Above: I've been told I'm the first Singaporean to show up on Rusinga Island.
During our 2-week stint WWOOFing in Kenya, we spent our mornings being teaching assistants at Millimani Academy. It's a grand name for what is a 2-classroom structure with a concrete floor, wooden beams, aluminum walls and roof, and chicken wire windows, built on our host Michael Odula's land, further up the hill from his family home. Many kindergarthens in Kenya are community-run and funded, as state funding for education starts only at the primary school level.
Millimani houses 30-40 children (depending on absentee rates) from the neighbourhood, aged between 2 and 7. Some of the kids are orphans -- raised by their grandparents because their parents (who would have been around my age) have died of AIDS. Some orphans have parents -- raised by their grandparents because their young (sometimes single) parents have gone to the cities in search of work.
School starts at 9am, usually a combination of English and Math. English usually involves learning the alphabet, and learning context-specific words (e.g. a lesson on weather involved learning words such as "sunny", "rainy" and etc). Math at this stage is about counting, and addition and subtraction. There's more class participation and leadership than what I remember from my kindergarthen years.
Above: Vivian leads the count; the class choruses. I am where I have always sat all my life in class -- at the back with the tall kids and sometimes troublemakers
Our tasks for the stint weren't set out in any particularly organised fashion. Well. Not at all, really. The kids spoke mostly Luo -- their tribal language -- and were just starting to learn basic English and Swahili. So any kind of involved spoken communication was out. Mostly Babs and I tried not to be too much of a distraction during class, and nudged the kids along during "homework" sessions -- making sure they were following instructions and trying to coach the slower kids.
One terrifying morning my class teacher was absent, so after the other teacher held a combined teaching session, I was left alone to oversee and mark the homework session. And enforce class discipline. I've grown up with teacher stories all my life, but I remain completely mystified at how my mother, Babs's mother and all our teacher-friends manage to do this.
Babs took on the younger class of 2-to-4-year olds. Only the older half of his class had desk space. The "babies" sat on the floor, learning mostly, I imagine, by osmosis. Outside of helping his older kids with homework, Babs's main focus was trying not to tread on the babies with his giant boots.
Recess runs from 10.30am to 11.30am. The kids have a huge amount of open space in front of the school building to run around in. Some of them are constanly climbing nearby trees to pluck and snack on a particular yellow pod. One of them gave me one to try, which I did, much to Babs's horror. It was unpleasantly tart, but hey, it didn't kill me.
When I was in school I played a game called "five-stones" -- kinda like jacks. The "stones" were little stitched bags filled with beans or rice. Here, many of the girls compete intensely on a local version of the game played with real stones. It took me days of watching closely, but by the end of the stint I could follow the game and call them out when they were cheating.
Sometimes the kids decided they haven't had enough class for real, and play out a pretend class. I think Vivian has teaching potential.
Sometimes they just wanna dance.
Sometimes they gather round and do some combination of cuddling up and/or poking at me out of curiosity. This was especially true when I broke out in hives due to a reaction to over-zealous use of insect spray. Averse to any kind of fuss, I got them to count along to how many spots and swells they could find on my arms. They learned some new numbers that day.
At the end of recess each kid is given a large plastic mug of sorghum porridge (made by Mama Odula in the morning and carried in a large bucket up the hill by one of the teachers or Babs). For many of the kids this is their first meal of the day, which means there is ALWAYS vicious pushing and shoving in the queue even though there is always enough to go around. Babs and I act as line bouncers -- spacing out the squished, picking up the pushed down, and pulling into line the dopey drifters. Then the teacher leads them in saying grace, the stuff is doled out from the bucket, and then there is about 15 delicious minutes of complete silence.
Finally there's a last half-hour of singing and dancing to a mix of English and Swahili folk songs. Still not convinced Babs and I add much value here. Possibly just ridiculous entertainment by singing and dancing along -- always a great cause of giggling among the kids.
It's noon. Time to go home. I'm pooped. To all the teachers out there, Respect.
- WWOOFing in Kenya -- The Homestay
- WWOOFing in Kenya -- Afternoons at Badilisha Community Garden
- WWOOFing in Kenya -- Perspectives
- Kenyan Goat Feast