Sunday, 10 March 2013

After covering almost 10,000 miles my placement is nearly at an end. Last month was my busiest yet. I managed to complete the LCM workshop in all clusters in the region, so I finally feel like I actually achieved something. It was good fun and all the teachers wanted more training. They all worked well and were co-facilitated by myself and the Cluster Trainers I had trained back in November. It was good to get out and do something that, hopefully, will actually make a difference to teachers’ practice in the classroom. Mind you they still turned up late and wanted to get away early, the fact that they got no money for being there as they usually do at trainings was a source of disappointment for some of them. It was only due to the schools paying a contribution for each of their teachers that they got any food at all.

 The workshops involved a lot of trekking round the region on my bike, one fall and several overnight stays, being hosted by some female teachers or in one particular case a very nice older lady in one of the villages. She had a huge bed, I swear it was bigger than a King-sized one. I laid myself down at one side, being sure not to take up much room and allowing her the remaining part to herself, the size of a normal double bed. However, she must have been very lonely as she cuddled up to me in the middle of the night... honestly, and then kept fanning me with her local fan. T’was very amusing! She was a lovely lady though and very hospitable to put up a complete stranger like that. That is what I will miss about The Gambia, the friendliness and the welcome they give to complete strangers. How many of us back home would notonly welcome complete strangers to stay but allow them to share our beds?  Not many of us.
Apart from that there has been a lack of power here in Basse. There has been no power here during the day for a couple of weeks and it's been coming on late in the evenings and going off about midnight rather than 2am. Also water gets switched off about 10am and comes back about 5pm, so all's good here in Basse!

 I will also miss the life that I have built up for myself here and all the friends I have made. Some of whom I will not be able to keep up with when I return due to lack of access to the internet or unable to write or phone. It is a great country and so little of the tourism that happens down at the coast makes its way up country. But delving a little deeper into the smallest country in Africa you will find hospitality abound and people ready to welcome you and make you part of their family for no other reason than they want to. There are so many other things that I will miss to mention, some I am sure I will not realise till I get home. One thing I will not miss is sharing my house with the mice that have now reappeared again and keeping wanting to run all over my mosquito net in the middle of the night! Try as I might and I try, I cannot seem to find where they hide themselves away during the day.

 In a couple of weeks I am off to Sierra Leone and from there I will travel overland through that country then onto Guinea and back to Basse for a week or so before coming home at the end of May, inshallah!

 Hope to see you all then. God bless and thank you for taking the time to read my blog over this last year.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Camel spotting in the URR!

Well what a few weeks it has been! Going on trek, workshops where I felt like I was banging my head against a wall, working hours being changed and changed and changed again, flat tyres galore! Am I glad it’s the weekend...or is it? I am so confused. No-one can change their minds as often as The Gambian government! But more of that later.

Lime and spoon race
Water bucket race
Recently I attended a cluster sports gathering. It was a day where all the schools in each cluster gather together and compete in various sports events, running, high jump (without mat!), long jump, sack races, 3-legged race and such. Also some very interesting ones too, the lime and spoon race, the water bucket race. Girls run 100m with a bucket of water on their head, no holding either. And some don’t even spill a drop...very impressive it has to be said! For once it was very well organised and they kept it going, one race after the other. Even so, I was there for 3 hours and had to leave before the end to catch the ferry back home. It was a really fun afternoon and the kids from each school were having so much fun cheering on their fellow students.

I also had a workshop for an ECD (nursery) establishment I have been working with recently. None of them are qualified teachers (despite what the proprietor tells me) as far as I can ascertain and it showed in the training. They found many of the tasks difficult to complete without a lot of support from myself. I basically used the same format and ideas from Sarah’s ECD workshop which she delivered last year. The difference between the participants was huge. Her participants were very to grasp the concepts and to complete the activities without too much support or input from ourselves, but mine required a lot. I have only a month left and not sure how much more I can help them. I will also be very busy over the next few weeks as GOOD NEWS! I have managed to organise more of my LCM workshops. I have 7 workshops this month, 1 per cluster. I am really looking forward to it and now I can get my cluster trainers from my last LCM workshop involved. I plan to co-facilitate it with them. It will involve a few nights stay in the clusters, which after the last time is not something I am particularly looking forward to, but will cut down on the travelling I’ll need to do. I’ll just look at it as an adventure! Well it will be considering in the last month I’ve had at least 4 flat tyres!

