Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Grant Time!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Made it back to village safely --- that’s never a guarantee; it’s always a bit of a shocker when transport goes relatively well…  Well, I guess “relatively well” would be an overstatement.  I mean, I did wait for my bus for over three and half hours, just hanging out on the side of road from 8-11:30pm, waiting for the good ole “Midnight Express” to breeze through from Bobo to Guron (essentially my village…Guron is only a few kilo away from Lanfiera, about 15 minutes by bike).  While waiting, I sat awkwardly on a rice sack and read a book, using my cell phone as a flashlight.  Several busses stopped, but when MY bus finally came, some guy just started grabbing my stuff and loading it onto the bus immediately, and I just kept repeating, “Where is this bus going?  Is it going to Guron?” to verify that yes, this was the bus I wanted and if I got on it, I wouldn’t end up in the middle of nowhere.  Unfortunately no one responded….so I just got on and prayed.  (As it turns out, it was indeed the bus I wanted, thank God!)  Naturally, there was nowhere for me to sit, except for the half-broken seats next to old, sleeping women or women who had dirty smelly babies with them.   I chose a spot next to an old woman, crammed myself in (the guy next to the window was passed out, taking up 1 and a half of the three seats, and the old woman pretty much took up the other 1 and a half seats….) I’m not sure how I got in….but somehow I fit.  I continued to read my book until someone yelled at me for my cellphone light bothering him.  So then I was angry and annoyed.  The bus ride was far too uncomfortable and bumpy to even try sleeping.  I mean, I had to brace my legs against the seat and wrap my arms around the bars in front of me in order to avoid falling out of my seat or getting thrown out the window due to the massive bumps aggravated by the driver going at an insane speed….  I was almost tempted to put on my bike helmet…but then thought, “Nah, I’ll be fine.”  Well, I did make it back to Lanfiera after several hours on the Midnight Express and a few bruises on my head (maybe I should’ve worn my helmet?) and it was almost 5am by the time I biked back to my house and greeted Sabari who was thrilled to see me after having been gone for a few days --- she was probably more hungry than anything, though.

As I opened the door to my house, my cell phone light shined towards my garden and then I saw it:  the gate was moved, leaving the entrance wide open, and most of my plants were missing…or rather, eaten.   URGH.  I hate Africa!!!  How are we supposed to accomplish ANYTHING at all to help “the community” when I personally can’t even successfully have a small garden with salad and green beans, next to my house, completely enclosed with 5 foot high walls save the entrance (which has a gate, by the way!) without someone going and messing it up and letting their damn animals eat my green beans?!?!?!   Urgh.  Anger is an understatement.  This is precisely why I don’t think I’ll be extending my service for a third year: animals here ruin all my things.  And herds of donkeys enter my courtyard at night and stampede right underneath my bedroom window, making the most annoying sounds known to man.   And to make things worse, no one cares, because “C’est comme ca, ici” (It’s like that here), and as thee American, I’m rich and can certainly go buy some more green bean seeds if I want…   So I went to bed angry (or was it angrier? Since I had already been annoyed about the midnight express?)  And fell asleep to sweet dreams of knowing I had to get up in less than 2 hours to teach my 7am math class with 120 junior high kids.  Not exciting.  Especially when you’re tired and crabby.  I fell asleep, woke up to my alarm far too soon, turned it off, and went back to bed.  When I got up shortly before 11am, I called my homologue to let him know I had “just” gotten back to village, ate some food (I was hungry!) and read a book, because I was angry and didn’t want to do any of the things I needed to be doing, like taking a shower (I was also quite dirty, covered in red dust), washing my dishes, watering my half-dead, mostly eaten garden, typing up my grant requests, correcting a few hundred math test, etc.  So I didn’t.  I basically moped around the whole day in my house, not leaving or greeting my neighbors, or really accomplishing anything.  Today (Wednesday) I got up, thoroughly washed (including my hair), went to school, lectured students about being annoying and disrespectful during my class.  I might have also kicked a few boys out of class and taken a girl’s juice – hey, my rule is no eating or drinking except water during class…and she had brought a cold, almost slushy-frozen juice….so it became mine. Muahhhaha 

But after class (and eating some Americaland goodies, including wild rice with a can of chicken breast, smothered in Velveeta cheese and a Snickers bar for dessert), I got to work.  I had pictures to take of “Flat Stanley” visiting my village for my cousin Jessica's daughter, as well as a grant to write – It’s due tonight… I didn’t leave myself to much wiggle room there, and in fact, even at the moment, it’s still not emailed.   The internet is working, but it hasn’t finished uploading the document (11 pages of grant gloriousness), and so I wait.  And pray that it will work.  If it doesn’t I don’t know what I’ll do.  The deadline is literally in a few hours.  C’mon Internet!  You can do it!  Just upload a few bytes every minute, that’s all!

