Friday, August 26, 2011

#29 What a Great Day!

Wow!  My classes went so well today.  The girls are positive, enthusiastic, involved and most of all they are learning.  We’ve talked a lot about feeling confident, taking a stab at a problem, even if they think they don’t know how to do it.  It’s easy to praise them and they love it when I say, “Wow!  Aren’t you smart!” or “Pat yourself on the back!”  Last week a bought a bag of lollipops, and once in awhile, not every day, if one of them speaks up, especially the ones I know are the most fearful, I award them a lollipop.  It’s amazing how such a small thing has boosted their morale.

Their biggest problem has been fear of doing the wrong thing, so they would do nothing.  On the mock KCSE that they took in July, the math performance was BAD.  I did a lot of the “revising” with them and when they saw how easy the probability question was and that they’d lost 10 big points on it b/c they were afraid to try, I think they began to get the idea that maybe they can do math.  It is an uphill battle with them b/c in elementary school there is so much drudgery they really hate it.  The love it when I tell them how much I hate long division and multiplication.  That’s not really math, it’s arithmetic and it’s one reason the calculator was developed.  Math is about thinking, recognizing patterns, making connections with concepts previously learned.  The form 4’s told Fr Kiriti this evening that they are feeling much more empowered!  Is that candy for the ears!

A few days ago I noticed a form 4 girl who was peering and squinting at the board and was immediately reminded of 14-year old me, who didn’t realize that other people could see much better than I could and that I needed glasses.  When I spoke to Jecinta (p) about it she told me of 2 other girls who need glasses.  Why wasn’t something done?  Africans are often philosophical about such needs.  I’m so aware of my differences with that.  If something doesn’t work, I want it fixed!  Not now—yesterday!  It’s the way I was brought up.  Everything worked in our house b/c my father knew how to fix things.  This was a problem needing to be fixed, so I asked who had the authority to permit me to take them for eye checks.  Esther (matron) arranged it and off we went.  They were very quiet and I wasn’t sure how they were processing the whole thing.  In retrospect, I think they were a bit overwhelmed to actually be getting glasses, with the prospect of being able to see, of not having headaches, and feeling eyestrain.

On the way I explained that the price of the lenses is fixed, but there was a great range in frame prices.  “This isn’t about looking beautiful, it’s about being able to see.”  Fortunately the least expensive frames were quite nice.  Each girl was tested and chose a frame.  We had hoped to get the glasses today, but all three have complicated corrections, so the lenses must be made in Nairobi.  That in itself confirmed the need.  We’re hoping to get them tomorrow afternoon or Monday at the latest.  Two of the 3 are on scholarship and the single mother of the third girl struggles to pay the fees and is in arrears.  The scholarships from the US (almost all of them are) include a cushion for just such needs and I am so happy that these girls who have struggled for 4 years b/c they couldn’t see well are at last being helped.  One of the girls, a very shy one was close to tears as she got out of the car back at SFG.  Her appreciation was more than evident.  Later Jecinta (p) told me she is one of the top students in the class, usually 1, 2 or 3.  Imagine how much more she might have learned had she had glasses from day 1.

I’ve suggested that the school might do a preliminary eye test each year—the one with the E’s.  That’s how it was discovered that I was quite near-sighted.  The test was administered by the teachers every year and in 8th grade I suddenly couldn’t do it.  Anybody know where I can get one of those old E charts?  They’re all done with mirrors and fancy machines now.  But if we had a chart, it could provide the initial indication that further testing is needed.

After the test, done in an office right across the road from the church compound, I thought I’d give the girls a treat, so we went to the small outdoor market where I like to buy my produce from women who eke out a living selling veggies and fruit.  I thought they’d like an orange or a banana.  SFG can’t afford fruit very often.  But no, 2 of them wanted avocado.  Ach! How would they eat an avocado, I thought.  Hmm, the vendor produced a knife and they cut quarters.  OK, why weren’t they eating them.  “Oh, we don’t eat them without salt.”  Salt!!!!  Who puts salt on avocados??  However they had to be eaten b/c students are not permitted take food into the school (to reduce the attraction of rodents and roaches).  So we trotted up to my little house behind the church, where they happily salted the avocados and we were on our way.

