Monday, April 25, 2016

The End is Nigh

Hey everyone!

This blog is LONG overdue, namely because we haven’t had wifi in the village since late January. There has been a huge financial struggle in Berega for the last several months, and wifi was one of those leisure items that needed to be sacrificed to make funds available in other areas. Understandable.

Standard 1A in our new classroom
Since our school year is on the opposite academic schedule as the West, we concluded our last school year in late November and began a brand new academic year in January. We had so many kids in kindergarten last year that even though most of our classes only have 10-12 kids in them, we had almost 40 kids going into Standard 1! So since January, I have been teaching one of the two Standard 1 classes. And because they are so young and are still working hard at gaining basic English, we made the decision to give Standard 1 two classes of English and two classes of math and forego their science class. Even though sometimes I want to bang my head against the wall (what teacher doesn’t at times?), I’ve been able to see these kiddos grow a ton because of that decision. It has also been wonderful to have one class all day, as opposed to changing who I’m teaching every 45 minutes (again, see the banging-head-against-the-wall comment), and that has also made it much easier to see these kids’ growth: there is no one to compare them to except who the strangers they were that first week of classes. My class of 20 kids who had to rely on the translations of an older and retained student can now understand what I’m talking about when I throw out words like pronouns, past tense, expanded form, and regrouping; they can complain (mostly) in English; and they sometimes even laugh when I make a stupid joke (ok, that may not be a reflection of their English language skills; it may just be a reflection of my bad humor). 

The boys mending their plastic bag and twine footballs
The girls playing
...or hang out by yourself in your origami cap.

When plastic bag footballs fail, you can always kick around
a water bottle instead...

In addition to my Standard 1 kiddos, Mike and I have both gotten closer to the older kids at school, as well. This isn’t something I’m used to, since whenever I have taught before, I pretty much only knew my kids or maybe another class that was on my team. But here you interact with everyone on a daily basis. Our assemblies are held with the entire school (minus kindergarten) and, even if they weren’t, we get so many “visitors” at our house after school that it would be impossible not to know almost everyone. Let me just say that it has been a HUGE blessing both teaching and just knowing these kids. These kids who are working on their second, third, or fourth language. These kids who live in mud huts and walk to a dry riverbed, dig a hole until they find water, and do their own laundry every weekend. These kids who make it impossible not to think of the rest of the world as spoiled rotten just because of the extreme disparity between the cases. These kids who learn, and grow, and excel because they want nothing more than to eventually be able to help their families.

Hiking with representatives from Standards 1, 2, and 5, plus
two puppies
Mike's favorite girl from Standard 1, Pendo

Just try balancing a sack 3/4 the size of your
body on top of your head. I dare you.
That reminds me of something. It’s kind of a funny story, but poignant as well. Last week, Mike had his class of Standard 2 students write a short paragraph about what they want to be when they grow up and include a reason why. Almost every one of his students gave the reasoning “so I can make a lot of money” or something along those lines. It was comical when I read them afterwards, thinking that, even in this dusty village, kids base their career paths on how much money they could earn. But then it hit me - the reason that these kids want to make a lot of money is so that they can use it to take care of their extended families. It’s how the culture is here. And especially experiencing this very low time and seeing how the villagers here struggle so much financially, it’s even more valid. So many people we know have had to take their children out of school because they just did not have any more money to send them. (And even though I’m a huge advocate for public school back at home, the public schools here are less than atrocious.) So when these kids say they want to be a teacher or a doctor to make a lot of money, I know that they are looking at the struggles of their parents and deciding that they want to be able to help. They want to make a difference, at least in their family units where they hope they will be able to.

We only have another month (give or take) here, and we have experienced a lot of ups and downs, especially in the last few months. But this year is always going to stand out for me. It has been amazing, immersing myself in this culture, living in this village, caring for these kids - and it has also been amazingly difficult. But I know this isn’t something I’ll ever regret or ever forget, and I’m so grateful for the chance to come here and do some good, even if it’s not all the good I would like to do. I’m grateful for the lives I have been able to touch, and especially for the ones that have touched me. 
A gorgeous picture Mike took of some of the best kids in the world
To my friends and family in Florida, I CAN’T WAIT to see you all. Let’s do some fun stuff this summer. No, really. Message me. To this amazing continent, see you sooner than you think.  

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