Geography in full colour

August 21, 2010

I have come to know and really like the junior geography teacher at Himarwa.  His name is Lasco Sachuma.  He has been teaching for only a few years but it was obvious to me that he had a real desire for his learners to succeed and for his already successful teaching practice to progress.  He had risen against all odds as a child – having never met his father and losing his mother in grade 10.  He was then in charge of his two younger siblings with the help of an uncle.  They squeaked out a very difficult and  basic living but all worked VERY hard, and each succeeded in their grade 12 years.  Lasco went on to become a teacher; the next sibling won a scholarship to Cuba, and the youngest is off next year on a full scholarship to Russia.

I asked him what the next unit was that he’d be teaching in his grade 10 class.  Grade 10 is a very important year, because the national exams must be passed in order to continue to grade 11.  He was about to launch into the Regional Geography of Namibia, which included physiographic regions, mountains, rivers, vegetation, tourism and resources.  When I looked at the text book the learners had, I was so disappointed – the STUNNINGLY beautiful country had been reduced to small black and white photos.  It’s no wonder this is the most poorly done unit on the exam.  I suggested we try a different approach – use powerpoint to bring the maps and places to life, and get the learners outside using their hands.  Lasco quietly agreed to this, with his understated enthusiasm.  And things just took off from there.

I started working on the powerpoint – created a base map from google earth, and mapped out the physiographic regions.  Fortunatel,y our family adventures had taken us clear across the country and back so I had lots of good images to pull representative samples from.  I then worked up interactive pages to cover the mountains and rivers.  Namibia has only a few perennial rivers – the rest are ephemeral.  While I was in Rundu for a few days fixing computers, I arrived back to find a fabulous 3-D Namibia outside Lasco’s classroom.  As per our earlier discussions, he had assigned his learners to collect clay from the valley and use the plentiful sand around to model the mountains, rivers and physiographic regions.  The map was about 5m x 4m in size.  All mountains and been labelled with sticks and paper.  It was phenomenal.  What I most appreciated was that he hadn’t waited around for me to help – he just dove in with his learners.  He gave them a surprise quiz the next day and was thrilled with the results.

At about the same time we started creating base maps of Namibia on his classroom walls.  I was the map/projector consultant, Lasco was the content consultant, and Kaia and Jake were the chief painters.  Many other learners would come to watch, then join in.  But they were blown away when they realized how much Kaia and Jake knew about Namibian Geography.  These two clearly had been paying close attention on all our journeys!  The point of the maps was to allow the learners to test their knowledge by pasting laminated labels on to the correct positions (regions, tourism/cities, vegetation, resources and physiographic regions with mountains and rivers).

One day as we worked on this, the regional-level geography advisory teacher happened upon our school and became quite excited about what we were doing.  And that gave birth to a region-wide geography workshop that I was to lead with Lasco’s help.  With only 2 weeks lead time, I clearly had my work cut out in terms of completing the powerpoint.  I would not want to guess how many hours were spent on the approximately 200 slides – full of photos, text and animations.  The tourism section took the longest – it highlighted 28 sites the learners had to know – their significance, location, and appearance.  While at a friend’s in Rundu, I put the very final touches to the presentation at about 3:00 AM the night before the workshop (those who know me will be SO surprised to hear it ended up getting completed like this 🙂 )  The workshop was at a high school in Rundu, and 18 geography teachers from all surrounding areas showed up.  Thankfully for me I’d asked my good friend and computer consultant Alex (a Peace Corps volunteer) to check out the lab to make sure computers would run my programs – he had worked all afternoon and had arrived early in the morning to complete the set-up – literally moments before I wanted to start. Thanks Alex!

