Tuesday, June 20, 2006

bad geography

Mwajuma, a young girl who we sponsor to attend secondary school, was over the other day to get help from me on geography. The topic was longitude and latitude lines and how to differentiate time zones using the former. I looked at the examples and saw these odd math problems using something akin to what I remember as algebra. I looked closer and saw the answer........If it is twelve o clock noon in X place at y longitude, what time will it be in Z place....the "answer" from her teacher was 2:40 pm!!!

It so happened that 5 of the (former) street boys who we also sponsor in school were there. I asked for their help and each of them were familiar with the (incorrect) formula. There is a standardized curriculum for the entire country. All government schools use the same books. The teacher writes everything on the board and the kids copy word for word. They do not get a book. Many of the schools don't even have a library.

I asked the kids "what are you going to do about this? Will you tell your teachers that they are wrong?" One boy said that if they do that, they risk getting into a lot of trouble- they aren't allowed to tell a teacher they are wrong. They saw the now familiar look on my face when I am about to launch into protest mode. Mwajuma said "I am going to tell my teacher!" Emmanuel followed and said "I will also tell". The others were quiet.

The boys are on holiday still, but Mwajuma told her teacher and he said he had just been "testing" the students to see who was clever enough to spot his error. Right. I don't want to use this blog to complain about Tanzania, but this disturbed me a lot. In defense of the education system, the problems seems to correct itself because all of the older students I have asked know the correct formula, but what is most disturbing is that in general, independent thinking and creativity are just not rewarded- just obedience and memorization.

I welcome dissenting opinions and stories that would cheer me up.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Sand and Babies

I came here to work with orphaned children, but as an administrator, and mother, I don't have much time for that. I have to create ways and generate funds for others to do that. Several of the kids who live near the Baobab Home are orphans, but I suppose I don't think about that a lot. So many kids visit daily and are all familiar to me. I dress wounds, break up arguments, and encourage silliness. I know who to watch for danger signs, but most are skinny, but stable. There is a house across the street that has several orphaned children passing through- they stay a few months with their grandmother (who is always away in the fields anyway) and then leave and new faces appear. Recently, a small girl (2?), named Yusra has been around. She is so quiet I barely noticed her, until her "aunt" and "uncle" who ostensibly care for her, took the time to make some jokes about her. The last time these two mistreated an orphan in their care(Yusra's older sister), I made it a very public issue and stopped the problem, so I am surprised they made the jokes. I picked Yusra up and took her home. I held her while my son played. I said her name gently. She clung to me. I gave her juice and she couldn't get enough of it. Her feet were as dry as leather. She has light hair around the edges- tell tale signs of malnutrition. My son Justis fell asleep. The power went out and I just held this quiet child who wanted nothing but my arms around her. I wanted to bathe her, but I didn't want to disturb our quiet time. So I thought how, sometimes, to bathe my son seems a chore because he is so active. Justis has so so many people who love him. Yusra has no one, well, now me- and Justis too. We saw her today and he went over to hug her-really embrace her. I think he scared her, but we fixed all that. I know that all my life I was treated as a unique individual- by my parents ,teachers. How incredibly lucky I am. The word in Swahili for infant is the same as sand and everytime I remember that it feels so sad. Yusra.. Yusra...human being, alive, sick, needing love..so much more than a grain of sand.