Wednesday, June 24, 2009

First Three Days As Teacher Ben

I have finally and officially begun teaching and living at the orphanage! I began teaching on Monday and moved in on Tuesday. However, I am back at the TTW house for some time and then will head back tomorrow as the kids had an exam today and I did not teach. I do not have internet access at the orphanage so my updates will probably now be limited to one or two a week but here's what's going on:

The five major classes I am teaching are P5 and P6 English, P5 mathematics, and P5 and P6 Religious Education / The Story of the Bible. In both the English and math classes, there seems to be a disparity between the students who understand the material and those who do not (especially in English). Although the majority of those doing poorly simply do not care, they are all amazing kids with whom I am looking forward to having more fun. Last night at around nine, I had to go for a "short call" (bathroom) and as I was going to the latreens, I stopped by the boys' dormitories and went to their window. As I was approaching, I started making lots of noise and they all became very scared. As I stuck my head in the window, they screamed but then said, "Oh it's just Ben. We thought you were a nighty dancer." The nighty dancers, as I understand it, are a legendary group of people who come and dance around the huts of Africans and then eat the children. He supposedly dances naked with a skirt made of bones. When they were explaining it to me, they also demonstrated how the nighty dancers dance. It was, by far, one of the funniest moments of 2009. As I was leaving, Francis (my favorite) goes, "Ben, you don't fear the nighty dancer?" Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh it was so funny.

On a more serious note, SMK has given me pretty much free reign on Religious Education which is great. Thus, we are going through Genesis 1-11, then Romans 1-4, and then Micah 4 and Revelation 21 to attempt to understand the overarching story of the Bible. So far, we have discussed creation up the creation of man. We described God as triune (and thus loving), eternal, creative, and holy. Even in creation, we examined the idea that God redeems and creates something out of nothing as I told them that we would see the theme of "something out of nothing" as a major one in this story of God.

I plan on meeting with some of the older boys throughout the weeks to help them with their classes as well as further discuss our RE class. Living right on the orphanage gives me a great opportunity to be with them whenever we can as well as connect with them at levels other than the academic.

Also, on Saturday nights, I plan on starting a little church service with any of the kids who wish to come. I'm excited as this should be an opportunity where I can teach them some of the well-known Bible stories from a Christ-centered perspective.

As for my living conditions, they are pretty good. I have my own room with my housemates Edwin and Angela (they are married). They are very funny and I have enjoyed getting to know them. I do not have a working toilet or shower. For toilet matters, I use something called a latreen (spelling?) which is pretty much a built-in hole in the ground. Today, I bathed out of a basin, splashing water on myself which was fun until I tried it :). Yesterday night, I cooked for the three of us. Edwin and I went to the market to buy tomatoes and eggplant and fresh meat (just kidding, mother). But we did get the tomatoes and eggplant and actually made a good meal. I think Edwin and Angela will cook most of the time as I will be quite busy, but when I can, I hope to. All things considered, the living conditions are fine. I would much rather not have a shower and live among the kids than have a shower and not. They are so great.

I hope to give you a better update about Bible classes and groups and such once things really get rolling. My parents keep telling me there are many people who are praying for me. Thank you so much for praying and following along our journey. I am so thankful for the group of people God has established whose love is shown to me in many ways. I look forward to keeping you in the loop about this wonderful country!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

A Little about St. Mary Kevin's

Although I have not yet moved into the orphanage, I have already begun doing some work there. Here's some background about SMK.

