Thursday, February 23, 2012

Standard 8 Wins

Standard 8 is totally winning right now.  I know I'm not supposed to have favorites, but I can't help it right now.  They were just so wonderful last week - I'm so proud of them!

I came in two weeks ago and they were preparing for some practice state exams.  I attempted to help them answer the questions they had about their social studies exam and quickly realized that I was pretty much useless.  So I did the only thing I could think of.  I went to the library, got out the random assortment of encyclopedias from approximately 1971 and brought them in to class.  The kids loved them.  The only problem was, after they looked up the answers to their questions, they didn't want to put them down.  I literally had to pry the books out of their hands so that they would keep reviewing for their exam.  Feeling a bit bad about denying children knowledge, I promised them that we would get the encyclopedias out again after their exams were finished the following week.

The day after exams, I brought them out again and let the kids loose.  I don't think they had ever seen anything like that before.  It seemed like they just kept finding things they didn't even know existed.  They spent the entire hour-long period engrossed in the books and, by the end, everyone was able to tell me at least one new fact that they had learned.  It made me really proud to see how interested they were in learning.  I have never seen a class so eager to read the encyclopedia.

As if that weren't enough, we also took them on a field trip last week to an outdoor museum with several mock-ups of homes of different tribes in Kenya.  The kids were wonderful.  I was really impressed with how well-behaved they were and how genuinely interested they seemed to be in their culture.  They asked lots of good questions, took loads of notes, helped each other get all the information, and danced with the Maasai.  It was great and it made me super happy to see them enjoying it.  I'm pretty sure that 14-year-olds back home would be way too cool for the run-down playground at the end of the trip, but these guys had an absolute blast.

Standard 8 is probably the end of the road for most of my students.  This is the year that they either pass their state exams and get sponsorship for high school or end their education, a fact which they are all too aware of.  They know that this is the time to buckle down and apply themselves, which means that I am essentially teaching an entire class of students that actually want to learn.  It's wonderful.  More than that, it's great to watch them learning and enjoying themselves.  They definitely deserve it after all of their hard work.

oh, Queen...

We had a bit of extra time at the end of class in Standard 6 today, so I decided to review a song that we learned from their textbook a few weeks back.  They enjoyed that but clearly had not had enough singing.  We finished the song and I don't even know how it happened but the next thing I know, the entire class is pounding out the rhythm on their desk and singing "We will, we will rock you!"  All the words, the whole thing.  It was awesome.  I tried to film them but I had a camera fail.  Regardless, this is a big thank you to whichever volunteer before me taught them that.  It totally made my day.

Rockin' the Grandma Look

Turns out I look like a grandma.  I was talking to some girls from Standard 7 after class yesterday and they informed me that I have grandma glasses.  This was shocking to me because I actually think my glasses are kind of cool.  When I told them this, they conceded that my glasses were fine but unanimously agreed that my hair needs some work.  Apparently my daily bun is just not very hip.  There is, however, a solution.  If I put my hair down with some bangs, then I'll be beautiful.  (To which I replied, "Are you saying I'm not beautiful all the time!")  

I suggested getting braids and this was met with scrunched up faces and glaring disapproval.  That would not be a good look for me.  My skin is just too white.  If, however, I were to paint my skin brown, including my scalp, then I could get braids.  But I still might look like a grandma.  

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Stop and Look

Every once in awhile, I stop and actually see our school, the village, the children's clothes for the tatters that they are.  It always surprises me.  I don't see the poverty in the day to day.  I just see people.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Life's Reality

"It will always be difficult, but if you cry like this every time, you will die of heartbreak.  Just know that it is enough sometimes to know that it is difficult." 
- TED2008, Chris Abani's talk on Humanity

I stumbled upon this quote today while looking through an old document and it struck me how fitting it is here.  One of the standard 4 boys at Olives died very suddenly on Friday.  We aren't sure what happened (I'm not sure that anyone really knows) but he was at school in the morning, went home ill at lunch, and, before the end of the day, he was gone.  From the bits that we did get, it's possible that he had some sort of chronic condition.

Everyone, local and volunteer teachers alike, was visibly upset by the news.  The local staff was clearly sad, but calm.  I watched the classroom teacher cry and move forward, obviously aware of the reality of life for our students.  For us, it was an abrupt reminder of where we are and the risks our children face.  At home, there would have been a medical record and a hospital visit.  The likelihood of such a sudden death is low.  Here, we didn't even know that he was sick.

I think the local staff understood something that is harder for us to grasp.  Here life and death are both clearly visible.  People don't shy away from either. Rather, they embrace the good bits in preparation for the bad ones and recognize that you can't dwell in the sad spaces.  It just gets too hard.  The sad truth is that things like this are part of life in the village and dwelling on them doesn't make them any easier.  It's enough to recognize the tragedy for what it is and move forward.

I think this same principle applies to the world at large.  Everywhere I look there is a problem to be solved, a person to be helped - a war, a natural disaster, poverty.  If I stop to think about every single person that needs help, it's too much.  I can't cry for every single one.  I would never stop.  The best that I can do, that anyone can do, is to know that they are there and validate their struggle.  Then, instead of letting it overwhelm me, I focus on what I can do and try to make it a little less difficult in whatever corner of the world I've got.