It has now been a week since we started the Pre-school Feeding program. We are up to 70 kids who have registered. The program has been going well. Sarah seems very at ease teaching the kids. She brings a lot from her own experiences. In the mornings, before porridge, she will often lead the kids in repeating after her the 7 days of the week, the 12 months of the year and the alphabet. The children seem to love repeating what is said. One of the activities they do with the kids is to sing “I sit, I sit, I sit” or “I run, I run, I run” and the teacher does the action and the kids shout back and mirror her actions.
The porridge breakfast is usually ready shortly before 10am. When the kids are served, everything becomes so quiet. They all sit, with a bowl next to them and slowly spoon porridge in their mouths. Following breakfast, they wash their hands and have some free play time. We brought chalk for them to draw on the ground, some toys for active play and a book of letter s for others to sit and look at. They love to see you draw on the ground and will just continue to hand you their piece of chalk so you can draw something for them.
After free play the kids are gathered again and sit to play a listening game. The teachers handbook on phonemic awareness gave several suggestions so I have coached Sarah in leading some of them. Then the kids are taught a letter of the day. We brought a full alphabet that is taped on the wall every morning so the kids can see the letter they are learning. Sarah mentioned to Rodrick when we first showed her the items we brought that she felt privileged to be able to teach with these items. She didn’t know of any pre-school or primary school that was so lucky. To put things in context, I bought those letter posters and some little children’s ABC books for no more than $20.00 at the Dollarama back home. Very little goes a long way here!
After introducing the letter of the day, I have coached Sarah to lead the children in a letter game. I bought a Bananorama game that is similar to scrabble with letters on little squares. The game consists of 6 children being handed different letter, one of the children gets the letter of the day. Then the children are all asked to stand up and disperse in the room. They must go to up to the six children who have the letters and ask them to see the letter. They must figure out who has the letter of the day. A few minutes pass and the children are gathered all together and sit down but the six children stand at the front and one by one the teacher asks if this was the student with the letter of the day until they have guessed the right student and he/she shows their letter again to everyone. We have only done this game once so far and the children and Sarah had a more difficult time grasping the concept. What I am learning though is repetition, repetition. Things do not sink in on the first attempt.
It is exciting to see the children so energetic and smiley. Even the little ones haven’t been crying as much anymore. I think we are all learning a lot through this and adjusting as we go. The 1 ½ to 2 year olds will probably not stay for the lesson after lunch as they are often just crying. Agnes, the assistant teacher who is part of the village has been great at taking the little ones under her wing. Meg has also really liked taking care of the little ones, picking them up when they cry and letting them fall asleep in her arms.
We have three more days at the Pre-School program, I will be sorry to leave but I really feel like we are leaving the kids in good hands. The mothers in the community are volunteering to prepare the porridge and to wash up after the meal. Agnes and Sarah seem to have everything under control, and all the equipment is bought and a year’s worth of maize and soy to make the porridge is bought will be stored safely in a locked house in the community. What’s left now is to continue supporting and coaching Sarah with keeping a structure to the program, using the resources (teacher’s manual) and reminder the kids to go to the bathroom in the one designated area (yes, this unfortunately can’t be assumed as general knowledge, the ground is a free for all).
Yesterday I typed on computer all the information we gathered about the kids when they registered. We hope to look this over in more details and maybe target certain kids who could be sponsored. One girl named Catherine is HIV positive, the father has died and the family struggles to get support or medication for her. Others are part of a single parent household or may have both parents but the parents are unable to find enough work and can’t manage to find clothes. Others have health issues such as persistent fever or persistent stomach aches. We don’t have the means to get these kids seen by a doctor right now and the government hospitals don’t even have any supplies to be able to test for Malaria. Almost every registration we took mentioned Malaria as a known illness of the child. We will be looking into ways to address the health issues of these children. “If I had a million dollars” as the Bare Naked Ladies sing.
I am encouraged by the program and Rodrick seems to be too. I think we have both learned a lot from the previous Feeding program he started while at Scripture Union and we have gone into this knowing a lot already thanks to that experience. I think we are starting a solid program. Sarah will be able to keep us updated as well on the progress of everything. Eventually we will want to hire more teachers as the ratio 1-35,40 kids is pretty outrageous. Until then, Sarah and Agnes will hopefully feel everyone’s support. Courageous women they are!