Monday, February 25, 2013
I want to be a GREAT teacher!
This past Friday, Hannah Schaap, Becca Reed, and I had the opportunity to visit Rosslyn Academy Nairobi, Kenya. Rosslyn is a Christian international school that provides an international pre-K-12 education. I believe they are located about 10K outside of Nairobi, and they have a beautiful 40-acre campus. When you first drive through the gate, it looks like paradise! The campus is overflowing with beautiful landscape, flowers, and intriguing architecture. All of the buildings have a curve to them and the library is shaped like a circle. I felt like I was in the most beautiful college setting I have ever been in, and this is just a school for pre-K-12.
The students do not live on campus, but many teachers and staff do. There are over 50 nationalities represented at Rosslyn, and I have never really experienced so much diversity in one place. Rosslyn is a mission based school. All of their teachers have a firm relationship with Christ and that was evident in the way they taught and interacted with their students.
The academic excellence at this school is unreal. I was almost in tears observing how well behaved the children were and watching the teachers work in their element. It was breathtaking. One teacher explained it to us saying, "This is a teacher's heaven. The kids want to learn." Kids are still kids no matter where you teach, but these teachers seem to be doing everything right, and I did not hear one teacher or staff have to discipline a child for talking in class or not focusing on the task in front of them. With great teachers, comes great students, I suppose.
First, we all took a tour of the amazing campus, and then Hannah and I went to a fourth grade classroom to observe. The students are reading Mr. Popper's Penguins and they were going through each chapter summarizing it into a word or phrase. It was a great review and refresher for many of the students, I'm sure.
Then we headed over to 2nd grade. This was my favorite part of the day. In 2nd grade the students were learning about dinosaurs. There were probably only 2 or 3 kids who were from the same place. Diversity at its finest. The classroom was huge, colorful, and even had a sweet reading loft above us. We all sat on a carpet in a circle while the teacher led a discussion about dinosaurs and what we know about them. The students all participated and were fully engaged the whole time. Then we read 2 stories about dinosaurs and they had to determine whether they were fiction or non-fiction. These 2nd graders really grasped concepts in ways I have never noticed in children before.
I learned two fun teaching techniques from this 2nd grade teacher as well...When she is reading and claps, the students say the next word (guaranteeing that they are focused on the reading), and when she stops reading and counts to three, the students start reading aloud together. I thought this was so clever and a good way to handle classroom management in a setting that would otherwise be hectic. Shoot, if I was in second grade and was sitting on a rug with my friends, there is no way I would have been so engaged as these students were. It was very encouraging to see.
We headed over to pre-K and got to play with the kids and help them draw pictures of things that move mysteriously...like wind or the sun. We know they are moving but we can't really see them move or know why they do. The fact that preschoolers grasped that concept was mind-boggling to me. Yes, I did see boys picking noses and girls being giggly (kids are still kids) but over all, this classroom was so well organized and the kids were so cute and well behaved.
After lunch we went to senior seminar. This is the coolest class ever! Senior seminar is a course that seniors take (obviously) and they research a topic of choice (illegal immigrants, gorilla art, gender roles, etc.) and write a 10 page essay as well as present a 30 minute presentation with media used. Talking to the seniors about their project ideas and progress on them was so neat. If I had been in this class I would have picked the easiest topic and rushed through it. These students picked very complex ideas and were putting forth a lot of effort into their work.
Finally, before we debriefed our day with some staff members (which was basically us applauding the school in every aspect and encouraging the superintendent about how great his school is), we were able to observe an 8th grade English course, which was taught by a fellow Chicagoan who had a nephew and niece at Trinity Christian College. He was such a 'hip' teacher and you could really tell how comfortable the students were in his class. They had just finished up learning slang terms and they wrote songs and raps including their vocab. We were able to see the students fearlessly get up in front of their peers and present their songs.
