Well, we have been back in school for a few months now and much has changed. First, I no longer sit like a lump at school. I have a lot to do at the primary school now that my observation period is over. I focus mainly on remedial work. I work with the three to five of the slowest learners from grades four to seven. I was originally supposed to be teaching them the same lessons that the English teacher does in class. After my initial assessment, however, it was clear to me that this would not be possible. The majority of the kids have trouble or cannot read a book meant for an American second grader. A few of them cannot read at all.
… I am working individually with [Grace,] a girl from grade six. She didn’t know the alphabet when I first met her, let alone letter sounds. Last week she read her first book. It is a simple book called “Cat”, but it is a book all the same. The teachers here are all really hard on the learners… When I had a parents’ meeting with Grace’s mother and the English teacher… they told me that she was a lost cause, beyond help, lazy, and doesn’t want to learn… After she finished reading the book, I went and brought that teacher into the room. I asked Grace to read for her while this teacher watched. She read the whole book with no help and no difficulty. The teacher sat there dumbfounded, while Grace proved her wrong.
Grace is one of my many learners who improve daily. My boy from grade seven who had trouble even writing his own name also read his first book last week. Lesego from grade five was able to tell me the entire alphabet correctly for the first time Friday. My learners who are more advanced than these kids and do know the alphabet and letter sounds have improved a grade level at least in their reading. I will take many things away from this experience I am having in the Peace Corps. What I will never forget, however, is the smile on a child’s face when they are proud of themselves. The small things are why I am here.
My library is underway. Nine other Peace Corps volunteers and I have teamed together to get a huge shipment of books through Books for Africa. With a lot of help from our friends and family back home, we are coming along nicely. The Department of Education here will help deliver the books to the different schools [when they arrive]. I have managed to get shelves donated and other things I will need for my library, so I believe it will be a success.
My primary school also wants to start a garden. It is a big task to undertake in a village with sand as soil and no water. I am doing what I can with my principal to try and make this happen, however. I will be attending a Permagarden workshop put on by the Peace Corps in the beginning of April. I also recently attended a Permaculture workshop organized by Food and Trees for Africa. Food and Trees for Africa is a great organization. They give trees for free to schools that will take care of them. A school can ask for as many as they want and whatever kind they want. I could ask for 500 plum trees if I wanted. I will partner with them in a project called Trees for Homes. They give a tree to every person of the village. The people are able to choose if they want a fruit tree or a shade tree. If they choose a fruit tree, they choose the kind of fruit. A person in the village then gets paid a stipend to make sure the trees are being taken care of properly. It is a big task to organize, but being able to bring hundreds of trees to my village gets me beyond excited.
…It is cooling off a bit. That means it is no longer 104 degrees in my room. Now it is down to a chilly 80. It is funny to think how cold everyone was, myself included, when it got down into the 70s. We were all wearing sweatshirts or jackets and shivering. I was under my nice cozy blanket. Winter is going to be brutal.
That is it for now. I just returned from my neighboring truck stop (kind of like a 7-11 with a smaller selection open for less time) where ten kids came to greet me screaming “Ausi Lerato, Ausi Lerato,” and it looks like they have now followed me home.
Love to everyone back home,
Katie or Ausi Lerato (Ausi- sister, Lerato- my African name, meaning love)