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

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