Mambegay is one of the most special children I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. She came to my 3rd grade class in October of 2015 from a small town in Africa. In her country she went to school in a one-room schoolhouse with dirt floors and a chalkboard. There were very few textbooks and definitely no technology.
When Mambegay came to my classroom she was in a little bit of shock as you can imagine. Here she was in a huge school of 800 students, computers, new children and a new teacher. It took her only a couple of days though for her personality to emerge and shine through.
I was concerned about Mambegay and her happiness in the U.S. I had learned that in Africa she was living with her grandmother and when she moved to the U.S., she was living with her mother and father whom she had not seen since she was two years old. She also had a little brother whom she had just met. But Mambegay adjusted very well in school and seemed to be loving her new situation. Every time I would ask how she was doing, she would have a huge smile on her face and tell me she was good. As a matter of fact, in response to any question you would ask Mambegay, she would have a huge smile on her face.
Towards the end of the school year, at a parent-teacher conference, her mother confided in me that there were some issues at home with Mambegay's parents and they were splitting. Mambegay's mom was a strong lady who worked two jobs and refused to give up her babies or send them back to Africa. Her mother and Mambegay were sad with tears in their eyes when she was explaining this to me, but Mambegay still had a smile through her tears.
When school started back up this past fall, Mambegay came to visit me the first day of school with a big hug, a smile, and a note she had written about how much she loved me. She continued to visit me every morning for the whole school year. I would look forward to Mambegay's smiles and love to help me get through tough days. Crazy that a nine year old can help an adult, but Mambegay always knew the right thing to say. When I started Girls on the Run this past school year, I knew I had to get Mambegay on the team. I asked if she would like to join, and she squealed with delight.
I cannot imagine our team without Mambegay. She was the first one to offer encouragement to the other girls, cheer them on, and brighten all the girls’ and coaches’ days with her positive energy. We found out during the season that Mambegay had been taking care of her brother and herself at home. She would set her alarm for early morning, wake up her brother, get them both fed and both on their bus. Mambegay did not miss one day of school. You would never know the responsibilities this child had at home by the way she acted at school. School was her safe haven and her joy in life. Every time we would get back in the school from practice she would love to say, “Bye, school! Bye, teachers! I love you!"
I have never met a girl so full of joy and life and so strong. Mambegay would never let you know what she was going through and would always offer a helping hand. I know she has changed my life for the better and has touched me in a way no other child has. I want to live every day like Mambegay and not sweat the small stuff. I strongly believe she made an impact on the other coaches and girls on the team as well. I believe she is the true definition of a Girls on the Run girl in every way.
-Sara, Educator and Girls on the Run of Atlanta Coach