Finished!" Then, before I had time to say a word, she started to help the other children.
Asha was Somali, a fact of which she was immensely proud. She was one of the youngest in an extended family. Home, a huge house in the suburbs, was noisy, full of people. Coming to school was a chance for her to take control, to bring some order to her life. She was bright and capable, her enthusiasm boundless. Academically, she forged ahead. Socially, though, she found it hard to make friends, and she became more isolated as other children, wary of being managed, withdrew.
Matters came to a head when one of the girls lost some stickers from her bag. I gathered the children together and talked to them about the moral issues involved in stealing. I was stunned when Asha "found" the stickers and subsequently confessed to having taken them.
Her mother was horrified, and wanted her punished. Instead, we decided that she should spend part of her holidays - which started the next day - doing extra chores around the home. The incident was a turning point. Her mother recounted joyfully how Asha, from being wilful and stubborn, had become much more amenable. And her relationships with her peers improved to such an extent that by the end of the summer term she was the most popular girl in the class.
It was, therefore, a terrible shock when, on the first day of the summer holidays, one of her uncles called to tell us she'd been killed in a car crash, along with her younger brother. Many of us went to pay our respects, passing through room after room of grieving relatives.
In September, Asha's mother came with a request: could she give a party for Asha's classmates? We organised a spread Asha would love to have queened over: pizza, sausages, crisps, jelly, cake and sweets. We learnt a lot from Asha: the meaning of friendship, of enthusiasm, of kindness. She would, I am sure, have achieved greatness.
Angela Pollard taught Asha in 1998 at Peponi House, a British preparatory school in Nairobi, Kenya. She now teaches in Guernsey