Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Beyond the Sand and Sun

I think I owe you all some real insight. I've been providing some tidbits and peeks into life here at the Centre, but I haven't really shown you the big picture. I'm going to attempt this feat today.

I've shown you pictures of the classrooms and the students, but you probably saw that as what you would expect an African classroom to look like, if not better. That was my response when I got here. Let me try and expand this view a little. In each classroom there are blackboards that extend across both the front wall and back, not unlike what we have in the states (except here, they are actually black, not green). There is a brightly colored bucket on the floor below the chalkboard, filled with chalky water and twenty-ish small pieces of sponge and one big piece for the teacher. Lined up in 3 rows of 6 or 7, the desks can seat 2 students comfortably, although some seat 3. Do the math. The first grade classroom I spent most of my time in had 24 deaf students and 22 hearing students. There is no Kindergarden, so this is the first time any of them have had to sit still and follow classroom etiquette. Seydo, the first grade teacher, stands at the front of the clarroom and writes a sentence on the board. The students carefully copy the sentence onto their slates, copying every dip and curve of their teachers perfect penmanship. They have paper and pencils at the Centre, but not enough for each student, and certainly not enough to last the whole year. Consumables are just not practical here. Once the students have completed the copywork, they come to the front of the class in pairs, one hearing and one deaf student. Together, they read the sentence, while their teacher corrects pronunciation and sign. While they recite, I glance around the room.

I am struck by the blankness, or perhaps cleanliness, of the walls. In America, there is not a blank space that isn't filled with some instructional poster or collage. Here, except for a few paper decorations hanging from the ceiling, there is nothing but chalk to make color in this room. There are no shelves or cabinets to keep supplies in. The supplies can be totally stored in Seydo's desk, because he only needs one copy of everything. The students do not have workbooks or textbooks like we do. The teacher typically has the book and writes on the board (which the students then copy onto their slate).

The students have very little concept of property. The concept of "Don't touch something that isn't yours" is completely incomprehensible to them, because nothing is theirs. If you own nothing, you own the world. They value a perfectly drawn math problem above a correctly computed math problem, because it is easier to learn to copy your teacher than it is to learn why you write a 5 after you've written 2+3=. They seek perfection in all things academic because they have a better understanding of western achievements than westerners do of African difficulties. They work in the shadow of Europe and the US. Somehow, they must produce an academic achievement that can spar in this Western world. The limitation of resources does not hinder them as they spur their children to western size success. Burkina Faso has 2 athletes competing in the Oympics this year. One in Judo, and one in swimming. Someone please explain to me how a country with no more pools than I have fingers on one hand can produce an Olympic quality swimmer? As I've said, they are up for the challenge, and are not fazed by the cavernous differences I've shared with you. We hear stories of underdogs surfacing in the western world, carried on the shoulders of whole villages as they sacrifice home and well-being for the success of one. Well, let me remove the wool from your eyes- that is life here. The people are as in debt to their family and friends as we are to our creditors. The difference is, here it is understood that debts won't (can't) be repaid, but favors will be returned.

At the Centre, as I've said, there is an average of 40 students in a classroom. The private Christian school down the street has 100 in a classroom. That is a much more typical situation. Teachers are not paid on contract, they are day laborers. Often, in public and private schools, the teachers will not come to teach, because something else came up that day. The students arrive, wait a few hours, and then go home. At the Centre, there is a level of expectation placed on the staff, and the work ethic is remarkable. The teachers have pride in their work, care about the students personally, and come to work everyday. The grades at the Centre are above all the other school in the region, and we had a 90% pass rate this past year.

It is a difficult job, working at the Centre, because many of the students who come in are social cases, as well as disabled in some way. They come from an animist background, which means their families believe they are demon possessed, because they are deaf, blind, have a physical disability, or cerebral palsy. So often the students have been neglected or abused since birth. The Centre has a whole branch devoted to finding students and educating their families about physical handicaps and what resources are available. Sometimes it takes years of relationship building and education before the family consents to have their child treated and trained at the Centre. When the child finally arrives, any medical treatment needed is provided (such as physical therapy), and often they are enrolled in school for the first time in their life. If they are blind, they live in the dorms next to the Centre, so they have a safe path to and from school every day. If they are deaf or handicapped, they live with a host family in Mahadaga. The deaf students are given their first access to language when the arrive.