We started the workshop by having fun with a geo map quiz game that I showed them.  It’s called “Seterra” and is a free download – check on google – its great fun!  It was clear that most of these teachers had not really had time on computer or reason to explore world, European or even wider African geography before.  I then introduced them to my favourite learning resource here – it’s called Learnthings Africa – and has hundreds of excellent and comprehensive lesson plans in math, physics, chemistry, biology, English and geography.  But it’s best feature is its fantastic colour animations for things like volcanoes, earthquakes, magnetic fields, glaciers etc etc.  So I demoed this and became an instant hero – they were thrilled.  They had never had anything more than a piece of chalk or a black and white text book, and now a possibility for colourful animated explanations.  That of course led to a discussion about computer availability, but many of them as it turns out had this program in their lab but just didn’t know about it.  But that said, some of them worked in the bush with no computers in the school.  Sadly they will have to wait until technology and electricity catches up to them.  I had prepared a sheet that mapped their units in the syllabus to specific sections in Learnthings, because that resource was developed for the UK syllabus (OK, then why is it called Learnthings Africa???).  Lasco then took them through the work he’d done with his 3D modelled Namibia and his wall maps.  They were keen.  And then I “unveiled” my powerpoint resource that met with much enthusiasm – they LOVED looking at pictures of their country, and quickly were calling out that their learners now had no reason to fail that unit, which as you can imagine, made me feel much better about my many late nights preparing it.  I finished the workshop demoing the many geography documentaries that I either brought with me or received from a past volunteer.  Many had never seen a geo documentary so were enthralled to see real life earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunamis.  I left the library of videos at the Teachers Resource Center in Rundu, and put all the powerpoint, Seterra game and Learnthings on CD to distribute to them.  All of this has transpired in the past 5 weeks, and has been one of the most rewarding activities I’ve done here.  Kaia was especially helpful throughout the powerpoint creation, because she knew the material inside and out and would often correct my content or spelling.  My presentation is now making its way through schools in the Caprivi Strip thanks to another VSO, and will now be given to all new VSOs as they enter the country.  And I can’t go into our computer lab at Himarwa without finding at least one learner working through the slides.  I assumed that only the grade 10 learners would be interested but have found grades 8 to 12 enjoying it.  Upon reflection though, this is understandable – these learners have NEVER seen their country!  For most of them, the big trip is to Rundu 2 hrs away.  Only one of my learners in grades 11 and 12 had ever been to Etosha National Park.

I never felt like I was doing “work” as I created that powerpoint – because it allowed me to reflect on all aspects of Namibian geography – which has completely captured my imagination through the year.  About 90% of the photos were our own – the rest I shamelessly stole from the internet – not much of an example to set for these teachers – but I think they are a few years away from seriously considering intellectual property issues!

The geo map mural initiatve spawned some other similar projects.  The four of us finally finished a Namibian Map mural in our house that had been sketched in pencil by previous volunteers.  Kaia, Jake & Yvonne helped grade 6 social studies teacher Mr Shenyangana create large unlabelled maps of Africa and Namibia to quiz his learners.  They did a similar map and a labelled human body mural for their teacher Mr Handiba.  And I got my grade 11s to create a large periodic table in our classroom.  They said they would create another one in the other science classroom.  Whether they do or not will likely provide a good idea of how “sustainable” our efforts have been.


If you want to be happy, plant a garden!

August 21, 2010

You might recall an earlier blog I did entitled “Longing for big box Home Depot” where I’d purchased materials for the new garden at Mpungu Primary School.  We had watched over months the agriculture teacher and learners there try to erect little wooden “goat guards” in tiny shaded plots.  Not much grew, and what did was consumed by either a) the chickens that could get in or b) the goats that broke down the sticks or c) the thieves who raided the gardens just before the little bit of harvest was picked.  We pitched a fence project to Kaia and Jake’s school in Canada who then raised an fabulous $1200Cdn in a few short weeks.  Mpungu Primary was thrilled and in early June I purchased the materials and we got to work later that week.

I worked primarily with the grade 7 teacher and agriculture teacher Mr Sambaka.  He is, from all we see, the hardest working teacher at the school who is interested in going the extra mile for his learners.  Before I was able to purchase the fence materials, he had the learners clear out the trees that were shading the area.  We didn’t like to see the shade go, but it was not actually doing any useful shading.  Administrators in Canada would have winced to see how the trees came down.  Imagine grade 5 boys, high up in the branches, swinging a big axe … in bare feet !!!  Within a week the 15 trees were gone, and over the next month the roots were dug out.  I found out later that these roots were dug by boys serving punishments for coming late to or “dodging” classes (but how do teachers know who dodged if they weren’t in class themselves?)

