Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Literacy hut class project launch

For many months we have been working to help a local Tuareg group launch its vision of a hut class. This group consists of a lot of our workers and their families and other Tuaregs living in the community around us. Our input thus far has been to fund the building of the straw and grass hut for the classes, install solar panels for 4 lights, build a latrine on site and supply learning/education materials. We are also working alongside them to design teaching content and support them in whatever way possible. The teachers are all volunteers from the community who got educated and want to give back now, and their board is all working together to learn how to manage the project, be accountable for and keep track of project funds, and to plan what they can do for their community.

This is their "governing board".

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The purpose of this project was to benefit the men, women and children, all with different classes, to reach a higher level of literacy and education. Here is a picture of Paul at the grand opening handing out notebooks, pencils, pens and other school supplies to be distributed. Tim and Paul also gave a great little speech about how thrilled we are to partner with them. Paul drove home the idea that they don't have to live in ignorance and give up having an education. Their children CAN be doctors, lawyers, shop owners, ministers or whatever else their hearts desire, and we are here to help them make their education count. Even as adults there are many things they can learn to improve their lives.

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This is Sidimou and Kutana explaining to the group of men what the classes are about. The men's class is twice a week and will focus on speaking, reading and writing (based on the french system which is what they need for government and jobs here). They will learn how to count money, make transactions, talk to their bosses with common french phrases and how to write their names. We will also teach on subjects such as building latrines, handwashing, and how to build,repair or make things (Paul's input will be awesome!)

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This is a large part of the group of children that will be receiving free classes twice a week at the hut class. The purpose is to give them a place to bring their homework from school and meet with teachers to go over the concepts they didn't understand, be re-taught things and practice the things they did learn. The public school system is notoriously bad for going on strike for months and it is always the kids who suffer. By working with the kids several times a week we hope to enhance their education and success at school. Our staff members get their children's schooling paid for as part of their benefits for working with us, so this is one other way to make sure that investment is making it's maximum impact.

Who wants to learn? ME ME!!

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Teachers and students. I can't wait to get in there and have fun teaching these kids and doing homework with them!

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The women's class is also held for 2 hours twice a week on Fridays and Sundays. Starting in September, Chantelle will be co-teaching the Friday afternoon class with Miriama. As their own initiative, these 18 women who are registered so far have already started to donate 50 CFA (about 13 cents Canadian) every week into a communal pot. This fund will slowly grow and they are thinking together how to make their money work for them and how they can use it to help each other. We are listening carefully to their ideas!

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Topics for the women will include how to count, how to write numbers and how to write their names. Almost all of these women are completely illiterate. We will also focus on health topics such as handwashing, breastfeeding, nutrition, family planning, ways to avoid their children getting sick, overall hygiene, etc. The list is long! I can't wait to get started in September to meet weekly with these ladies, speak Tamasheq and hopefully have a positive impact as they learn and improve their lives.

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The opening party day itself was a lot of fun. Tim and Kristi came from our team along with our family. We got there at 10:00 am and went into the hut for some of the opening speeches. Once that was done they felt they had to feed the white people. The "real lunch" was still about 2 hours away...but maybe we looked frail? This is quite a common custom at gatherings we have been to. They pull us aside and practically force feed us to show us hospitality!

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And when they are honoring you and even went out and bought more meat, how do you politely decline intestine and stomach all mixed in with meat chunks and sauce? For me the rule is I eat very slowly, mostly eating bread or pasta and try to be polite while avoiding too much meat, only having a few pieces of it. I know...some people delve right in and I admire them...but I am not quite up to that yet! Arielle on the other hand...she goes to town on it!

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After our "pre-meal" we spent a few hours talking with the women, playing with the kids and animals, and then the real meal was ready! They had slaughtered a sheep and had a huge sack of rice and one of macaroni elbows prepared to feed the 50 or so people who were there

The cooking team with their two HUGE cooking pots on the open fire. It takes about 4-5 hours for these to cook before the meal is ready.

