Cultural displays by children

Vanessa Obioha

It’s not often that the students of Stella Maris Schools, Abuja, are privileged to display their creative talents to the public. They are more revered for their academic prowess. When it comes to academic competitions such as the Spelling Bee, essay or mathematical competitions or internal examinations such as the National Examination Council, they always emerge on top.

For instance, in 2002, the school was given an award of excellence for producing the best overall student in NECO nation-wide. It is also the first school to claim the first, second and third positions in the TIC/FCT Mathematics competition.

All these are testimonies to the integrity of the school which humble beginning dates back to September 1996 with only two students in a mud house at Mpape. Today, the mud house is replaced by a sprawling edifice and in addition, three schools to cater to the nursery and primary and college (day and boarding) students in Garki and Life Camp areas of the Federal Capital Territory. The school boasts of a staggering population of over 2,000. Plans are also underway to build two more schools to accommodate its teeming students.

It is no wonder then that the school is a mecca of some sorts to parents and guardians who prioritise their child’s education. Having climbed a few rungs up the ladder to occupy the third best school in the Federal Capital Territory, the school is committed to grooming children through the best teaching practices to become responsible adults in the society.
However, their academic activities do not deprive them from engaging in extra-curricular activities. You will be shocked at the amazing dexterity which young children bounce and jump in the basketball court. The football pitch is all green and clean for young feet to kick and run around. In fact, as much as they learn hard, they also play hard.

Therefore, on the few occasions where they are expected to display their creativity, they never fail to impress.
Such was the aura in the schools recently as they marked their 20th anniversary. From Area 1, Garki to Life Camp, the students bubbled with excitement. It was indeed a special occasion. Unlike previous social activities which are limited to a day, they had one week of celebration. What’s more, a UK production company OHTV was invited to coordinate the programme, dance instructors from Spirit of David would groom them in choreography and of course the gala night where celebrity artiste 2Baba and Ycee would perform.

They could hardly hide their elation. Up and down they ran to their various rehearsal grounds, listened to their instructors with rapt attention, as they displayed their various skills with the hope of being among the selected ones. They were careful not to draw the ire of their teachers or the Executive Director of the school Chineze Anyaene (Nollywood producer) as she moved around tirelessly, ensuring that everything ran smoothly.
The choreographers had a difficult task. About 64 of them had been chosen from different classes to perform different dance steps at the gala night, some of which they were not familiar with. Their instructor Vincent Harrison with his partner subjected them to hours of rehearsals.
“It is a different routine from what they are used to. They have to pay attention to rhythm, tempo and sound”, Harrison said.

If the students were wearied by the intense drilling, they did a great job at masking it. Rather, they pushed beyond the limits, eager to impress their teachers as well as the audience on the D-Day.
Inside the school auditorium, the songbirds were also having the same challenge. Their voice coach was taking them on a rollercoaster ride with timeless Disney songs. Nevertheless, it didn’t kill the euphoria in the air.
The celebration kicked off with the clubs on Monday, followed by cultural activities on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Looking radiant and colourful in their different ethnic costumes, the dancers marched out excitedly to the open arena and performed cultural dances from the Yoruba, Edo, Gbagyi, Ibo, and other tribes, to the delight of their parents and other invited guests. The cultural celebrations provided an opportunity for the institution to preach cultural diversity to the parents.

The Academic Adviser, Stella Maris Nursery and Primary School, Mr. James Arllo emphasised the importance of culture during a language game where parents were asked to translate an English sentence in their native tongue. He bemoaned the shocking reality that many students can’t speak their native tongue while subtly blaming parents for the flaw. He urged the parents to ensure that they communicate more with their children in their native tongue as well as educate them on the various elements of their culture. Debates, sporting events and other events were also part of the activities.

By Thursday evening, alumni of the school were treated to a cocktail party where the camaraderie was infectious. A nostalgic wave of reconnection spread across the International Conference Centre, Abuja as screams of surprise rent the air. Old classmates reunite in between drinks and meals, while uploading selfies and wefies on social media. The teachers were also immersed in reunion. Their eyes glowed with pride listening to the achievement of the old students.
Interestingly, the oldest student of the academy, Patrick Anyaene is now a director of the school. During the party, the Managing Director, Emeka Anyaene, in a bid to distract Chineze from working herself into exhaustion as well as appreciate all her efforts, invited her to the dance floor. Amidst cheers and claps, she displayed one or two moves before disappearing through the back door.

Friday night came with heavy expectations. It was the peak of the celebration: the gala night. A large crowd pooled at the International Conference Centre to witness the grand ceremony. Some of the guests were forced to look for alternate parking lots as security guards turned back cars from entering the premises. The show also attracted celebrities like Ramsey Nouah, Uti Nwachukwu, former Director-General of Nigerian Broadcasting Company Emeka Mba, Charles Novia and others.
Once inside, guests were serenaded by artworks done by students to raise funds for orphanages. Every now and then, a student approaches a guest to inquire if they were comfortable while waiting for the show to kick off. They also directed them upstairs where food and drinks flowed freely.

Delayed by an hour, the show finally kicked off at 7 pm with an acrobatic dance accompanied by fireworks that clearly complemented the aesthetics of the hall. This was followed by more choreography from the students who sampled different dance moves like Olamide’s ‘Bobo’, Azonto, and others with a round-off performance from one of Fela’s golden tunes.
Anchored by the students, the whole show was an amazing package of theatrical presentations. The students wowed the audience with their costumes, dance moves and movement on the stage. It was so professionally done that not a few marvelled at their dexterity.

From the ballet dancers who demonstrated the undying love of parents for their children, cultural dances, to the street-like dance competition, it was perfectly executed and yielded thunderous applause from the audience. Perhaps, the most exciting part of the evening was the tribute to Walt Disney. The famous Lion’s King Simba and his friends were reenacted on stage singing ‘Hakuna matata’ and ‘Can you feel the love tonight’. And even pretty Elsa of ‘Frozen’ got the chance to ride a hoverboard while singing ‘Let it Go’.

But Walt Disney was not the only one paid tribute to. A moment of silence was observed for the late proprietor Uche Rosarii Anyaene. Her legacy is well celebrated today by her children who have done excellently well in running the school; a fact most parents and teachers readily testify to. In continuation of fulfilling their late mother’s dream to build a distinguished citadel of learning, the chairman of the board of directors, Mrs. Afoma Onyeanusi revealed that plans are underway to institute a board of governors.

“This is to support the school management team and staff in providing outstanding education for the children while assisting in assessing the school key performance targets.”

She added that the board would also aim at raising expectations of what can be achieved by the children and also strengthen the involvement of parents in their children’s learning process.
The night wouldn’t have been complete without some feel of magic from a South-African magician who left looks of bewilderment on the guests. However, it was 2Baba’s magic that wowed the audience more. The moment he came on stage, earsplitting screams filled the room.

Kicking off with ‘See me so’, he performed a medley of his songs, including ‘African Queen’ as requested by the children. He invited the children to join him and enthusiastically, they flocked around him. After a series of ‘I love you’ and other sing-alongs with the children, he took a bow. Ycee also brought some magic on stage particularly when he sang ‘Jagaban’.

For many gathered, 2Baba’s performance was the last performance of the night. They were therefore taken aback when little children filed out on stage, singing sweet nostalgic nursery lullabies. They drew the final curtain to the event amidst cheers.