Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Door Number Three

Sometime in the 60's there was a game show called Let's Make a Deal, hosted by Monty Hall. Anyway, contestants vied for the chance to win prizes. They could choose a prize on stage, or one of three prizes hidden behind doors numbered 1, 2 and 3. One door would be a fabulous prize, a cruise, or a car. Another door would be a good prize, but not the great prize, maybe a washer or furniture. The third prize was a joke, frequently it was a mule with a hat, or a pile of old tires.

Contestants would agonize over their choices,"Do I take the sofa or go for the mystery door? It could be a car, but then it could be a mule." Personally I always went with the mystery door. I figured if I showed up with nothing, even a mule with a hat was an improvement. It took me years to figure out that the mule and the tires never actually left the studio, a rip off if you ask me.

You're wondering if there's a point here. Every Friday we have a review test. I divide the first grade into two or three groups, depending on class size that day. We have team captains and team names. Dani is captain of Manchester (Berega is rabidly pro Manchester), Mbuli leads the Lions, and Vicent heads up Brazil.
Showing off math tests. Everyone passed, 
70% or better. Mbuli got 100%.

We have math drills, spelling tests, fill in the letter... and all the kids score points. At the end the winners get prizes. For our first contest I spent a good while gathering books, blocks, jump ropes, cards, all the stuff I figured they'd like. I had them all attractively displayed, showing them off like an aged Vanna White. There were also some pencils, pencil sharpeners, small stuff just in case.

I forgot who won the first game, but every kid picked a pencil and sharpener, except Jenny who took a jump rope. And I think she only did it because she felt sorry for me pimping the good prizes while everyone went for the mule with the hat. Go figure. Manchester won last week, and they went nuts, jumping around, hollering, holding up their erasers like Olympic Gold medals. The week before it was madaftali (exercise books).

Biker baby. Note lack of helmet, also lack of supervision. 

Growing up we had a junk drawer in the kitchen, I'm sure there's one in every First World house. Pencils, erasers, tablets, scissors, you name it, it's there. But as it's a junk drawer, it's all entwined with old shoelaces, so sometimes it's not worth untangling everything to get to a paperclip. Point being there was a place to find all the piddly things you needed.

Two kids checking out their reflection in the chrome bumper 
of our car. I wonder if they knew it was them.
Lunchtime. We used to eat inside
 on the tables but what a mess.
No junk drawers here, or drawers for that matter. If kids needs school supplies,  they have to hope Mama or Baba or Bibi will cough up 100-250 shillings (6 to 17 cents respectively). Some parents buy supplies, some don't. So this is why they pick the mule, because for them, it's the car. Freddy dropped his pencil down the choo last week, so now he shares a pencil with his mom (one of my adult students).

Kids choir practicing for Sunday.

I try not to give out free supplies, I just don't have enough, plus if I give a pencil to Freddy, Mzee wants one... But only the winning team gets prizes, so I try to move the kids around each week so everyone gets a chance. Sometimes the kids who don't win sit at their table and cry, which is tough to watch cause it's just a mule. Like a Massai who measures wealth by by the size of his herd, for us it's school supplies. Jenny walked up to me the other day and said, "Teacher, I have 2 pencils now."  I'm not in Kansas anymore, that's for damn sure.

Some of the kids have to wait a week or longer for mom or dad to give up the money. So we've gotten creative, when the exercise book is finished, we flip through and find half pages and empty spots and use them for our practice tests. I suspect that most of the parents have the 250 tsh, but they figure if they wait, I'll take care of it. Which, in essence, I do, but the kids have to work for it.

The world is the world, we have some parents who are actively involved in their kids progress, and others who think it's entirely up to the teachers. And a kid's progress is directly proportional to the degree of involvement. Like everywhere.
the same.

So get ready to empty your junk drawers, and don't be shy, even small pencils are good, the kids have small hands. We import lots of things from China, the current country denuding Africa of it's resources in the name of friendship and development. I'm sure China has some good products, they just don't send them here. Chinese pencils are garbage. They must use broken lead pieces, which is why you can sharpen a pencil down to the chewed up eraser in about two days.

Atukuswe. He's only three, and not a student, 
but he shows up at lunchtime and eats his share. 
Mom is probably at the farm. 

My friend Jeannie in Michigan is a tutor and sent me a bunch of books. Thanks Jeannie. I was looking at an ESL book and one chapter was about "How we get Bananas" Very interesting. It mentions the bananas being picked, packed, sent, displayed, bought, all the way to the actual eating, a good English lesson. I had to laugh because that's not how we get our bananas here. What usually happens is during Math or English I might see a woman walk by the school with about 200 bananas in a basket balanced on her head. At that point I go to the window and ask "Mama, unauza?" (are you selling?) If the answer is ndiyo, she walks in and I buy them right there. much simpler. I may use the same ESL book format for class, but will substitute batteries or pencils from China.
Teacher Martha giving Kiswahili test.

So, if you'd like to empty your junk drawer, I'd like to receive all your junk. There's a saying here, hamna ni takataka, nothing is garbage. Send all your mules and tires to Brad Logan MD, Director, Hands4Africa.Inc,13046 RaceTrack Rd., Suite 242,Tampa, Fl. 33626. He can bring them on his next trip, which is Aug 8. Thanks.

The kids. Vicent and Jackie are starting to show signs of, if not superior intelligence, at least an ability to learn. I was worried for a bit, it's not easy for orphans. I don't see them becoming doctors or CEOs, but there's no reason they can't do just fine. When I asked Vicent what he wants to do when he grows up, he said he wants to herd goats. So fine, but maybe he can learn enough be a very savvy goat herder. Little Gile just turned five and she's crazy smart. She's  flying through the work. She's a hoot because she's our smallest kid but she's got a voice like Betty Davis. Sounds like she's been a pack a day smoker for all her (short) life. She's one of our scholarship kids, and I'm so glad we have her.
Gile on her birthday, complete with beads, 
earrings, fancy dress and eyebrow pencil.

Enrollment is up to 26 now, from six when we started in Jan of 2011. We got five new kids this month. One is a 12 year old we had to start in preschool. He's an orphan and hasn't been to school in about two years. He knows nothing, but he will. Martha will teach him, because Martha rocks. She's so patient, and they learn so much from her. Two hours with the preschoolers and I want to poke my eyes out. I take them in the afternoon when it's mostly games.

Have added papaya to the lunch menu, once a week, hopefully more later. And double the veggies with their beans and ugali. Just so you know, when you put twenty six kids in a room after lunch, at any given moment three will be passing gas. Just so you know.