When you walk through Mahadaga, you do not see the dirty, tear streaked faces of a culture desperate for needs to be met. You see the joy of a village that has been touched by the hand of God and given hope. The Centre for the Advancement of the Handicapped, the Medical Center, and the missionaries here in Mahadaga have brought the hope of Christ to those who had none. All of Mahadaga has felt the touch of God's love in these past 25 years.

If you are interested in learning more about the Centre for the Advancement of the Handicapped or supporting it financially, visit this website

Monday, July 23, 2012

Teaching- through the eyes of a child

We've been working on surface area, so this afternoon I had Diaboundi and Bapougini work the same problem on two different sections of the blackboard, to try and figure it out. It was a compound shape, a rectangle with a right triangle on the side. A trapezoid, if you will. Bapougini ran back to quickly fix the units, and wanted to look like he was working when i took the picture :). You can see the pride on Diaboundi's face when they finally came up with the correct answer :)

Meet Diaboundi. This is a drawing of his family. He tells me which ones are dead, which ones live in Fada, and which ones live near here. He tells me that the 6 at the top, with no names or faces are for the family members he doesn't know. He says its difficult to remember them all. He writes their names below the ones he remembers. Most are just an initial, because Diaboundi is deaf and uses name signs for his family. He can write the family names though. He is a very bright student, and learns quickly. He is still 100% boy though.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Guest house vs. Betty's house

This week, I am preparing materials and plans for tutoring. I'm also spending some time with the 6th grade teacher of the deaf, getting math lessons. I have relearned the metric system (for weight, height, and volume). Also geometry, calendar vocab, and computation (+,-,x,/) in the French methods. And of course, I learned it in French and Burkina Sign.

Please continue to pray for the items I mentioned in my last email. My French is improving, especially now that I can use it to converse. I have a new house mate for the weekend, Elen is visiting from Piela. She leaves on Wednesday I think. So I have a housefull at the moment, we're up to 5 people here and I love it. Next week, I lose 2 on Monday, 1 on Wednesday and 1 on Saturday. Then I will be alone again for awhile. Possibly (probably) until I leave.

Next week I will actually be switching houses, Lord willing, to a much smaller, 1 bedroom apartment, with a full kitchen and seperate dining room. And a working fridge :) I will appreciate the lack of space, because the house I am in now is perfect for 4-5 people, but really way to big for just one. Also, the little apartment has a porch with a bench.

The bench and porch set up is from Betty, a missionary whose name dates back to the first few missionaries that happened upon this village. Long before Mahadaga was the hub for medical needs of all kinds, it was just a regular village. Betty came in with one other girl (about my age, if I understand correctly) and bought a house. They lived in one side, and set up a birthing center/clinic in the other side. From that sprung the blossoming ministry found in Mahadaga today. About the bench, though... Betty still comes to mahadaga, for 6months at a time, even though she is in her 80's. When she isn't driving hours away to find distant family groups and share the Gospel, she is sitting on her front porch, where she accepts multitudes of visitors each day, to come and talk, and love, and learn about Jesus. She cares for these people, and they love her. It is said that Betty "birthed" the whole village, because she is a midwife, and was probably present at the majority of the births for the past 60 years.

What a beautiful legacy. And I get to live in Betty's house, for a time :)

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Some more pictures

It rained in Mahadaga today. Rain is so special here in Africa, but very hard to photograph. It's especially difficult to photograph people in the rain. In Africa, although it is a joyous thing to have rain, the people do not enjoy being caught in the rain. The American kids run out and stomp in puddles, but the Africans stay out of the rain. I am not sure why, except that being muddy bothers them. They don't like getting their clothes dirty, even the young children. It's an interesting thought.
We keep the windows open when it rains, and enjoy the cool wind that comes, but the Africans get chilled, and it is not uncommon to see them pulling on jackets, and even earmuffs after the rain. Today the students were shivering when the temp dropped to what felt like mid-70° These kids hung out with me while I got my hair done this last time. It took 3 and a half hours, to get my hair cornrowed into a ponytail. I really like it this way, I think it will last longer than the braids did. Hopefully long enough for me to chance in front of a camera and get the 'do on film :)

Saturday, July 7, 2012

A Day in the Life

Although this was not necessarily a "typical" day, its a fine example since I have yet to settle into a rhythm here.Since I'm here for ministry exposure, my opinion of a successfully scheduled week is one with great variety. Keep in mind, though, that I treated today as soalfmewhat of a weekend. Typically, Saturdays are half days, we work in the morning. You'd see more of a typical schedule if you looked at my schedule overall for this trip.