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Platters of food being doled out and then the sauce and meat is added by the ladle-full over top.

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And of course what day would be complete without the kids having a blast too! They love eating with their hands, playing with the kids and of course animals too.

Arielle holding baby Soufian (the baby of our main day guard)

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I know it looks like Bennett is throttling the baby goat here, but please believe me when I tell you he was just trying to get it to look at the camera!

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And that is it for the day! We are so excited that the hut is built and the classes have begun. I am sure there will be many more stories over time about how this class is a part of our lives and work here in Niger!

 

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This will likely be our last blog from Niger before we head to Canada for a 7 week stop, so see you on the other side!!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

A boy's prayer

Three posts in one day! That must mean I have been home with the flu for the past few days and am trying to get caught up. So enjoy the three in a row here.

 

Here is a cute prayer from my little boy last night

 

Dear Jesus

Thank you Jesus for Mommy and Daddy and Arielle. And for Grandma and Grandpas.

Please help me to get along with Arielle, and Jesus, help Arielle to get along with me!

Thank you for today and that I could win at Uno. Thank you I was good at school. Pray that I will have a good sleep tonight, and mommy too. And no dreams!

Thank you for all the people....the English people....all around the world....in Canada.

Amen

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My Tuesday morning family

Every Tuesday morning for a while now I drop off the kids at school by 8:30 am and then head on over to the home of a Tuareg family. Their eldest daughter Miriama worked with me back in February and March when we were doing the baseline development survey.  Now I head over once a week to visit with her and her family. Sometimes we head out to a cafe, but more often than not we stay and her house and visit with everyone as they wander in and out. It is great practice for my language skills to spend all morning there.

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We sit out under their shelter made of wood beams and crossbeams, then covered with a quilt woven of scraps of fabrics, then covered with woven straw mats. It sure helps to keep the heat of the day away! Her mother speaks no french at all and always sits right close. I pull out my notebook and verb cards for help when I need it and we chatter away. She points out things and name them, we talk about her day, what people are cooking,etc. She seems to quite enjoy our time, even though she already asked me if I could give them money to rebuild their whole hut. Such is the life of their "token white person" !

Miriama and her mother.

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Inevitably while I am there, the children show up. They have 2 little kids who live there and they invite their friends over. They show me things, we play little games of drawing animals in the ground with sticks and trying to guess what we drew, etc. They are a lot of fun. And everyday they want me to take their pictures. I have only brought my camera with me once, and they had a blast looking at themselves on my screen

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Miriama is a special young lady. She is one of the very few Tuareg women who has become educated (she almost finished secondary school and speaks decent french). She is also the one volunteering with our literacy hut class to teach the women. As I spend lots of time with her and her family, I am slowly trying to find the best, culturally appropriate way to build her up and help her with her goals. She has spoken several times of her interest in attending a technology school. This school would teach her to type and work with computers and data and then after two years she could get a job working in an office, or a pharmacy or something like that. So please pray as we slowly consider the best way to help her and build relationships with her whole family. Miriama refused a family arranged marriage as a young teenager, and thus her mother pulled her out of school and now she doesn't know what she can do to make her life better. I want to walk alongside her and help her where I can without being offensive to the family in any way or being seen as "the Bank". So please pray for wisdom!

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As for now, I sure enjoy my Tuesday mornings!

Best packaging EVER!

Every little care package and gift and encouragement we get here is always really appreciated and celebrated. We have been the recipients of some wonderful boxes!!
Recently, two team members went to the Arabian Peninsula for a conference and vacation a month ago, and brought us back goodies! You see, Paul's parents work there, and they were more than happy to have "cargo carriers" to bring us back some love! We loved all the goodies and candy and useful things they sent back. One thing we had requested was a set of speakers that we could plug our iPod into to act as both speakers for music and an alarm clock in the morning. It was perfect to get it from them since they live in a country that uses 220v power as well, so no need to fuss with adaptors and transformers!