I was going into this day expecting something much different, and I was truly blown away. I had no clue that schools like this existed! I know that this is not the only school running in this way but, if this standard of education works why aren't more schools jumping on the band wagon and raising their standards? It is sad that many good teachers are being held captive by the 'system.' I know there are many GREAT teachers everywhere, and I have been lucky enough to observe one last semester. Also, I have had many great teachers in the past and I am sure to have many more to come. I guess just seeing a school so saturated with them was exciting to me.
Every technique or strategy of teaching that I have been taught was implemented at Rosslyn in the way that it should be implemented. It is sad that in some schools you only ever see teachers teach the way these ones did on days that they were being observed. I am really hoping to student teach in an international school like this and to be able to learn from such amazing teachers.
Overall, this was the best observation experience I have ever had in one visit. For me, it was such a motivation to become the best teacher I can be and it also opened my eyes about international schools and for the first time ever I was glad that I am going to be certified for elementary education as well as special education. Although special education is my passion, this was the first time I was able to vision myself teaching in a general education classroom. I also know how badly Hannah needed this day to encourage and refresh her. I know that I will remember this day for the rest of my life. It was the day I realized that I really do want to be a teacher! And a great one at that!
I am already seeing how much my mind set has changed and how difficult it is going to be for me to adjust back to the American way of life and thinking. Actually, I hope that I never do adjust back. I want to be forever changed because of the things I have seen and experienced during this time in Kenya.
Monday, February 18, 2013
Two Fridays ago I was able to observe Hannah Schaap student-teach at Daystar Mulandi Primary School. I say student-teach because that is what Hannah was told she was going to be doing. In reality, she is the teacher. Mulandi is a very new school and is going through the transition of a private school to public one. Some of the teachers are paid by the government, but many are paid by parents (or should I say not paid by parents), which is why many teachers just do not show up.
For the eight different grade levels/classrooms, there are usually only about 4 or 5 teachers who actually show up each day to teach. Hannah's classroom is shared between grades 3 and 4 with only a tin wall dividing them. Watching her teach has really inspired me. She was completely thrown into a new environment with barely any help or materials to work with and she has truly thrived! She even talks with a Kenyan accent to make it easier for her students to understand her. She is putting time and effort into their learning and truly cares about their success. They especially love it when she teaches them some sign language (gestures) and I love hearing all of her stories and seeing pictures of their work. I'm sure Hannah will be able to see great progress in some of their work over her weeks of teaching there.
I really love the conversations Hannah and I have about teaching opportunities and how we both never truly understood the education system and its challenges until being here. Even just yesterday Hannah's student teaching placement was at risk because the public school system in Kenya was going to go on strike (a fairly regular thing here.) God is SO good though. Right when she thought she could lose her job she was able to meet a woman named 'Mama' Joy from Red Rhino Children's Home down the road from her school. About 11 children from Red Rhino attend Mulandi, and Hannah was able to go and visit the home after school one day last week. Then, on Sunday we were invited back to visit again.
David, the man who began Red Rhino, offered Hannah a position. There is a one-room school house on Red Rhino's land that the children used to use for class so he let Hannah know that if the strike happens that she can teach the kids from Red Rhino (11 of which already attend the school she was placed at) in the school room. They are an official NGO and have all the paperwork she would need. How sweet is that? God truly provides when we need him to. Thankfully the strike did not happen and the children of Kenya are in school today! Still, that is an awesome testimony of God's provision.
Going to Red Rhino was such an awesome experience. We were able to meet David (the man who started the home), play and dance with the children, eat lunch with Joshua and Michael (two boys around 8 yrs old who were called our hosts/gentlemen all day haha), tour the boy’s house (they are phenomenal!) and have chocolate cupcakes and pineapple sweets to celebrate a girl’s birthday. The children are so loved there and well taken care of. I wanted to take them all home with me, but knowing how well off they are there really opened my eyes about a lot of things.
