Saturday, September 29, 2012

Back To School

Saskatchewan granted us a break this year in the form of another week of summer vacation with the boys. For the past few years, school has been back in session that last week of August. This year, the school year didn't start until after the Labour Day long weekend. While we were thankful for the extra time at home with the boys, it didn't seem to phase the boys too much in how they felt about back to school. As you can see by the photos, Aidan is just taking it in stride...part of his whole 'we'll see what it brings..." type lookout on life. Easton, however, upgraded from finger gun to full on Nerf gun to amplify his point. Nevertheless, he came home from school happy with his teacher, happy about his classmates and clinging to the teacher's promise that she's not about giving homework. (We all know that this is a new teacher ploy to win over the kids the first week...we see right through you, Mme. Teacher.)

I work in a store that, let's face it, caters mostly to women wanting to make their homes more beautiful and eye catching. So, needless to say, the first full day of school being back in session found our store inundated with mommies, coffees in hand, with no kids in tow. Over the course of the day, I heard many conversations based on back to school, including all sorts of complaints on over crowded classrooms, poor teacher choices, decisions to split up kids from their bff's and all sorts of travesties that seem to have conspired against our kids' destiny to become highly educated and well paid members of society. Am I jaded? Absolutely. Not because I don't believe in the value of education or the teachers that make decisions affecting our kids everyday. I am happy with the school my boys go to and consider us very fortunate to have found such a good school as soon as we moved to Saskatoon. 
The teachers at our school are genuinely enthusiastic about their jobs and as seen last spring, when we pulled the boys out of school, willing to go above and beyond to make sure that learning continues wherever  life takes us.

When I think of school this year, I have the images of schools in Africa in communities where we visited. Children walking long distances on empty stomachs to get an education. Teachers sacrificing their own livelihoods to provide education and a safe place for children to gather and learn. 
Below is a photo of Esnaut. She is an amazing woman. She looks about 18 but she is a mother, grandmother and now a teacher. She used to teach for a government run school in her community but when she noticed that many orphaned and vulnerable children weren't able to afford fees or supplies, she decided to make a change. She built herself a house off her own meagre income. A single woman, two children, two grandchildren...and she built a house that neighbours complained was far above what she needed. She had the audacity to build a two bedroom house with a living room. Unbelievable. What does she need with all that room? Well, one bedroom she shares with the grandchildren who now live with her. The other bedroom is literally full of chickens! Believe it or not, she has about 85 -100 chickens at any time in the spare room, complete with sawdust floor and watering stations for the birds to drink. She breeds the chickens and sells them to feed not only her own family...but the 104 children that attend school in her living room.

Yes. I said IN her living room. 

When we arrived early one morning, the children were packed into the living room. The couch and chair Esnaut owns are stacked on top of one another in the corner and there are children covering every square inch of her tiny living room. At first, I thought that maybe a few classes gathered at once to meet us but no, this is her every day contribution to her community. She teaches 104+ kids in her own living room every single day. EVERY day! It is incredible! The kids are so well behaved and learn with their grade levels. Every child has a notebook and pencil with their name on it. Every night, before bed, after feeding and taking care of the chickens, Esther writes out the next days' lesson in every child's book. 104 copies of lessons. Every single day. 

So, while I think teachers in North America are underpaid and valuable...I can't even explain the beauty of this woman's heart who does something like this every single day.

Esnaut with her single chalk board from which she teaches .

The room is so small that I couldn't back far enough out the door to get all 100+ kids in the photo!

Esnaut's school/house. 

An old court room converted by care workers to house the school in Zimba

Aidan sits at one of the desks shared by children in a school in Zambia

This small school room houses up to 35 kids...every day.
It also doubles as the care point for the care workers who feed the children that come every day
from throughout the community.

One of my dearest friends, Olantah is a young teacher who is both teaching at the community school in Mulenga
and attending teaching courses in the evenings to finish her own schooling. She's a beautiful example of a new generation of care workers that take their mandate to care for the orphaned and vulnerable children very seriously.
In the community school in Mulenga, four chalkboards separate the four classes of kids learning at the same time in the structure. Olantah, Arthur and Emmanuel teach the kids in the community and prepare them for
writing examples in grade seven to allow them entry to high school.

Aidan sits with "his" class in Amulo. While Jason and I went out and did home visits with
the care workers, Aidan and Easton volunteered to help the teachers in their classrooms.
Aidan taught the class he was in about the rain cycle.

Here is the lesson at the end of class that one of the students copied into his
notebook. 5/5!

Easton stays after class to help one of "his" students finish up his assignment.

Our boys learned a lot in their travels throughout Africa. One of the things I know that they absorbed was the absolute luxury of school that North Americans enjoy. As they were filling their backpacks with school supplies,  we noticed that over half of their supplies were recycled from last year. We've redefined what is "necessary" in our lives...I love that both boys noticed and commented that they still felt we had too much "new" stuff...
I know they weren't exactly "looking forward to" going back to school but I know that a month in...I still think that they are mindful of the students in Africa who wouldn't take it for granted.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Falling Off the Wagon

It's fall and certainly my favourite time of year ...this year, it's exceptional. The days are still warm and sunny and the nights are crisp and clear. It's my only excuse for the lack of updates on the blog, although I have been writing...just more the pen and paper type that can be scratched out on the beach, in the park and in between bites of sandwich in the backroom at work.

The boys are back in school after a nearly 7 month hiatus, the only exception being a brief appearance during the last few weeks of the end of the school year, back in June. I don't count that as school because a) it was obviously still a jet lagged blur and the boys were clearly just figuring out what continent they were on and b) last weeks of school in our school anyway are a long stretch of field trips, sports events, outings and movie watching...not a lot in the way of studying.

So, with the boys back in school, summer coming to a close and yes, even hockey on the horizon...I'll hopefully get back into the groove of blogging regularly. Until then, imagine me as I am...taking every available moment to lie out in the hammock and watch the clouds roll by...peeling apples and making apple crisp and groaning at the first signs of frost as the mornings get darker.

It's fall. It's fleeting. I'll be back indoors soon enough.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Africa Reunion

A couple of weekends ago, we packed our little Escape up and headed east to Manitoba. Jason's parents have a beautiful place on a little lake there so we invaded for a weekend and invited the girls from our time in Africa to meet us there. Now, unusual as it was, our intake of volunteers in Africa was completely Canadian! One of the girls, Mel, is even from our city, though we'd never met! The other two, both named Carly, are from Winnipeg.  We had them over for the night at Jason's parents place, made some African food and just generally caught up with each other now that we're all back in Canada. It's interesting how everyone's reactions to being home are so different yet still alike. 
Rock Lake is a beautiful place, made even more beautiful when you're surrounded by family and friends. It was a great weekend and an amazing way to wind down summer.

Sunset as we pulled into Rock Lake, MB

Morning Mist and Pelicans on the lake

Charlie catching rocks

Mist and morning sun...worth waking up for

Our entire intake...together again.

Everywhere...reminders of Africa.