Posted by: kam6761 | March 30, 2008

It was the Best of Times, It was the Worst of Times

So things here in Omungwelume have been going pretty well, with a few big exceptions. I suppose I should start with the sad stuff first, so that the blog can end on a happy note.

A couple of weeks ago some workers from the Ministry of Education stopped by to help us compile our “Orphans and Vulnerable Children” list. Out of 500 children at the school, 200 of them were on the list. It makes me sick to think about and Daniel has had to deal with several of my random crying fits recently. My principal (who I am, with time, learning is incredibly lazy and not so wonderful) had the brilliant idea that we should categorize the learners into “more need” and “less need.” This would make sense if someone took the time to do a thorough assessment of each learner’s needs, but the principal based it on arbitrary things like whether or not a learner had a school uniform. Many learners at my school wear tattered clothing, with tears and stains, and some don’t wear a uniform at all. Not wearing the uniform is a clear indication of a learner’s poverty, and it turns out that last year the previous volunteers in Omungwelume fundraised money to buy the impoverished learners uniforms. This makes marking a learner as “less need” for having a school uniform ridiculous, because Mr. Dan (the previous volunteer) is the one who bought them. Looking at the list made my heart ache, especially when looking at the list of my learners. I was aware that some of my learners had lost their parents, but I had no idea how extensive the problem was. As I get to know my learners, and I ask what their parents do, it is so common for them to respond, “My mother is die and my father…” or vice versa. I wish I had access to more detailed family histories or information about my learners, because I feel like it could explain so much about their academic performance.

After the list of orphans was compiled, the Ministry requested the names of the most vulnerable learners. This doesn’t necessarily mean orphans, but rather learners who are incredibly poor or neglected. I was asked to submit the list of the most susceptible learners in my class register class (essentially my “homeroom” class). I found this request ridiculous for multiple reasons. For one thing, I see these kids for 15 minutes each morning (and usually not even that, because the learners are constantly late to school) and one period a week, making it difficult for me to really acquaint myself with all of them. On top of the limited time I spend with them, the language barrier is impenetrable. Even the brightest learners can only understand the simplest expressions, which is incredibly hard to believe considering the language that all their classes should be taught in is English. I can barely get them to properly answer “How are you?” let alone “Have your parents passed away? What is your home environment like?” Lastly, and most importantly, I didn’t understand how one would go about identifying who is most neglected without asking really offensive and embarrassing questions. I tried to shirk off this duty by explaining that the language barrier would make it difficult to identify the learners, but my HOD (head of department) insisted that I give her several names. She escorted me to the classroom and the next few minutes were absolutely excruciating. In front of the entire class, she asked the orphans to stand. She then barraged them with questions about the quality of their homes, diet, and even school uniforms… in front of everyone in the class. And, to ensure that she was thorough, she asked me to help her identify the learners who were not orphans but looked neglected. This led to comments like, “He looks like he does not shower,” and “Look at how old and dirty her uniform is,” which obviously made me feel incredibly uncomfortable. I would have felt a little reassured if this entire conversation had been in English (which most of them don’t understand), but there was another teacher “helping” us, so the comments were made in Oshikwinyama as well. I ended up leaving the room in tears when my HOD demanded a reason for a learner’s bare feet. Wilhelm, the boy she was bombarding with questions, is one of the sweetest boys in the class. He is timid and one of my only learners that is always on time to school, and the look of embarrassment on his face absolutely crushed me. He just stood there, unable to offer an excuse for not having shoes, and I could see the tears welling up in his eyes. I know the Ministry had noble intentions (they are offering some financial aid to the most vulnerable learners), but I wish they had given better instructions regarding how those learners be identified.

On a terrible but not so depressing note, we’re still dealing with creepy crawlies. I spent this morning pouring out all of our Kraft Macaroni and Cheese boxes, salvaging what I could and killing all the bugs I found along the way. I wish I could report that the death count was not high, but it wasn’t so. There were critters in each box, but at least the bug communities promoted diversity. There were many varieties of critters in the boxes, ranging from tiny white insects that seem to like cardboard to little ants to little worms that wriggled about slowly as Dan crushed them to death. Yes, folks, that’s right—little worms. What we buy at the grocery store is now largely determined by how well it will keep bugs out. I have grown to love single serving packets and wish that ALL food was available in that form. All of our food is now kept in Ziploc bags, which seems to work quite well, so I’m hoping the bug population will decrease with time.

Today I was finally able to clean the house a bit, which I had been unable to do for the past two weeks because our village had a “water crisis.” I’m still not quite sure what happened, but our water was out for two weeks (luckily we were on vacation for 5 of those days!), and when it returned it was incredibly murky. It remained this way for several days, but has now returned to the transparent state that water should be. Daniel and I are remaining cautious, boiling and filtering to ensure that we don’t get any crazy diseases. I am trying to be a bit more cautious than usual because there is a cholera “outbreak” in the North (only a few cases have been reported in our region, and it seems to be due to drinking well water, which we don’t do)—better safe than sorry, right?

But anyway, I spent the morning cleaning. First I battled the bugs, and then I moved on to scrubbing the kitchen. My learner/favourite child that frequents our house, Paulina, came over and insisted on helping me clean. She is over almost every day and I absolutely love her. She is inquisitive and always eager to help, not to mention one of my brightest learners that always does her homework (in fact, I often assign my learners to write 3 sentences and she’ll write 7 or 8!). She mopped almost the entire house, despite my constant requests that she do something more kid-like such as colouring. I don’t know if we have an extremely unusual set of kids that come over, but they love cleaning. Several weeks ago I came home to nearly fifteen children in my yard, with shovels and rakes and hoes, cleaning my yard. Daniel was already at home and was just as confused as I was. Meameno (one of our most frequent visitors) ends each visit with a “Give me a broom,” and then she goes about sweeping the entire perimeter of our house. Today Daniel went outside to throw away several bags of trash, and the kids literally fought over who got to help him carry it to the trash. As you can imagine, these children are wonderful.

And to add to the list of things that make these children incredibly special, they absolutely love playing school. A few weeks ago Daniel and I were a bit tired of running around the yard for several hours a day, so Daniel decided to throw a few math problems out at them. What ensued was mind-boggling. The kids were so excited and after they solved a few problems verbally they literally begged us to give them a test. We’ve gotten some really fun pictures and videos, including this picture of the boys in the midst of their math test. They are (from front to back) Imagine, Makonjo, Petrus, and Hangula.

 Math Test!


Since that discovery, I have spent countless hours creating educational games out of rubbish (egg cartons, juice boxes, etc.) and the kids absolutely love it. We have math games, English games, and even simple matching games for the younger kids.

Speaking of rubbish games, I think it’s about time I get back to creating some! My latest creation is a Connect Four board made from cardboard and bottlecaps, and Daniel is working on a Battleship spinoff called “Etosha,” that is the same thing except with safari animals instead of ships. We’re going to debut them tomorrow, so I’ll keep you updated on how they’re received!


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