by Ron Roebuck
Teacher, Arena High School
Jespa Awomah arrived at Arena High School from Cameroon with a huge smile, an easy laugh and a tremendous work ethic. He was very open with teachers and students about his circumstances, and was immediately embraced by the students and the staff. He had some basic English though nothing extensive. But by sheer hard work and determination, he was able to graduate. Jespa is truly the most inspirational student I have ever had in my 29-year teaching career, a walking example for all of us of humility, acceptance, kindness and tenacity in the face of great odds.
My favorite memories of Jespa center around our organic gardening class. He had done extensive gardening in Cameroon and was a natural green thumb. He would always take the lead in new gardening projects, and was a master at brewing compost tea (made by steeping aged compost in water). He frequently came to school on weekends and holidays to water the garden.
He was self-conscious (of course) about his appearance, but I never once heard him complain about the numerous surgeries he had to endure. His treatment in his home country was subpar, and though he openly talked about it, he never took a victim’s approach.
He made many friends among the students here. It was beautiful to watch our students include him in school activities. As a parent and a longtime, seen-it-all teacher, I was constantly heartened by Jespa and his deep spirit.