Ok, so I don’t know if you heard the news about The Gambian government (read President Jammeh) introducing a new 4 day week, 8am-6pm Monday to Thursday, with schools and banks and other institutions being free to operate on a Saturday to make up for the Friday if they wished? Well, press release after press release came and said schools “MUST NOT engage students to congregate within their premises for instructions” on Fridays and that “schools will now operate on Saturdays to replace the lost hours on Fridays”. On Thursday this was changed to say that those schools who operate a single shift* can extend their hours on a Monday to Thursday and do not now need to operate on a Saturday if they wished. At the office, we were told we were to work Monday to Thursday and Saturdays. So dutifully, myself and all other officers made our way to the office this fine Saturday morning. However, unbeknownst to those of us who failed to see the news last night, the day these new hours came into effect, another statement was issued stating that schools are now exempt from these new arrangements and will operate Monday to Friday as usual!! Furthermore, banks and other private businesses are still able to operate Monday to Friday aswell! Consistency, that’s what I like to see!! I will leave you to make up your own minds as to what kind of government is in charge of the country. I have my own thoughts but fear of being put in prison forbids me from expressing them!!!

*single shift schools – schools who only have their students attend school in the morning (8.20am-1.40pm).
(double shift schools – schools whose pupils are split between attending in the morning and the afternoon.)

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Happy New Year and wishing you all the best for 2013 and many more to come! My return to Basse after the New Year was delayed by the President declaring Set Settal (clean the nation) the day before I was due to travel home. Between 9am and 1pm nothing opens or moves, so the thought of being stuck on a gelli-gelli, not moving. For 4 hours plus the journey back, was enough for me to cancel it. This quite often happens, public holidays and such declared the day before by the man in charge!

Schools were supposed to re-open in my region on the 7th January and last week I was on monitoring with the Regional Office to check they had reopened and teachers had reported for duty. Some had opened, but the vast majority had either very few teachers or pupils and in some instances had not opened at all. Even by the end of the week some teachers had still not reported. Due to the vast expanse of the region, we have also been monitoring this week. Some teachers have still not reported, other schools are still not doing anything much in the way of teaching and learning. Some have not even started their afternoon shifts or if they have, pupils have been left unattended. It is very discouraging to witness and at a few schools we visited on the 14th January, the last work on the board was dated 9th January. Even then they still tried to claim that they had been teaching the children since then, despite evidence to the contrary in 4 or 5 classrooms. There is a long way to go with improving education in this country, but what is really needed is a whole mindset shift. I understand that teachers have a difficult job and work with very little resources and do not receive adequate pay for their job, and perhaps this is part of the problem. However, the lack of dedication and commitment to their chosen profession by some of the teachers gives the children the impression that education is not important and perhaps this is why some do not attend school. There are teachers out there who show amazing dedication and work hard. One female teacher in a school I work with would come into school during her maternity leave to teach her class with her baby strapped to her back. She did not get paid for this, but did not want her class to miss out on teaching and learning. When teachers are absent for short or long periods there is no-one sent to cover the class. There is no supply list as in the UK. If a class has no teacher, they are either split between the remaining classes or left unattended. Either way, not much in the way of effective teaching and learning happens.

The rest of this week we will be off on trek to various UNICEF supported schools, to sensitize the local communities to send their children to school. In some communities enrolment rates are very low, despite a large population. Some communities would rather send their children to the local Madrassa than a Government one. The main difference between these schools is that the children are taught in Arabic at the Madrassa rather than English so at least they are still getting an education. However, there are still those who, although are enrolled at school, do not attend for various reasons* or do not complete their education to Grade 6. It is this group that we will be trying to reach. Hopefully, with various village groups involved it will be successful (but I won’t hold my breath!)

