Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Day of the Tree

It looked like a total loss!   Leading up to Thursday, our next-to-last day with the children, we had talked about giving at least some of the children paints.  Madeline had brought drawing pads and watercolor sets (15) and she had talked about doing an art class, but I think she had Sarah in mind to teach it.   Sarah had already started preparing a mural in the library and expected to be busy into Friday.  Wednesday evening Madeline made it clear that she wasn't about to teach an art class and no one else was stepping up.  Just when it seemed like it wouldn't happen and we'd brought all these materials for nothing, our 25-year teacher, Joyce, boldly stepped up and then developed an entire lesson plan, recruiting Teacher's Aides along the way (Cathy and Kathy among others).

Next morning we brought 5th and 6th graders into one room and Joyce began with the story "The Giving Tree" -- a story by Shel Silverstein about the relationship between a boy and a self-sacrificing tree that loves him.  Then Joyce and her TAs helped the children with the basic shape of a tree and turned them loose with watercolors for their very first time.  It was a delightful experience for them all.

Meanwhile, in the new library, the walls had been primed and with help from teachers and students and Lizzy, Sarah painted a large tree between the 2 windows on the back wall.  Then we proceeded to bring each of the students into the library, one class at a time.  We talked to them about this being their tree, the Tree of Achungo, and that we were going to make them a part of the tree forever.  

Then each child had his hand painted green and they pressed their hands onto different parts of the tree on the wall to create leaves of their hand prints.  We even brought in the preschoolers and all of the teachers.  The tree filled out with the green prints of the hands of all of Achungo school and is now a permanent part of the school library.

During art class, the younger classes had a time with playdough and 3rd and 4th worked with geometric puzzles (they have to fit a variety of plastic pieces into a given shape).  We had everyone involved in fun, new educational experiences that morning!  And there were many types of trees left for all to enjoy.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Red Pen

The kids at Achungo are amazing. While I was there, I scribbled some thoughts and impressions of them in a notebook. Words like "happy ", "joyful", "sweet-natured", and "unselfish" kept popping up in my musings. They were such good kids who didn't have a complaint on their lips, despite living lives of poverty and being completely lacking in resources. Kids in America would do well to take note. Here's an example of how amazing the Achungo kids are...

I'm sitting in the back of a classroom watching Mr. Vincent teach history to a group of 9-year-olds. The material is dense, and covers former leaders of Kenya and their attributes and contributions. It is being taught lecture style, and the kids are all taking notes in their tattered notebooks like they are in college. I've never seen 9-year-olds (3rd grade aged kids) take notes like this. The class is quiet and well-behaved, focused on the teacher. Classroom management is not an issue at Achungo like it is in the States. Suddenly, I see a boy throw his pen across the room at another boy. It's the first time I've seen any form of misbehavior in a classroom since I've been here. I'm surprised Mr. Vincent doesn't say anything since I'm sure he saw the pen fly across the room. The boy who was hit with the pen scoops it up, scribbles with it in his notebook for a few seconds, and then throws it back across the aisle. It lands next to a girl sitting on the other side of the classroom, and she picks it up. She writes with it for a minute, then throws it at another student who is sitting next to me. He grabs the pen, and begins to write with it too. It suddenly dawns on me that these kids aren't throwing the pen at each other, but rather to each other. They are sharing it. And then I see that it is a red pen, and the boy who is writing with it is using it to highlight his notes. After a minute of improving his notes, he throws it to a boy on the other side of the room who I now notice has subtly held his hand out for it. This pen, this red pen is the only colored pen in the room. And the kids are sharing it so they can all take better notes. 

The kids at Achungo are amazing. And those of us who live in America with all our red pens and fancy things and wealth of resources could really learn a lot from these orphans in rural Kenya. I know I did.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The October Trip to Achungo

The team that journeyed to Achungo in October 2012 was a mixed team of 9 that included 2 returnees: Jennifer Lin and Madeline Cowden. Madeline and 4 others (John and Joyce De Russy, Beverly Boyd and Cathie Grace) were an "advance team" of 5 that left 2 days early, on October 22 to spend 2 days recuperating in Nairobi and touring a bit as they waited for the rest of us. The rest of us, Jennifer, Monte, Lizzy Burhenne and Sarah Ackerly, departed Wednesday, October 24. Finally, we were all together at the Gracia Gardens Hotel, Nairobi, on Friday morning, 25th and we began our adventure. As with prior trips, our first 2 days were in the Masai Mara Game Reserve, staying at a safari hotel and making trips into the wild to see the most wild of all animals! Then Sunday we ventured forth to Rodi Kopany village and the Tausi Hotel and entered into a full week with the children and staff of Achungo Children's Center.