We surveyed the 75m fence line then the learners started digging the holes 80 cm deep for the fence posts.  The gate went in, and one by one the other 7 larger steel posts, each set in concrete.  The learners came to be experts in finding the sand and gravel and mixing in correct proportions with water.  They were amazing to work with – anxious to help however they could, not complaining about the difficult digging jobs, and happy to learn.  The 15 smaller posts were the dug and poured, the school gate’s posts dug out and new ones put in and gate re-hung.  Sambaka and Mr Haindongo then strung the strong wire along the fence (4 rows of it) in my absence to prepare for the final and most rewarding step – hanging the actual fence.  We had a large team working and within two afternoons had 90% of it done.  We had some fence left over to replace some falling apart sections along the fence line our house shared with the school.

This was all very rewarding to watch/help come together.  But even more rewarding was watching the learners flood into the now-fenced garden in droves over the next two weeks, busily levelling the ground, outlining their group’s plot with rocks, digging/tilling the ground, adding manure and water, then planting.  I have never seen so much activity at that school!  What was most telling for me was to see them working after school was out — tinkering with their plots, and watering etc.  They REALLY cared about this.  And just days before we left we saw the 1st little seedlings coming up!  I think this enthusiasm is a manifestation of the immense need for hands-on learning in these parts.  Learners struggle to understand the English, let alone concepts they sit through in class.  Nothing seems real to them, so interest understandably wanes.  This project was the practical half of their agriculture class.  I suspect Mr Sambaka will notice a renewed interest in the classroom.

A month earlier I had asked my friend Fanuel what community members made of the white family in town.  The school compound is set  a bit apart from the actual village, and we did not actually get to know too many community members.  He told us that they didn’t know what to make of us, because they didn’t really know why we were there or what we were doing (clearly they didn’t talk much to the other teachers either!).  But after the fence was finished, he came over to tell us that we were now the heroes in town, because the community was so impressed with the new fence/garden and happy to see their children farming. They were also eagerly anticipating the harvest because most do not have easy enough access to water to have their own gardens, and what little produce is brought to town for sale is over-priced and not always fresh.  This garden is very large, and with the plentiful and easily available manure around Mpungu, I have no doubt that there will be much to harvest!

So, Ecole Catholique Monseigneur Jamot in Peterborough, Ontario should be very proud of their fund-raising efforts.  The expression “even a little bit can make a difference” is perhaps a bit over-used.  But they really DID make a difference in this case.

For me, it gave me a chance to work closely with 2 of the male Mpungu Primary teachers, and we got to be quite good friends through this project, and they ended up helping with tools for my solar projects (see previous blog entry).

On the Wednesday before we departed, we did the official opening of the garden.  I climbed onto our roof while all the teachers and learners and superintendent assembled in the garden for a photo (see below).  We did a ribbon-cutting (OK, no red ribbons for sale in Mpungu … so how bout a little piece of nylon rope?), a few speeches and lots of clapping.  We mounted a little laminated paper plaque on the gate to remind everyone where the money for the fence came from.  We are really looking forward to receiving photos of the blossoming garden from our VSO replacement Luisa who will arrive in late October.

Solar-powered enthusiasm

August 20, 2010

[we arrived in Toronto yesterday PM after a long trip back and are at my brother Craig’s in Bracebridge right now.  We squished all and everything into mom’s small car. We make our way to our cottage in a moment, then back to Peterborough on Sunday.  We will be completing the blog over the next # of days.  The last # of weeks in Mpugu were such a blur that we did not have a chance to write about what was happening – and lots did!.  Cam]

Our house in Mpungu does not have hot water.  The thermostat has been broken for years, so we’d have to turn on then remember to turn off the heater before it boiled over.  Then about 6 weeks ago the element burned out so we’ve been doing bucket baths with the kettle since then (’cause it is actually cool in the mornings!).

In early June I purchased materials to build a solar oven and a solar hot water heater with my two physics classes.  I told them in class about the projects, and invited them to join with me in building.  I’d hoped that I’d have at least a half-dozen to help.  The next day (Saturday) I got the materials out at the school and some hand tools and invited the group.  Fist I had 3, then 6, then 10.  By an hour later I had about 20 of them eagerly helping!  The last time I used a hand saw to cut plywood was when I was small, with my dad.  All I had at my disposal was an old dull handsaw, and many metres of very thick plywood to cut through.  NO PROBLEM!  They jostled for position to get to use the hand-saw.  They practically lined up to take turns with the screw driver.  It then dawned on me that none of these boys (only boys at this point) had ever held a tool before!  So, imagine the excitement when I pulled out the electric drill.  And better yet, when I showed them the butane torch we would use to do the soldering.  They cut and sanded about 30 little pieces of copper pipe for the solar hot water heater, then I told them it was time to solder.  Each got to hold the torch for about 30 seconds, and each got to touch the solder to the pipe and watch it melt.  I stood back for a moment and almost cried, watching their enthusiasm and sadly what it represented – a lack of access to real hands-on projects.  By the end, though, I think their favourite tool was the angle grinder – mostly because it made lots of noise and produced even more sparks.

