Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The slight nip in the air sent me scurrying to the five three-stone fires in the kitchen at 6:30 today. Each morning I rise early before the girls are up, greet the Chief, visit with Sallay, Mabinty and the other women in the kitchen and return to our “dorm” to prepare the day’s lessons for the young women who are studying in the guest house while we’re here (homebound by malaria). Today’s lessons featured readings on how to bake crocodile bread with palm wine leavening, life in big African cities and an introduction to Deborah Ellis’ “The Breadwinner” from Afghanistan. Adamsay, who’s not currently attending school but joins us with her baby, gave me detailed instructions and plans to show me how to bake a local version of rice bread with palm wine. Afternoons are spent in delightful after-school literacy coaching sessions in the library with dedicated Class One and Two teachers (one of whom teaches a class of over 80 as a volunteer) and eager six to eight year-olds who regale us with poems and songs and wide-eyed wonder over books about chickens and groundnut farms. I join the older students and adults in the library in the evenings while the small ones slip in quietly, find a book and nestle down on the floor to peruse with friends.

This morning my routine was slightly altered when visited by a delegation of women who asked me to join them in the community centre where they were holding a discussion on the needs of the young children in the village. About sixty women with small children in hand or on laps and backs explained that, while huge gains have been made in education, there are still too many children who are not attending or not succeeding in school and that the girls, in particular, seem to struggle the most. They worry about the number of girls who end up out of school and pregnant at an early age. A nursery school, they felt, would give the young children the extra boost they need to be successful in school. The community has chosen a space (an empty room in the primary school), a teacher, and held initial discussions on class size and student selection to make it manageable yet most accessible to all. Next steps for the community planning committee and teacher are to visit nursery schools in surrounding towns, organize some training for the teacher, set up and equip the space, and seek funding for a salary. When I return to Canada, I hope to help try to raise the $2,000 needed for the first year of operations. The nursery school will be an excellent complement to the other educational initiatives in place…the library, new junior high school, and youth training centre that serve the needs of this and surrounding communities.

As for me, teaching junior high students here directly myself for the first time is quite an eye-opening experience as I reflect on the challenges for teachers and learners operating in a second language with limited resources. It gives me great respect for those who successfully negotiate this system of education. Time to return to our science lesson on soil and check in on reading logs. Break’s over!