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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A Fulani school class

By Mathew Porter

This was our five session in a row with the kids in the Fulani camp. We have managed to meet for 5 Mondays in a row with most of the children at around the same time - 9ish for the same amount of time - 2 hours-ish...

Such consistencies are impressive considering all the factors involved - namely, nomads' children and busy airfield operators!

It would not have been possible to get the consistency without Cindy, the AVTECH teacher though, so let's give her due now...!

Cindy's partner has been Audrey for some of the weeks who has been managing to get out of Accra and up to Kpong by 8.30 - also impressive, with a young child in the house too!

I am not sure if I can stress enough to anyone who has not been there first hand how most kids in the camp have had no exposure to numbers, letters or any visual/educational stimulation... A few of the kids here have stumbled upon a bit of schooling - the most being Ilias, a 14 year old boy in the camp who has done a couple of years in Agomeda nearby - he acts as translator for the ladies when needed.

The rest of the children have never held a pencil, a piece of chalk, a crayon. We have about 20 kids in the camp, most under 10. The children under 3 don't come to the education hut, and after the first couple of sessions, Cindy and Audrey split the children up into groups according to levels. We have also had a couple of young ladies who has been very dedicated and attended sessions as well, who are around 16 years old.

The classes start with a song and little dance in English - the kids are picking it! We are working on health songs as well - get the kids singing about washing your hands! We had extra hands this session - Akuia, Audrey's sister, and two AVTECH girls, Lyida and Emmanuella!

We have seen a couple of cowboys in there as well - but they have erratic times of coming and going, making it very difficult to get them to join in. Most of the kids are there early, but quite a few are late. I think once they hear songs, they run and join! Most of the children all know the alphabet by now. They can recite it. But identification of the letters is very poor. We were looking at some of the ways we can instil this with some materials Audrey brought up - such as getting the children to make a scrapbook and make the letters in them using different materials.

On the left here, we have Issifu - I always thought he was a troublesome kid, always fighting. But once we started teaching them under Alai's tree, i realised he was just very smart and bored. Here he gets the attention he needs to grow. It is also nice to see Asamau with a smile! Here we are doing the Lion song!

Remember also, that we have an added challenge here - we are trying to teach these kids to read English, write English - and also learn English at the same time! So it is all integrated. It has been very funny for me to go into the camp since this started, as the kids now come up and greet in English - Me; "How are you?" Kids;"I am fine!"  Me;"And you?  Kids; "And you?" !!! So they are getting there - and most importantly, they are enjoying being there and want to learn. It is pretty intense, as Cindy and Audrey will tell you. This time is actually the first time I have been there for the whole session, due to other work - and it is a bit crazy. A lot of squabbling and fighting, crying... Probably normal from kids. We had some great materials brought over by Rex and Melissa - flipcharts, excercise books, pencils etc - found though that when they took the excercise books home, they came back next session with them covered in dirt - literally! These kids do live outside 90% of the time - some huts are dirt floors as well. So we got some local A4 slates for them to take home, and chalk for practising, which they have been eating...!? Eating of chalk is probably a sign of a bad diet, and the body craving for deficiencies, but its not encouraged...Especially the coloured ones... So the excercise books are for use with teacher supervision for now.

Here the kids are showing us their 1,2,3 efforts. Barkisu, on the right, sharp as a button, is catching on fast. The boy on the right is doing well too. The girl second from left has just been brought down from the North to help her older sister who is about to give birth around the house. She has been to school a bit up North, but is lucky to be getting this while she stays here. In the middle we have Ishaitu, Asamau's sister. Her father, Dramani, was having a good job up to this January in Akuse. You can see her wearing her old school uniform for these sessions as she peers over her slate! The last girl, 2nd from right, another Barkisu, is Barkisu number 1's partner in crime, and thankfully is also keeping up with her in schooling as well as mischief. She used to run a mile when she first saw me!

There is also the desires to make circles, and random lines, which are normal for those beginning to use chalk, pencils to start. We really encourage the parents we see to let the children draw at home - the parent, in good intentions, sometimes try and tell them off for anything other that A B C on their slates! There is also a lot of challenge with writing in any particular place in the board - and, for those exposed to Muslim teachings, left to right.

Below we can see Asamau doodling - her right index, still swollen and wounded held out.

We have started with the children, and really been trying to get the ladies involved as well - we want to have a ladies class first, around 8 or 8.30, then the kids. But monday is a market day, and we have tried several times now to get the ladies to come to the hut before going there... We managed to get a couple this session...

Here we have on the left, Rahinatu, 26 years old, mother of two - speaks good basic French, articulate and serious; Bintu, in the middle, 17 years old, not yet married, trying hard, and the lovely Amina, Alai's wife who is very keen and sharp. You can see the challenge we have here - no tables. The guys there bring benches, and if they had tables, they would bring them. They have not one table in the whole camp for any house.... This is something they can't afford, and something we can't afford to sub for them either right now. It would probably cost GHS250 to get enough tables and benches for the hut.

Amina has never held a pen or pencil. Bintu has never tried writing between lines in a book. Rahinatu seems to have the right idea. Kick your boy off the bench and use his seat!

Below, Ilias was lucky today - with 6 teachers around, he got some one on one attention. Like I said, Ilias has had some schooling. He has done up to class 3 in Agomeda of JSS (Junior Secondary School) - but when he went to the local school, they asked for his reports to know which class to put him in, and he doesnt have them. He actually needs to go back to school. We need to sit down with his parents and explain the importance. We are happy to help him if we can - but there needs to be willingness to co-operate. Audrey has lent him "The Gingerbread man" to practice his reading. We will find out soon if he knows what gingerbread is...! He is a good kid, and deserves education. Getting the parents in the hut for some literacy will help to sink in the importance of this.

So. That is that. The children are learning slowly, but we are seeing improvements - we really need to get there more than once a week. We have been looking at getting a full-time teacher that we have had an offer to have paid, and then we can maybe do classes for everybody, and another site as well. We are still working on the women. Maybe have to change to day to meet them to a non-market day. However, the fact we got 3 there this time is encouraging. Will they convince the others to take 1 hour out of their day? Then, we need to get the men in there. In the meantime, thanks to Cindy, Audrey, Akuia, Lydia and Emmanuella, Mr. Solo, Rex and Melissa and anyone else who has helped this to happen! We are seeing progress, and their brains are being developed and exposed in ways they would not be seeing otherwise.
I think we all appreciate how the kids feel after 2 hours there!

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