One afternoon while we worked I pulled out the boom box so we’d have some music.  This was a big hit, to say the least – our workforce went from about 15 to about 30 in a matter of minutes.  I have a very vivid memory of them dancing to Bob Marley – as they painted and sawed!

The projects slowly came together over the next 6 weeks.  Sometimes I would be too busy to work on weekends.  Sometimes I would be short a small part or tool – and the nearest store 2 hours away, so would have to wait for another teacher to pick up for me.

Perhaps the greatest satisfaction came one day about 3 weeks into the projects.  I was working at the house on both projects with 6 or 8 boys, when one of my female students showed up.  No girls had helped yet, despite my continuous invitations.  I actually thought she had come to ask me about something else … then realized she wanted to help!  Then another came.  And another.  And soon I had all 8 girls from my grade 11 class there.  They dove in with the hand tools.  When I invited them to use the power tools they were reticent, and the boys suggested it wouldn’t be a good idea. But I shoved the tools into their hands, and the smiles lit up and away they went.  I treasure the photos below of them with the soldering torch and the power grinder.  They were quite proud I think, and really took an interest in the projects from that point forth.

We finished the solar oven about 3 weeks ago but only 5 minutes before the final wire connector was put in place something came loose and a wing on the oven fell onto the glass plate and cracked it!  You can imagine some of my choice words. I did not want to leave the school with a cracked solar oven so bought a new piece in town last week and it is now complete.  We cooked solar bread and solar peanut butter cookies to celebrate, and have since generated quite a bit of interest from passers by, because the oven is actually quite large and shiny (see below).  This was actually one of my goals – to get people looking at and talking about low-tech solar projects.  This particular oven would be perfect for a village to share.  The oven works beautifully, though does not reach the same temp as conventional ovens, so takes twice as long at least to cook.  But we would put our dinner in at 11:00 AM and forget about it, then pull it out at 5:00 and it would be ready to eat.

The final delay came from a lack of welding-ability.  The one guy who welds in town was never around.  A Mpungu Primary teacher — Mr Haindongo (who I’d worked closely with on the fence project) had just bought an arc-welding machine, but we couldn’t get it to work.  So I ended up begging a welder who lived 55km away in Nkurenkuru to come and help us out.  He arrived only on the Monday before we left so it was down to the wire.  We mounted the collector about 1.5m up, behind our house, facing NORTH into the sun.   I unpackaged the 4ftx4ft piece of glass and was pleased to find it had survived the 180km trip (much on bumpy gravel) 6 weeks earlier.   I connected the black plastic pipe so it would feed the hot water tank (which would now act only as a hot water storage tank).  I told the learners to come by in the morning to see it come to life with the water coming on (there is almost never water in the afternoons).  Unfortunately I was up till 4:00 AM that night working on the computer lab, so I was not thrilled that about 12 of them took my offer seriously and were knocking on our door at 6:45 AM!  I struggled out of bed, opened the tap and  …. found a myriad of leaks in the black pastic connections. DRAT!  These should be the easiest connections.  I told them I’d figure out something, which ended up being to use silicone in the seals.  Next morning (now 2 days before departure) I again turned on the water and … found 4 leaks in our copper joins and leaks still in the black plastic joins.  I had WAY too much to do in my final 2 days to solve these leaks, and was immensely frustrated and disappointed.  Those of you who know me understand that I am a stubborn problem solver and I’d never had to face defeat like this before.  I was especially disappointed for the learners who had poured their hearts into these projects and were so anticipating the results.  I did fill up the system though and let it work for the day.  By days’ end … the storage tank was full of warm/hot water, so at least we know that the design of the collector worked.  The learners were actually very good about accepting the status of our heater.  And I have some small hope that the guy who helped me weld will come back to help fix the leaks. We got to be friends over the day and I’ve spoken to him several times since.  My co-physics teacher will contact him.