On Friday, Becca and I are getting on a bus at 5 am to go into town on the opposite side of Nairobi to observe in a Christian school. We will not get back until around dinner...which realistically means that we won't be back until 7 or 8 pm. Kenyan time. I'm still adjusting. I am really excited to be able to see this school though!
I am also looking forward to hopefully being able to visit an orphanage in Kibera (the largest urban slum in Africa) and to visit an institutionalized orphanage for children with special needs. Basically, I just want as much exposure as possible. It is heart breaking but heartwarming and hopeful at the same time. Hope. This word has never meant so much to me before.
Monday, February 18, 2013
Rendille Days 2-3
After one of the most sleepless nights of this trip so far, we woke up to a cool breeze, chai tea, and some amazing pancakes. By amazing, I mean AMAZING! We sprinkled some sugar on them for an extra sweet treat. I'm sitting here drooling thinking about them. Then, Jeff let us know that after much searching and asking around, he has located some camels for us to see. The plan is to take a drive through the desert to one of the most beautiful Rendille villages, and that among the camels we will see on the way, we will be taking a half hour hike to a natural pool/waterfall.
Pancakes from heaven
First, we go to church! Church was very interesting. We were able to meet 3 girls who had just moved to Korr for the year to be school teachers. They were very inspiring. The sermon was given by a missionary who has been living in Korr for about 30 years I believe. The sermon was very westernized and was about the upcoming March elections. The music was fantastic and my favorite part was watching Shemi (Asaaska's brother) play the keyboard while a man with Down Syndrome broke out in some dance moves next to him!
Shemi and his dancing friend
We got on the bus and began our trek to find the camels. Taking this ride in the desert to our location made me realize how remote this part of Kenya really is and how impressive it is that the people Rendille thrive here. (The Rendille are a semi-nomadic tribe who are camel herders and believe in the god Waaq). Along the way, we saw many people herding their goats, a herd of camels, a herd of baby camels, many villages, and we even picked up a woman who was walking back to her village with water from Korr (a 20 kilometer walk that she makes every day). Rendille people rarely ever complain...if I was in this woman's shoes, I would really struggle with that one.
Woman who walks 20 Kilometers everyday for water
Chilling with the camels
The drive was breathtaking but nothing compares to the waterfall. It was magnificent. It was so smooth that we used it as a water slide and the pool at the bottom was perfect for swimming in. If that isn't cool enough on its own, three camels and some cows showed up to join the fun! Camels make the silliest noises--almost like a cow mooing...but more like a cow dying.
Natural water slide!
Water fall slide!
Pool with the camels starting to join us!
On the way back to Korr, we stopped for some good old-fashioned bird hunting, and we picked up fire wood for a bonfire. I was also able to stop by one of our new friend's house to try and see his sister. His name is Marmellow, and he doesn't get to stop by home often. I was able to meet his little sisters and his older sister's mother-in-law. She was very kind and wanted me to take her picture. She said that she would have cooked me a meal had she known that I was coming. She seemed very flattered that I was there. She also sold me one of her hand-woven baskets for 80 bob (less than a dollar). What a steal! Seriously though, I felt like I was stealing. I should have offered her more, but I didn’t want to be that mzungu (white person) who insulted such a sweet lady.
Marmellow’s sister’s mother-in-law and his sister
Marmellow with his sister holding the woven basket his sister’s mother-in-law sold to me
Awesome lady who filled up the land cruiser with firewood
That night we ate the goats that were slaughtered for us. They were delicious. They even served the intestine, which is a delicacy among the Rendille. There was also a tomato and onion dish that I ate WAY too much of. I cannot get enough of vegetables here. I crave veggies nonstop. What I would do for some Chipotle or a salad right now...not to say I haven't enjoyed the food here. I have. It's amazing, I will miss it when I'm in the States again...but you always want what you can't have right?