This morning, I went with Dale and his 2 little boys to take the American team up to the waterfall. Its about a half hour hike from the road, I think, but thats a really rough estimate. It might be longer than that. I went swimming at the upper falls, with my housemate Robin.

When we returned, I made a tomato sauce to go with the meatballs I made yesterday, and Robin, Angela and I had meatball subs. Then I crashed for about an hour and a half. I love sieste. Americans should take a hint, sieste is a beautiful thing. At 4pm, all the girls (from both teams, plus Flo and myself) went to the pastor's house to learn how to make Toh. We had some great girly conversations, comparing French, American and Burkinabe traditions for weddings, etc. It was so fun. Around 6:30, the guys all arrived, and sat just apart from us. They do many things in segregation like that, including eating meals, sitting in church, etc. I helped serve the guys (basically, bring the food and water to their table). When I and the other girls placed the food on their table, though, we were not acknowledged. We just came, delivered, and left, without any verbal interaction at all. Just after, I had the opportunity to bring water to each of the guys, to wash their hands. Again, they continued their conversation (as is culturally appropriate) even while I poured water over their hands. What a remarkable experience! I can't even put it to words. I wonder if I have ever truly served, since gratitude is so openly and often expressed in the US.

We had more delightful conversation as we ate Toh and sauce (flavored with Potassium-who knew it had such a great flavor!). I have become pretty fond of Toh and sauce, I've enjoyed it every time I've had it. I don't have it that often though, just because I cook for myself and didn't know how to make it. Still not sure I could make it on my own, even after helping with it tonight.

Anyways, as we were finishing up dinner, a storm started to blow in, so we bid everyone farewell before the African sky opened up on us. Now we sit in our living room listening to the rain, while reading or blog posting :)

Sunday, July 1, 2012

A quiet Sunday afternoon...

In church today, the pastor preached on the topic of endurance. God has been teaching e about a specific aspect of endurance: the kind required when what we are accustomed to is taken away, yet we still must serve Him. I think we depend on many earthly things to enable us as we sere Him, and in no way do I suggest that these things are bad. They can, however, become habit forming and cripple us when we do not have them.

Coming out here, I expected to do without many things, like pedicures, air conditioning, and ice cream. On the mission field, I have learned to do without many things, like clean feet, personal space, and a working freezer. The Lord has been teaching me, though, that even more than that be taken away; and still He is enough. In the past few weeks, I have lost self image, self confidence, self righteousness, self identity, self worth, etc. God has shown me that when I am nothing, He is all.

I wrote the following in an email to a friend, and I wanted to share it with you:
God is changing me, helping me grow and become stronger. But it hurts. He's showing me what it means to have all things stripped away. He's pressing me to face the reality that I depend on the things He's given me more than I depend on Him. When all this world falls away, what will you have left? There was a man who was fairly wealthy; had a great family, beautiful home, etc. Then, all on one day, his investments collapsed and a catastrophe killed all of his children in one fell swoop. Shortly therafter he was stricken with a terrible illness. As he lay, terribly ill, his wife told him to "curse God and die". His response to her was "Will I accept only good from his hand and not bad?" In all that happened, the man did not sin. He recognized that even when all things pass away, the God he served is a good God, and so long as he still had God, he had enough. True story.

I pray that God would create that heart in me. That I would recognize that my relationship with Him is enough to sustain me. It is all I need.

PS- the story ends well. Last I heard, he was back on his feet, was blessed to welcome a few more children into the world, and was financially stable as well. The most important thing, though, is that his faith was stronger, his comittment to the Lord was stronger.