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Monday, March 3, 2014

Times Tables and evenings in Bolgatanga


It all started when I heard a small voice outside my bedroom window one evening. I came outside to receive the most heart-warming letter from 11 year old Wisdom. The letter concluded with an earnest proposition that I could be his big sister, as he has none, and a cute drawing of us both. 

Wisdom is one of my neighbourhood children, who I often play with joining in a game of football or so.  After he had established he was my little brother, his drop by visits increased and I often ended up talking to Wisdom about science, or going through some maths or English. Thus Wisdom became my first ‘student’. 




One evening I had decided to explore my surrounding area and make it to the local Mosque for evening and night time prayers. Baring in mind there are no street lights and just mud pathways which are barely recognisable to the non-familiarised visitor; I was reliant purely on my little phone light and the call to prayer as my sense of direction, under the dark night sky.  Already apprehensive as to what I would face at the Mosque (whether the culture would be just a small male community present at that time or so), I became yet more apprehensive when I thought I could hear footsteps approaching me. To my relief two young children popped out giggling and then led me all the way to the Mosque.



The Mosque itself was lovely, another typically humble yet charming local Mosque structure. Inside was an open and friendly atmosphere like any other Mosque- children running around playing, gracious old ladies, lovingly greeting you, toddlers happily using you as a climbing frame whilst praying etc.  So, now I had to think about how on earth I was going to make it back home. I stepped outside uncertainly, to find a group of children waiting for me under the instructions ‘Musa said to take you back home’, Musa being one of the little boys who had initially led me there! And so, I gained my second two ‘students’ Mubarak and Salifu.

A silly 'selfie'


Every evening Wisdom walked me to the Mosque, and Mubarak and Salifu walked me back. The three of us then had a Maths, Science and English lesson.  My class of three soon expanded to around twenty children, aged 6-14. To all my friends studying PGCE’s and teaching, I now understand your troubles. Lesson planning is necessary and hard! Kids are exhausting, and I need to be aware of each individual progress. Not to mention marking piles of worksheets, that I sometimes have to create by hand.  Managing the class was challenging too, as I was seen as a friend more than a teacher- but I have somehow managed to develop a ‘scary’ disciplined side. 

Unclear phone photo- one evenings walk home from the Mosque, Wisdom, Mubarak, Salifu and Mubaraks younger brother Ibrahim

Home work!


 After a whole week of maths, times tables classes and tests we had a science class night. They acted out the Sun and planets and learnt about space, orbits, time, seasons, gravity, energy, food chains and anything else my scientific brain branched out and taught them about (as from this blog it can be seen my mind goes off on tangents). I was speaking passionately and having to jump around a fair bit to act out various concepts- it was like I was telling them interesting stories, and they were fascinated, answering all questions correctly that I asked after. I feel quite proud of them when they answer questions correctly.

The children are very smart but also very cheeky. Though I am exhausted by that time (especially if it is a day when I have been on cooking duty earlier or for the past two weeks had a cold) I cannot help but to greet my class with enthusiasm and stay outside, making effort with each kid as much as it takes. This is not because I feel am doing anything great, but it’s due to the moving determination these kids express to want to learn.



When they see me walking up the street they run up to me and asking me, ‘will you teach us tonight’, ‘tonight we should come to learn’, ‘have you marked my work’, ‘can you check my homework before class’.. Every evening ‘my’ children turn up to my door with broken pencils, ripped clothes and torn slippers, happily holding their note pads. They excitedly ask me for more and more work, and ask me to test them. Nothing stops them and nothing gives them an excuse to ask to go home- a rainy storm or even no electricity/lights. Excuses that as far as I recall, at my primary and secondary schools in East Yorkshire, would have been more than enough for us to try getting out of doing some work. 





The other night the electricity was cut off and it was pitch black- I grabbed a torch and my phone, expecting the children to get out of doing their work and running home, but to my surprise I was touched by their refreshing attitude, hearing comments like ‘I beg you shine the light here so I can complete my work’. Not only did they collect in corners in the dark continuing their work, but like after every lesson they came and demanded I gave them home work. 




They often chat to me about their lives and responsibilities, sometimes they invite me to come and feed their chickens with them, or they help me carry a bucket of water (which I think they have super strength powers carrying on their head). I beam when I listen to their advice, about how ‘it doesn’t matter if people are not nice, God loves you’. When they see me walking up the street with bags they leave their important game of football and run up to me trying to take my bags shouting ‘Zainab, Zainab let me help you’- the other day Godfred, Lambet and Ghafuru ran up insisting to carry my hand bag and a small bag (the three of them probably reach just above my knees)!

To an outside eye they may look like a group of cheeky, ‘hyper’ kids but I am happy I have got to know them for the beautiful minds that they are. 







 

 

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