Also, I cannot wait to learn how to make “chipati” (amazing tortilla like things), “mandazi” (sweet puffy bread...kinda like an unfilled fried donut), and “nyama choma” (roasted goat meat) to make for you all when I get back. I'm not sure where I will get the goat though. I will also be making you Daystar's version of spaghetti and meat balls. I love it! It is spaghetti with fresh cilantro and tomato cut up and then a thin meat sauce with potatoes on top. It is the BEST!
After dinner, warriors from a surrounding village came to join us and dance. Tribal dancing is so cool to watch in person let alone take part in. I had such a good time. I usually am a horrible dancer, but I'd like to think that I picked up traditional Rendille dance moves fairly quickly. It was so fun! I couldn't stop. The dancing is a sort of head bob, jumping up and down, and walking in a circle dance. I will just have to show you in person when I get back.
I slept like a baby that night. The desert breeze is so cool and refreshing at night. The next morning we ate amazing pancakes again and scrambled ostrich egg. One egg fed our whole group! We also burned and ate natural chewing gum and used thorns as toothpicks and a certain kind of stick as toothbrushes. Then we went into town to buy sandals made out of old car tires. The shoes were just pieces of tires held together by some nails poking out the bottom. The fitting of the shoes was a much longer process than we thought. Once the shoe maker adjusted the straps and flattened the nails sticking out the bottom, we were on our way!
Chewing gum being burned
My new shoes
We said our goodbyes and got back on our charter planes and flew back to Nairobi. On the way home, our pilot flew very low and took us by some awesome waterfalls embedded in the mountain sides. It was breathtaking. One cool thing about going back to Daystar after this weekend away was that for the first time for many of us it felt like home. The familiarity was something we looked forward to and I can say that we feel a sense of belonging and community here in Athi River.
See you next time, Korr!
Tuesday, February 12, 2013
Wake up. Eat a fresh mango and mandazi. Get on the bus. Commence adventure.
When we arrived at the small airport, we quickly went through security, and met our pilots (a young Cornerstone graduate and another man who are both missionary pilots for AIM. Their stories of how they started in aviation ministry were awesome! They were great pilots. Then we boarded our charter planes. A five-seater and a 13-seater. Crazy!
Take off. WOW. Kenya is amazing from the ground, but even more so from the sky where you can see the magnitude of God's creation and his beauty declared from the amazing architecture, magnificent mountain ranges, wonderful water falls, dry desert, and various villages. (Take that for alliteration). Even seeing Kibera (the largest urban slum in Africa) from the air made it that more real to me how many people there are in the world and made me that much more excited and maybe even anxious about having the opportunities to see things in real life that others only are able to see on T.V. or online. With knowledge comes great responsibility.
Midway through our flight we heard an announcement that the five-seater plane was experiencing technical difficulty. I immediately began praying. I knew that it wasn't too big of a deal, but we did have to land to fix the problem. What could have been intended for evil, God intended for good. We were able to land at Lewa airstrip in the middle of what seemed like nowhere. Lewa is a super fancy, expensive, destination game resort. Royals William and Kate were engaged here. We were able to view this place for free! Plus, they had a western toilet. It was the coolest bathroom I've been in, in Africa...and the last I would see for 2 1/2 days. Haha. The 13-seater landed first and we were able to see the 5-seater land and almost take out about 5 or so zebra. I am so glad we did not have zebra for lunch that day.
After we landed in Korr (the village we stayed in for the weekend), we were taken to our huts, and fed an amazing lunch of the best rice I've ever tasted, goat meat, and cabbage. The food here is to die for. Then after getting settled, we met two women who showed us rope throwing which is a tradition among Rendille people. By throwing their ropes they were able to tell us that Kyle would be married this year, Hannah would have a teaching job, and that our program director (Jeff) and his wife (Asaska, who is from Korr) will have many children. Asaska explained to us that the rope throwers truly believe that what they predict will happen and that most of the time it does. They believe that if you think hard enough that something will happen, it will. Very fascinating. Then we heard Rendille stories that are passed down orally through generations.