During the 1980s, Rosemary, now the executive director, saw the need to provide education for impoverished families and orphans. After opening the school, she also realized the necessity of providing the children with a home in which they may live. Although there are some students who have families and go home everynight, they are extremely few. Almost all of the students have lost at least one parents and live at SMK as their aunts or grandparents come to visit them Sundays. Yesterday I had the opportunity of meeting and hearing about many of the orphan's stories. Some experts follow:
  • Ivan's father died from a snake bite and his mother from a sickness. He has "now found home in St. Mary Kevin's"
  • Lillian is from the North where many LRA rebels kidnapp children and ravage villages. She and her siblings saw rebels capture her parents, cover them in paint thinner, and then set them on fire burning them to death.
  • Another orphan, also from the North, saw the LRA slaughter and chop uphis parents. He and his siblings hid in the bush, surviving off of berries for five days until the Ugandan government found them.
These are just a few examples of the many extreme cases at the orphanage of about 200 children. Although the LRA killed many of the other students' parents, many are also there as a result of disease.
The school aspect of the orphanage is organized quite differently from how we understand education. Because SMK has a very low income and struggles to pay for their expenses, none of the children have text books. At the beginning of the year, they receive notebooks in which they copy and finish the assignment the teachers write on the board. The teachers often will shortly explain the lesson, write their assignment on the board, and then leave the room for the day or the period. Furthermore, at the end of the year, the students take a national exam determining whether they may move on to the next level (the levels are divided as follows: Primary1, P2, P3, P4, P5, P6, P7). Thus, the teachers prepare their students purely for the exam. They are taught to memorize facts and simply regurgitate their answers on the national test. Consequently, when I ask a students, "What is matter?" they all can answer, in perfect unison, "Matter is something which occupies space and has weight." Or, "What is the area of this rectangle?" they respond admirably, "A= L x W" yet cannot apply that information half as quickly when unassisted as they can provide such formulas and definitions. Additionally, the lack of resources along with huge class sizes often inhibit the students' efforts to learn and the teachers' efforts to teach.

However, like most people, they are more than capable of thinking but have never learned how. Yesterday, I socractically taught from Genesis 1:1 on the eternity and certainty of God. I have explored the same concepts in the same way with many people in the States and the Ugandans were just as sharp and articulate when pushed to be so as anyone I have ever taught. I hope to teach the kids how to think and communicate effectively in all of my classes but especially in the Religious Studies and English classes.

Just as a reminder, these are the classes I will teach:
  • P5,P6 English
  • P5,P6 Religious Education
  • P5 Math
  • P5 Science
Tonight and for the weekend, I will be attending the TTWU staff retreat in a beautiful area about thirty minutes from where we are now. On Sunday, when we return, I will move into the orphanage and begin teaching all of my classes.

Thank you all so much for your thoughts and prayers! I AM SO PUMPED.

(Their "school bell" which prefects ring to indicate the beginning and end of class periods)

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

"You Are Most Welcome"

Hello! I landed safely in Uganda and have been settling in and orienting myself with my context in Uganda. The flight was about sixteen hours but was one of the easiest flights on which I have ever been. I still cannot believe I am in Africa!

Upon arrival, Jesse Kroeze, the country head of TTW Uganda, picked me up and brought me back to the comfortable and beautiful TTW guest house. There I met with Jesse, Andrea, and the some other members of the TTWU staff and began an informal orientation. After settling in at the guest house, which will be my home until Sunday, Jesse and I went to St. Mary Kevin's Orphanage to work on the house in which I will be staying and meet some of the children. At the moment, my house does not have running water so I will bathe with a basin filled with water from a nearby well. On Sunday, I will move into the orphanage and begin teaching.

After our short visit to the orphanage, Jesse and I went back to the TTW headquarters for lunch and a little orientation session. We worked out my schedule, discussed housing and food issues, and examined some clear cultural differences of which I should be aware.

It indeed looks like I will be adding a few classes to my teaching repertoire. Jesse and I will be leading kids in science experiments during a period where some of their classsmates will be taking a photography class. Also, I will teach a fifth-sixth grade math class (shocking, I know) as they are lacking a teacher for that position. From what I can tell, the kids are soo eager to learn and to receive attention from someone. Many of their teachers simply write information on the board and then leave for home expecting them to memorize formulas and facts in order to pass a national test. I simply cannot wait to begin on Monday. All of them keep on telling me how excited they are that I am moving in and will be teaching them.

After orientation, we all went back to SMK for formal welcome to the orphanage. Many of the children organized a number of dances to drums which lasted for a good thirty minutes welcoming us to Africa and their country. At the end the girls pulled me into the middle of the dance and I was told by the time I leave, I will be able to "move." One common saying I have picked up is, "You are most welcome." Even the children hold my hands and look at me in the eyes and say, "You are most welcome."