This project was further evidence that these learners CRAVE hands-on learning.  And learning it was, because they were perfect examples of heat transfer – solar radiation, conduction of the metal plate into the copper pipes, and convection (the hot water rises out of the collector into the tank, while cold water in the tank falls into the collector – a beautiful loop with no “pump”).  The solar oven was  a good demonstration of the greenhouse effect.  All of these topics we covered in depth in class as part of our syllabus.

I would publicly like to thank the students and staff at Peterborough Collegiate (my school) for raising $500Cdn to purchase the supplies for the oven and collector.  And also my friend Sean Flanagan, for providing the design for the hot water heater and helping me adapt the design to my Mpungu setting.  Sean is in the renewable energy business in the Peterborough area ( and can be contacted if you are interested in building your own collector.

It is going to be hard to get excited about solar energy upon return to Canada – Namibia is a solar geek’s dream.  But I know Canadian students are as keen as Namibians to get involved in this sort of thing, so I have something to come back to!

Reflections on Leaving

August 6, 2010

Nine days until we leave Himarwa Iithete and Mpungu – the school and community that have been our home for the past year.  We truly have felt “at home” here, and it has been a fabulous year.  In the last few months, we’ve found our stride and can really appreciate why VSO recommends 2-year placements.  However, that probably wouldn’t have been the best thing for Kaia and Jake, and it seems like a long time to be away. 

There is excitement about going home to Peterborough, seeing family and friends, and getting involved again in our regular fall activities.  I’m actually feeling like it will be easier to go back to work this September, having not had a long summer holiday!  I like the Namibian system of the holidays being spread out throughout the year:  a month at Christmas, a month in May, and 2 weeks in August.  There are other things I’ll miss about Namibia, as well as some that I won’t!

  • I won’t miss the intense and relentless heat of September and October when it was almost impossible to sleep … but I will miss baking bread in the solar oven.
  • I won’t miss the water being shut off every day at about 2pm and not having running water until 6am the next morning … but I will miss living in a community of people who know and respect the value of clean water.
  • I won’t miss the sand that is everywhere – in my shoes, in my kitchen, in my bed … but I will miss having a very small house to keep clean.
  • I won’t miss the long dusty drives to Rundu and grocery shopping for 3-4 weeks at a time … but I will miss the local mahangu (millet), veggies from our garden, and being able to sit down with my family for 3 meals a day.
  • I won’t miss doing dishes and laundry (especially towels and bedsheets!) by hand … but I will miss my great year-round solar dryer (a.k.a. clothesline) and visits from Johanna, a young woman who often helped with the laundry, always working with her baby on her back.  She can get clothes cleaner than any machine I’ve ever used!
  • I won’t miss the twice weekly staff briefings at 6:30am … but I will miss being finished teaching classes by 12:50.
  • I won’t miss the timidity of learners to speak up in class … but I will miss their discipline and genuine respect for teachers.
  • I won’t miss the never-ending demands on teachers’ time (for extra classes, long meetings) …but I will miss living only 200m from work and being right next door to Kaia and Jake’s school.
  • I won’t miss working in a system that doesn’t include supply teachers, where learners as young as grade 1 are regularly left unsupervised for many hours … but I will miss the slower pace and lower stress of teaching here.
  • I won’t miss the general lack of initiative … but I will miss the excitement of feeling like I can make a difference by following through on even a simple idea.
  • I won’t miss having to take malaria pills, and I won’t miss the cockroaches in the kitchen (no redeeming qualities there!)
  • I won’t miss trying to teach in classrooms that have too few basic resources (like chairs, desks, chalk, chalkboard erasers, doorknobs, and lightbulbs) … but I will miss teaching English with my best teaching aids ever:  Kaia and Jake!  (When I asked one teacher what her class thought of my first lesson, she said they told her, “We like those small ones.”  It was hard for me to compete!)
  • I will miss the amazing night skies and having access to a world class game park like Etosha. 

Speaking of which, we are off for a last weekend of game-viewing (our 4th visit to Etosha) later today.  This time, we are taking 2 grade 12 learners who have lived here all their lives and never been to the park; never seen an elephant or a lion.  Kaia and Jake are really hoping to see a rhinoceros this time to complete their “big 5” (elephant, buffalo, lion, leopard, and rhino).

sorry, no time for photos this time.


