tech disclaimer: due to limited electricity, very low bandwidth, and no access to icloud pics, i'll have to save my great photos and videos to upload later, enjoy the text!
First day: Most of us woke up around 9am (after 10 and a half hours of pretty good sleep--I managed to sleep through the fast "click-click-click" of the generator and the strange insect and bird sounds), and had breakfast at the founders' house, a little ways up the hill from the guest house: scrambled eggs, fried bread, ham/bacon, roasted avocado. A local woman was helping to cook/serve/clean-up, and, in addition to the assistant director, there are 4 other American volunteers here right now: two permaculture volunteers who are interested in planting more perennial crops (fruit trees, nut trees), moving animals farther up the hill so that manure has a chance to fertilize more area--filter down towards the lake--and training local people to mix more protein in with their carbs. Then there are a couple here from New Orleans, who have been here for almost a year, doing a variety of things: working in the restaurant, helping to type up and photocopy exams, helping to coordinate volunteers and visitors.
After breakfast we had a tour of campus: next to the two girls' dorms (there are 43 orphan girls who live here year-round and attend the school) was an outdoor cooking facility, where several women were sitting near 3 big pots of some kind of grain mixed with beans, boiling over wood fires. We passed by an enormous mango tree, under which were sleeping several Masai guards (noticeable when around campus in their red cloth wraps and walking sticks), who are on duty at night. There are two groupings of academic buildings, one for Pre-K through 7th grade, and one for "secondary school" students. 300 students attend the school, some of whom come -with their own transportation - from as far away as Mwanza, about 45 minutes. It is a private school, but cheaper than many other private schools in the area, I guess. The children we saw, all in red/blue uniforms, were in large classrooms with tall ceilings and open windows that had horizontal corrugated iron bars set into them. The younger children's classrooms had no desks but by the second grade or so there were 25 desks in rows and a teacher off to the side. I was surprised to see how similar to Thomas' curriculum the 4th grade appeared to be, and how the preschool room, though certainly more spartan, seemed to be based on the same idea about learning through play (just from passing through the classrooms - not based on any real observation time). Exercises were written on the single whiteboard at the front, and children were writing the answers in their thin square notebooks. The school rules included speaking only English (#4), and respecting others (#8).
The classrooms were much bigger and better ventilated than the ones we saw at the migrant-worker children's school outside of Beijing, but the physical resources were fewer: no computers in sight, no overhead projectors, very few things on the wall - maybe a map or an alphabet - and the new library had several sets of wooden shelves, but not a single book or computer or chair. There was one padlocked room that stores the books and scientific equipment and athletic equipment. Speaking of athletics, a remarkable feature of the "campus," is a full-size tennis court complete with tall fence: an organization called ------ built it, and there are tennis rackets in various places around campus in different stages of stringing. There is also a sizable dining hall under construction, being built with massive, thick stone walls, and a small stage in the middle of one wall. (Right now, I gather, students eat outside near the cooking facility.)
The "campus"--and I keep putting it in quote marks because it sprawls along the shore of the lake without any obvious organization or boundary--includes not just what I've described thus far but also a big stone well up on a hill (pumped from "the middle" of the lake and then sand-filtered for drinking...our host today couldn't explain how that filtering process worked, but she assured me the water is regularly tested), different garden plots (with new vegetables the agricultural workers are encouraging locals to grow and eat: eggplant, avocado, pineapple), and two big chicken coops...over the hill, I guess, there are rice paddies, a cow field, some corn, and who knows what else. Down by the shore is a restaurant the JBFC runs with thatched-roof but no walls, open to the breezes, and a boat-repurposed-as-a-bar. The shore is littered with tiny snail shells that crunch underfoot (and which, sadly, carry some kind of parasite that make the water unsafe to swim in). I understand that ex-pats crowd the place on the weekend, making the 45-50 minute drive from Mwanza to "Papa's" for good food, lake-shore dining, and some American-style socializing. For travelers who want to stay longer (and pay for more luxurious and private accommodations than what we have here) there were two bungalows.
After our late breakfast and given the mental haze some of us were suffering from, we looked like all the other slow-moving people around us. The six of us sat together for a while after the tour and talked about our goals here, our objectives, and how we might reach those. The teachers we've talked to seem eager to have us teach their classes; the director has told them that we are here to give professional development; and we ourselves are sensitive to the challenges that the available resources present, the national exam that students are prepared for; the cultural sensitivities we need to keep in mind...we'll see how things develop.
In the late afternoon we spent an hour observing speeches: secondary country or animal
Some internet time: generator-dependent, and a little slow
Lunch at 4:30: chicken/eggplant lasagna made by a volunteer
more talk and internet and brainstorming about D.A. and global travel
went down to the shore to watch a thunderstorm blow across the water
at 7:30 walked over to the orphanage dining room to meet the girls and have dinner. Having been warned that the girls would be shy at first, I pulled out a children's book I'd brought along, about Lazy Lion who can't be bothered to build himself a house for shelter from the Big Rains, and was surrounded by 4-5 girls. I read the book out loud first (in very bad lighting - the whole room, which fit 70 people, was lit by two dim bulbs), and then asked the kids to take turns. Several different groups of kids drifted in and out, so we probably went through the book three or four times, and then I asked how old they were, shared pictures of Thomas and Luca (picking apples, at a pumpkin patch, in our crayon Halloween costumes), showed them pictures of Deerfield -one kid asked about the civil war memorial, which began an impromptu history lesson--and enjoyed the chance to be near them. They had all changed out of their school clothes. Dinner was cooked cornmeal, which the kids balled up with their fingers like playdough and dipped into beans, and some cooked greens. After dinner they sang 3 or 4 songs in amazing range and harmony, and then led us through a prayer session. Very moving.
Headed to bed now, at 10:45...we'll see what tomorrow brings!