Welcome to Korr!
Rendille rope throwers.
Rope thrower’s shoes that are made of old tires.
Goat meat lunch! YUMM!
Side note: Korr is a town in Rendille-land that Asaska's grandfather began. It has wells for water and it is very modernized compared to the rest of the nine clans surrounding Korr. Korr has schools, Christian churches, missionaries, electricity, small shops, etc. We stayed at Asaska's family’s house in the huts made for when people visit. They were absolutely beautiful. We even had our own bathroom (cement hole in an outhouse) and shower (a small room where you take a shower with a bucket). That may sound strange to most people, but honestly, it was really clean and very nice. Rendille people know how to host. Not to even mention how great the food was and how hospitable everyone we met were. Asaska even provided all of us with dresses for the women and kikoys (basically skirts/wraps) for the men. They were beautiful! We wore them almost the whole time we were there because they were so cool (temperature & style wise).
After that, we traveled to Wiam village (which was about 2ish miles away by foot). As we walked into the village the first child I saw happened to have Down Syndrome. I was a bit speechless at first. I was so excited to get to experience this village and even more excited to meet this girl (since I am a special education major). I immediately tried to communicate with her and she understood "How are you?" and responded "Fine." She could also speak some Rendille although it was obvious that she repeated herself a lot and talked very shyly. I asked our translator her name, and I forget what it is but I remember it means "one who brings rain." Her smile was contagious. I asked what grade she was in and the translator explained to me "She is not 100% normal and is still in nursery." I tried to explain that she has Down Syndrome, but I don't think that phrase meant anything to him. I asked what will become of her if she does not ever graduate nursery? Will she be married off? Will she be circumcised? (98% of Rendille women are circumcised the night of their wedding). I had so many questions and was given no definite answers.
Walking to Wiam!
Children like this girl with Down Syndrome, who I met in the middle of the Kaisut Desert, are the reason why I want to teach special needs children in places like this. To not only bring more hope, joy, and love to these children's lives, but to give them dignity and to educate communities about these exceptional people. This girl is lucky. She is taken care of, loved, and at least gets to go to school. I have heard many stories of children who are not so lucky though...beaten because they are thought to be demon possessed or burdens to their families. If I can make a change in just one of those children's lives, I will be overjoyed.
Once the sun set over the mountain, it cooled down considerably and the men in our group were able to enter the Nabo (basically it looks like a large circle of rocks) for prayer. Women are not allowed to enter. It was explained to me by a translator that Rendille people are a completely male democratic society with no leader, only elders, and the women are not allowed to talk to men other than their husband. So while we girls waited for prayer to end, we sat outside some huts listening to the hushed sound of chanting, and we watched the stars.
I have never seen so many stars in my entire life. One interesting thing in Africa is that the big dipper is upside down here. Fascinating. Then, some of us were able to enter a hut and learn about the home, see cookware handmade out of roots & gourds, and sit on camel skin rugs. Camels are sacred to the Rendille people. Finally, we had the chance to milk a goat. I tried and tried with no success. In fact, the goat milked me...I tried to milk that poor goat so long that when someone finally took over for me, milk squirted all over my hands. Haha.
When we arrived back at Korr we ate dinner and sat out star gazing, singing, and telling stories until very late. That night, it was SO windy and we realized that our hut's door would not shut. It was very loud and Leah and I just decided it would be better to just stay up and chat all night because neither of us was going to sleep anytime soon.
Monday, February 4, 2013
In my African Culture class today our lecturer said two significant things that really hit home for me as an American:
"If you want to jeopardize your life in Africa, you raise a point against the government." –Chiko.
We are so blessed to have a democratic government that protects our rights- especially freedom of speech and expression.