These 3 weeks, from August 16 to Sept 5 are called “tuitioning”.  That’s b/c the parents must pay extra for this compulsory time to review previously learned material.  It’s a great system in some ways, particularly for math, science and languages, courses where the material builds on itself.  But sometimes the girls come late or not at all, instead, reporting on Sept 6 for the beginning of the 3rd term.  Such was the case for a girl from Mji Wa Neema who went home (we thought) at the end of the 2nd term for the 2 week break before the tuitioning.  Only she didn’t come back.  No one could contact the family and everyone was concerned about her.  When her mother died several years ago, she was sent out after completing 7th grade to be a house girl.  Somehow Jecinta (sw) learned of it and “rescued” her, bringing her to live in the children’s home.  This is highly unusual, but the girl really wanted to go to school.  Her father was absent from their very rural home and the older brothers didn’t really care about her.   That was all the more reason to worry about her safety.

Jecinta (sw) and Julia (matron) even went to the house, a 2-day trip.  Everyone denied knowing where she was and seeming not too interested.  Jecinta, however, smelled a rat.  So when the girl showed up at the home last night, everyone was quite relieved, but more than a bit peeved.  She had gone to stay somewhere with a female friend, but had worked for a man to get funds for her shopping.  It’s hard to imagine not having money for toothpaste, tp, soap etc, but this is the plight of the girl.  She hadn’t told anyone of her plan, nor where she would be.

I have to say I really lit into her.  Not only was she irresponsible, and even disrespectful to those who have cared for her, let her come to the home, blah, blah, blah!!!  I don’t think this will happened again and I think she didn’t realize the importance of being able to contact her and the necessity of her being in school.  What’s more, her scholarship covers the shopping.  I’m not sure why she didn’t know that.

There are 3 male teachers who smoke.  I can smell it on them, and I’ve talked to them—even cut out a newspaper article about smoking and bladder cancer..  Two of them want very much to quit, but anyone who has ever smoked knows how hard it is.  I started when I was 14 and smoked for 12 years.  The only way I was able to stop was to convince myself that the reason I wasn’t having babies was b/c I smoked.  Every time I thought I couldn’t stand it, I’d ask myself, “Well, what do you want—a cigarette or a baby?”  The answer to that is very clear!  When I told them they were shocked, stunned and aghast to think I had ever smoked (me too) but also impressed.  I told them it really helps to have something like that.  One man has a darling daughter, maybe 2 or 3, of whom he is so proud.  I asked him whether he wanted to see his daughter grow up.  Did he want to know his grand children.  Every time you want a cigarette, think of that.

The other is not married, so I asked him whether there was something that important to him.  He thought for awhile and then said, “I want to be as old as you are and as energetic as you are.”  I felt humbled and almost in tears.

I asked him whether he had any at home and he admitted he had 2. I said, “Throw them in the toilet!”  He looked totally shocked.  If I’d said stuff them in your grandmother’s mouth, he couldn’t have been more stunned.  Cigarettes are bought by the each here, sh 5, (a tad more than $.05), so I handed him sh10 and said, “I am buying your 2 cigarettes, now throw them in the toilet.”  It was funny and we both laughed but I could see that would be a big deal to him.  “I’ll try”, he said.  “Just do it!”, I said in my best Nancy Reagan voice.  That was yesterday.  Today I asked whether he had done it.  He admitted he had smoked one—hadn’t even thought about our conversation, but then he remembered and he did throw out the second one.  And then he thanked me so sincerely for helping him see ways to stick to his decision.  I won’t go into it all, but I had lots of ideas, having done it myself.

He’s such a great guy, a very enthusiastic teacher, who, unfortunately will be leaving SFG to return to school.  He wants to get a master’s in engineering.  My guess is he’ll do engineering for awhile but return to teaching.  You can tell he really loves it.

But in light of his returning to school, I asked him whether he’d like me to show him all the cool things about the unit circle.  “Yes” he said, so I made a really nice one, all color coded and he loved seeing all the patterns and how easy it is to use.  My final threat was that if I smelled smoke, I would take away his unit circle.  That’s bound to do it!!!

Already I am grieving about having to leave.  This has been such a good year.  I’ve been happy, have felt successful in many ways and I do love being here.  This is as much a home to me, as Menlo Park is home.  I have just 10 more days.  I plan to make the most of them.

All for now.

Margo

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