If you’re interested in my grant, titled “Literacy through the Arts,” here’s a few paragraphs of its eleven pages:

Project Summary:  By providing each of three local elementary schools with a set of one hundred age-appropriate picture books (primarily in French, but also in local languages) and basic “Literacy through the Arts” materials, this project aims to provide students with improved learning opportunities to develop their reading and critical thinking skills.  Additionally, this will be accompanied by a teacher workshop for the schools’ teachers and directors, strengthening their capacity so that they can successfully and creatively teach literacy.  This project addresses many of the community’s concerns, including: improving schools and children’s education; learning how to read; increasing access to books; incorporating health, hygiene, and other basic life skills into school curriculum; and training teachers.  The community and individual schools will be providing a significant proportion of the resources necessary for this project (25%), but in order for “Literacy through the Arts” to be as successful as possible with the greatest impact, outside aide is needed.  The potential outcomes for “Literacy through the Arts” are invaluable: books to read, students who succeed, and teachers who lead.   Considering that the youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow, can we really put a price on their education?

Community Background:  Located near a river in the Sourou Valley of western Burkina Faso, not far from the frontier of Mali, Lanfiera and its surrounding commune is a flourishing community (pop. 15,800) that has recently received much attention from outside aide resources, such as the USA’s MCC (Millennium Challenge Corporation).  However, all of this attention has been directed at improving the agricultural techniques of local farmers, increasing production, and ensuring food security, while in the meantime, the youth and teachers, who spend their days at school rather than in the fields, have been neglected.  The schools have many problems, ranging from too many students and not enough desks, to a lack of trained teachers and limited access to potable water.  Yet, when asked what they would most like to see changed in their community, an overwhelming majority of community members (including both adults and children) expressed a desire to learn how to read and to have access to books – specifically, books that are fun, educational, and interesting to children, as opposed to math textbooks (which are lacking as well!).  There are no libraries near Lanfiera (the closest is 42 kilometers away), and there are certainly no places to buy books, more or less books written in French; or better yet, African French; or still even better, local language.  Furthermore, the pedagogy used by teachers to develop students’ literacy skills is severely lacking and altogether negative in approach, primarily due to insufficient resources, though also a result of not implementing fresh and modern pedagogical methods into the classroom.  Every year, the primary schools graduate several hundred students into the local middle school (though almost as many don’t even make it to middle school), and sadly, almost half of these middle school students cannot read or understand a text, unless it is read aloud to them first.  While they may be able to hang on for a little while – or even a few years – they eventually reach a point where their inability to comprehend written language prevents them from learning entirely, and consequently, they drop out of school.  Aiming to inspire students and teachers, this project, “Literacy through the Arts,” is needed in the community because it addresses many of the community-identified priorities presented to me, as well as has the potential to incorporate secondary community concerns such as health and hygiene.   But most importantly, this project goes above and beyond, getting at the root of the problem while creating sustainable skills and practices: not only teaching students, but also teaching teachers. 

If it gets approved, there’s a good chance you’ll hear about the grant again…when I come knocking on your door (well, the cyberspace door of your email or facebook, that is) asking for donations!  How much do I want….oh just a thousand dollars…or two. Specifically, 1.178.000 CFA (local currency) or $2,356.00 (USA).   *Think Beth’s Christmas Present….or Africa’s Christmas Present, if you want to be global.*  But hey now, don’t get anxious.  it’s really  not that much.  Honestly, it equates to about $800 for each school – and that’s nothing. Most Americans spend more than that just on clothes…or yummy Starbucks drinks during the year….or one month’s rent…or a personal computer!  These schools don’t have much of anything, certainly not even just ONE computer (no money + no electricity = no computers), nor are there books.  Can you imagine going to school and your education only consisting of note-taking in a language that’s not even your mother-tongue?  No wonder the majority of the people in this country are illiterate (they sign their names with X’s – seriously.) …. But you can help fix that!  Keep me in mind, and hopefully in a few weeks, I’ll let you know what you can to do to help and how to send my project your monetary donations!  Merci!

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