"There are people in this country who do not know where to get a single penny, but still live economically." -Chiko
I have noticed after seeing how other people live and trying things like washing my laundry by hand, taking short, cold showers, having less technology, and eating rice at almost every meal, just how materialistic Americans are and how comfortable we are in our little bubbles and ways of life. Just because we were taught to live life one way, does not make it the only way or an economical way.
I feel so at home here. Especially when I'm interacting with the children I have met so far. Their smiles capture my heart, and their fascination and curiosity make me feel not so alone when everything around me is so new. Seeing Kenyan culture through a child-like point of view is something I really appreciate, and it has helped me realize how much is out there for me to learn.
On our first trip to downtown Nairobi, we were walking through a park by a pond and out of nowhere two kids walked right up to Luke and joined our group. We paused and decided that this shady spot by the pond was the perfect spot for a group picture and to interact with these kids. Tyler took pictures of them and showed them his camera as they beamed with smiles, Jake taught them high-fives, and Paige wooed them over with candy. It is absolutely a moment I will not forget. There was also another boy who was probably around 10 who threw bread crumbs in the pond for Jake and I so that we could see the Tilapia fish jump around.
Then as we moved on to our next destination, we saw a little boy (about 4 years old?) carrying his baby sister down the sidewalk. It broke my heart. How blessed am I that my mom was able to stay at home with me or pay for babysitters, when this little boy- who was barely old enough to talk- appears to be this little girls caregiver during the day? I'm not sure if their parents were out working or if they are even alive, but seeing this little boy acting as an adult truly changed my perspective on how blessed I am and what things like poverty, human deprivation, and oppression mean.
On Friday, most of us did not have classes so we decided to venture down the road to get fresh smoothies (for about 50 US cents) and to explore the shops and meet some people. We quickly learned that a lot of the people living on this road do not speak English well or have very thick accents. We came across a group of about 6 children (all under age 5) playing and tried to say hello. They were frightened of us and cowered behind their parents. Their parents laughed and tried to make them say hello. Their efforts didn't work. We walked on and when we turned around to head back we knew we would see these children again. Paige got out her candy (quite the ice breaker) and we arrived by their home again. This time, a little girl came running into my arms and hugged my neck tightly and started playing with my glasses. Paige gave out Tootsie Rolls and the oldest of the kids kept saying "Choc-o-late." It was adorable. My heart instantly melted. We gave high-fives and laughed, and I just held on to that little girl and she rested her head on my shoulder. When it was time to leave, she pouted and her parents thought it was hilarious! I hope to see them again soon.
After church this Sunday, Professor Jeff Dekock invited our group to his apartment in Nairobi for hotdogs, hamburgers, potato wedges, fruit, pop, and this amazing salsa-like dish that you top your meats with. It was phenomenal. We played games, ate WAY too much food, hung out with his daughter and family and chatted about our experiences as well as the big weekend we have coming up. We are being blessed with the opportunity to go and visit Jeff's wife's village. Jeff's wife is from the Rendille tribe who are semi-nomadic camel herders. The Rendille village is located in Northern Kenya, and we will be there from Saturday morning until Monday morning. Jeff has informed us that it will be life changing and that not very many Africans, let alone Americans, get the opportunity to go and spend time with these people, learning about their culture. I am stoked to say the least. Also, Jeff's wife has made us each a traditional Rendille outfit (dresses for the girls, wraps for the boys).
Before we had arrived at Jeff's apartment, we went to visit the Arboretum. It was so beautiful and we saw a monkey, huge bamboo plants, and my favorite...kids! Jake held a little boy almost the whole time and impressed the rest with his back flips and juggling skills, Tyler joined in on hide and seek, Paige rocked a little baby boy to sleep until his mom came back, and I played games with about 10 or so kids for what seemed like hours. When I ran out of games to teach them, they taught me.
We have also done other fun things like:
Eat goat meat
Low & High Ropes Courses
See monkeys all over campus
Learn how to do laundry
I can't wait to have my first full week of classes under my belt and I am really looking forward to this upcoming weekend. Blessings from Kenya!