Hockey night in Mpungu

July 30, 2010

The hockey sticks we brought over as a piece of luggage stayed under the bed for many months.  But when the weather got cooler, we took them out and introduced a new sport to the boys of Mpungu.  They love it and never seem to get tired of it!  An empty classroom at our school has become the floor hockey arena (“S-goat-ia Bank Place”).  We play 2 on 2 or 3 on 3, and they are high-scoring games – one got up to 64-62!  Sometimes we play with the long sticks, and sometimes with the mini-sticks.  Sometimes we play outside and the goals are the gates at our house and the one across the road at the circuit office.  It’s a bit dusty, but there’s not much traffic!  A few sticks have gotten broken, but we are having a good time!  (As long as everyone keeps their stick on the sand.)  


English workshop? More like a “play”-shop!

July 25, 2010

The idea had been brewing for quite some time:  Get primary teachers together and talk about ways to teach English as a second language…  From what I have seen in Kaia and Jake’s class, and other primary schools in the area, and judging by the level of English proficiency of the children who come to our door (as well as that of the grade 8 learners at the secondary school); there is a problem.  Or shall I say; a very big challenge!

Timing was good;

  • we have a new circuit inspector (superintendent) who is keen to address challenges,
  • there was a fund specifically earmarked for professional development that needed to be spent by August, and
  • I was at a point where I really felt I had something to offer in terms of ideas for ESL, since I had been applying them in classrooms for several months. 

So I submitted a proposal for a workshop at the end of June, and, as policy dictates, got 3 quotes from caterers to provide food for the participants.  This is a huge expense, partly because the closest registered caterers are located in Rundu, 180km away!  However, the women I spoke to were eager to get their quotes in since these government contracts are very lucrative and it would be well worth the drive.  A week goes by and I start advertising the workshop to any primary teachers I meet.  Another week goes by and I learn that yes, the submission was approved.  I start handing out flyers and post an invitation at the circuit office for all principals to see. The secretary puts an announcement on the radio inviting all grade 3, 4, and 5 teachers to this 2-day workshop.  Another week goes by and I still don’t know who was chosen as the caterer, so I start trying to track down some information, only to discover that the quotations had been sent down to Windhoek, and no selection had been made!!  Apparently, they always choose the lowest bid, so I don’t know how that can take so long (or why it needs to be done 1000km away!)  Luckily, our new inspector is into creative problem-solving, but by the time I was having this conversation with him, it was 2 days before the workshop was to begin.  Cam was in Rundu (on a marathon computer-maintenance mission), so I figured he could bring back some food and we’d figure it out from there.  The inspector said he’d look into reimbursement.  Unfortunately, the cell phone network was out of order for about 6 hours the following day, so I couldn’t contact Cam until the afternoon!  (Landline phones have been out for several weeks, now, after being knocked down by a truck!)  For the first time, I was really feeling that Mpungu was remote, isolated, and cut off from the rest of the world.  In the end, food was bought, a local woman was hired (she owns some large pots and a variety of plates and utensils), and we were definitely going ahead with the workshop!

Several participants arrived on Wednesday evening and I had arranged for them to stay at the Himarwa Iithete hostel.  An extra obstacle was that a recently-changed door handle on one of the girls’ dormitory blocks was locked and could not be opened.  Effectively, the girls were locked in, and the female teachers who had come for the workshop were locked out!  But luckily, Cam had bought a new drill and drill-bits on our last trip to Rundu, so I was able to offer that.  The door handle was removed, and the teachers could go in (one had come with her 7-month-old baby and a baby-sitter to look after him during the day).

Cam arrived home at 10:30pm with a truckload of fixed computers and many bags of food.

Twenty-one teachers came to the workshop on Thursday morning.  Some were first-year teachers from little bush schools with no electricity, and others were acting principals.  Some have 17 learners in their class; others, 48.  Day one was focused on using the “gesture approach” and stories/drama to teach a second language.  It’s a program that I have used in Canada to teach French, and have adapted and tested it intensively in 2 classrooms here.  After introductions, I started speaking to the group in French, asking questions and acting irritated when they couldn’t respond.  I wanted them to experience how their students feel when faced with English — a language they don’t understand!  I then started speaking French with gestures, and immediately the group responded, saying “Bonjour” and “Ca va bien.” 