 

After we had unpacked the stuff they had sent us we had supper and got the kids ready for bed and I happened to pick up the box. We hadn't opened it up yet as I knew it was the speaker set. When I picked it up I thought "wow...this box is really heavy". So we opened it up and look what awaited us!! They had taken out all the traditional, boring and inedible packaging of foam or plastic and replaced it with koolaid packs, oreo cookie packs, Coffee Crisp bars (Paul's favorite!) and coffee! So the speakers were still nice packaged in to avoid damage, but this is some of the most fabulous packing material ever! Thanks mom and Dad! A good idea for those of you out there who may know other people who live overseas too. If you ever have packages to send...think of how they might like this "alternative packing material!!"

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Visiting Tagantassou

This past Thursday and Friday I had the chance to be out of town and visit the Marineaus and the village of Tagantassou. This is one village that we are focusing on to start a new holistic development program. I was a little nervous to head out of town (especially alone on a local bus) with the state of the current security and political situation in Niger, but in the end I felt a peace about it and choose not to fear. Turned out I had no problems at all, except for the smelly-ness of the local bus!

While out of town I got to spend some excellent time with the Marineau family as well. Always such a blessing to spend time with them!

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While in the village, Sophie and I got to sit down with one of the ladies there called Maimouna. I like to stop at her house every time we are in the village to talk. With a mix of tamasheq and french, we have a great time! That day she was out front in her yard making straw mats. This is one of the major little industries that the women in this village do. She makes about 1 1/2 mats per day, weaving them from millet stalks dried over from the last harvest. These mats sell for about 700CFA ($1.75)  She had her niece there helping too, so maybe she would finish 2 complete mats that day.

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Some finished products rolled up against the wall.tagentassou7

I decided to get in there and give it a try again. I managed to get comfortable with the looping knot that they do to hold the pieces together, but they were much faster than me! I told her next time I would come early and we could make a whole mat together while we talked. These mats are important to the women here and provide one of their few sources of cash income. When we built the hut class recently, we bought 25 of these mats from the community and they were very happy!

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The main reason for my last minute solo trip was to nail down a few last details for our school feeding program. You see, we are in the midst of a process to apply for a grant to fund a school feeding program for this village and the people in a 3 km radius. Daniel spent a lot of time talking with the school director to gather a few more details about a vaccination program they recently had come through and a few other things we needed for our proposal.

This is one of the classrooms in this 2 room school. While definitely better than a grass hut class, it still is in serious need of help.

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As you can tell, it is in rough shape, there are not enough desks (and some are broken) and there are not enough school books to go around. When our school feeding program kicks off in October, we expect to see even more kids show up at the school and put a greater strain on their resources. So some of the things we are attempting to address is to bring their books to children ration to 1 book for 2 children, supply annual de-worming and measles and meningitis vaccinations, hand washing stations etc, all in addition to the 2 nutritious meals a day per child. All of this for a budget which equals just 33 cents per child per day for the 9 month school year! (as my brother commented- you can't even buy a pack of Ramen noodles back home for that!)

We are also hoping to partner with others to reinvigorate their classrooms. Some of the ideas kicking around right now are to work with a short term missions team to paint and clean up and repair the classrooms, or do that with the local MK school here in Niamey as a service project, or add it to the project budget and pay the community,etc.

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We will keep you up to date on the project as it progresses!

Sunday, June 07, 2009

While you are waiting

Hi there! Well I hope in the next day or two to have at least one new post up since so much has been happening. I spent some time in our village checking out a project and yesterday (Saturday) was the grand opening of a Tuareg hut classe that we are partnering with. But...I have a few big things on my plate for the next few days so I thought I would at least send a few new pictures your way! (You may also notice the new picture in our blog heading!)

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Children who will get classes at the hut class project



The ladies in the village, hard at work making straw mats



and finally.....




Stay tuned for more to come!