That morning, I also introduced the idea of setting up literacy centers in the classroom, and the teachers cycled through 12 different ones (4 minutes each – they were speed centers this time!)  A highlight for me was the presentation by Kaia and Jake’s classmates who did their play of “The 3 Little Pigs”.  I was so proud of those kids!  They spoke their lines clearly and with confidence.  One girl even switched roles at the last minute from a 1st little pig to a 3rd little pig because someone else was absent!  If that doesn’t show comprehension of the story, I don’t know what does.

We played games – bingo, Simon says, the chair game (one of my personal favourites – an adaptation of musical chairs in which nobody gets “out”, but if you are left without a chair, you have to say the next sentence in English), and another one that I call the “ladder game” (see photo of teachers lined up London-Bridge style).  We also did some ‘crafts’ – making mini-books out of a single piece of paper.  One of the big challenges here is lack of reading materials, so my suggestion was to make some simple books that kids can illustrate and then read over and over.

I found that Namibian teachers are very similar to Namibian learners (shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, I guess):  they are quiet and well-behaved, but they don’t ask questions or offer ideas.  It was virtually impossible to get a discussion going.  Lunch and dinner were simple, but good, and after dinner, Cam invited them all up to the computer lab where he screened “Over Canada”, a film that shows highlights of Canadian geography and historical monuments shot from a helicopter.  The next morning when I asked how everyone had slept, one man said, “We dreamed of Canada all night.” 

On Friday, we reviewed the songs I had taught the previous day, played a couple more language-based games, and then headed over to the computer lab where I naïvely thought we’d make a bunch of teaching aids to be printed out and used in the classroom.  I asked if this was anyone’s very first time on the computer, and was a bit surprised when I saw 7 hands go up.  Was I ever glad to have my computer assistants: Kaia, Jake, Cam, and our friend, Fanuel!  It is quite a privilege and a thrill to be the one to show someone how to use a computer for the first time (especially someone who lives in a grass hut with no electricity or running water and who walks 20km each month to pick up his pay cheque).  We spent about 2.5 hours in the lab (don’t worry – I gave them a tea break!) and I was impressed with their progress.  Everyone managed to print something out by the end, and several wrote on their feedback forms that they need and would like more computer training.  I really wanted to get the feedback sheets in, so I had announced that as soon as I received it, they would get a ticket for a lottery in which I’d be giving away many of my books and teaching materials.  It worked!  I got all the feedback sheets and everyone walked away with something new for their classroom.  I was actually very surprised at the order in which things were chosen.  I thought for sure that the books were the best prizes and that they’d be snatched up right away.  So, I was reminded once again that my assumptions are usually wrong – the first people to have their names drawn came to the prize table and chose things like rubber stamps, stickers, and puzzle books!  The easy readers were left to the end.  There really is not a culture of reading here.  But story-telling works.  That’s why I think this gesture approach using stories and drama can be successful in Kavango classes. 

It was a rewarding 2 days for me, and my only regret is that I won’t be around to support these teachers if they choose to implement some of the new ideas.  I’ll get out to a few schools over the next 3 weeks, but that’s it – we are beginning our “race to the finish”.  Yes, I do believe we will be racing until our departure!

Kaia and Jake’s 2 lists

June 27, 2010

What follows is a list that Kaia and Jake made of some of their highlights and lowlights of life in Mpungu.

Good things

  • Seeing the garden fence getting built at our school
  • Helping mom teach English to our class
  • Making props for our “3 little pigs” play
  • Visiting other schools in the area
  • Going to the “Check-in” for a bag of chips
  • Watching Harry Potter movies after reading the books
  • Not going to Rundu for a long time (avoiding the long, dusty drive)
  • The cooler weather now
  • Making brownies from scratch
  • Playing games with some of the kids who come to our door
  • Watching movies with friends (projected on our wall)
  • Hearing the world cup results
  • Doing MadLibs

Bad things

  • The sand getting everywhere (in our shoes, in the house, in the bed…)
  • It is so loud when the teacher is not in the classroom (which happens about every second day)
  • Having to run errands for mom and dad (like running to the store to get more phone credit!)
  • Not being able to communicate with the kids our age
  • Having to go to school when everyone in Canada is on summer holidays!