Other than that, not much else to report, although I hear there is a solidarity march happening in Basse on Thursday. It is to show the President support in light of the 17 points demand under Article 8 by the EU. The President is very unhappy and went on television to denounce it. I plan to be away in the bush that day, far away in the bush!!

 My time is fast coming to an end here and I will be sad to leave

 *The reasons why some children do not attend school regularly related to mainly domestic duties for girls and farming work for boys. Just before and after the rains are the main farming times. Some girls also do not complete due to early marriage, although this is more common in the Upper Basic and Senior Secondary (Grades 7-12). Other times it is school fees or reluctance by the parents for their children to have what they see as a ‘Western’ education.

(Sorry again unable to seem to upload any new photos.)

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Funding refused. Not sure where to go from here. There is no money so will not get it before I finish. When schools return I will see if I can try and hijack some Jolly Phonics training to try and get some before I finish.

Christmas was a very low key affair. I stayed in Basse and had some friends over for lunch and played some Christmas carols on my laptop, which up until the day before had stopped working. Miraculously it started working just in time to get me in the festive spirit! Even in church they were not singing any of the carols that we sing back home. It was a very nice day and rather simple for a change. None of the stress or anti-climax that usually appears on the day itself. I think everyone enjoyed themselves even though it was not a proper ‘British’ Christmas.

For New Year I came to Kombos and have to say had one of the worst journeys yet! The bus eventually left Bansang, where I had been for the weekend, at 8.30am. It took about an hour to work its way to JJB (a journey of about 20mins!) We arrived to find a crowd of people wanting to get on to the already packed bus. They then proceeded to try and push themselves onto said bus. There were all sorts of arguments between the driver, apparenti (conductor) and passengers. A Policeman was watching on doing nothing. When we eventually did leave JJB, the bus was crammed with people sitting on empty jerry cans or benches in the aisle. Some others were standing for the rest of the journey to Kombos. It was not even over yet, the driver kept stopping by the side of the road to pick up yet more passengers and run what seemed like personal messages of collecting firewood and watermelon or just to have a smoke. The lady behind me at one point tried to push her way out of her seat after having had an argument through the window with him. Personally I would have let her out to face him, but others were not so keen to let her face him! It was not over yet. 3 hours later we reached Soma (should take about 1.5 hours) where we were told we would be leaving in 15mins. 1 hour later we left. By the time we reached Kombos it was about 5/6pm. During the course of this journey I also had the misfortune to have a young girl of about 8/9 fall asleep on my lap and wet herself all over me........not just once but 3 TIMES. I kid you not! I could do nothing, the bus was so squashed I could not even move her and she would not wake up either. The joys of travelling in The Gambia! Definitely not taking the bus again, will go for the gelli gelli next time.
(sorry can't seem to upload any photos today!)

Thursday, 22 November 2012

My LCM workshop (in my office that I have all to myself!)
In the last week I have shared my home with 2 furry little flat mates! I woke up one morning to hear scrabbling sounds coming from my window. On shinning the torch through my mosquito net, I saw a rat poking its nose out from behind the curtain! As you can imagine I was not too keen to get out from under my mosquito net, despite being desperate for the loo. As soon as it was light I was out like a shot calling for the boys in my compound to come and help deal. They were rather unconcerned about the whole thing and eventually made their way into my house to help deal with it. The next one made its way into my food cupboard and munched its way through a packet of spaghetti! I returned from visiting a friend in Soma to find rat droppings all over the place. This one has since disappeared. I swear I saw it in the early hours of the morning, but when the sun rose it had vanished!! Just hope it does not come back. Mind you, could have been worse.......spiders or snakes!
Group sorting task - LCM statements/Teacher Directed Statements)

Phonic activity to use with pupils

Science activity (Float/Sinking)
I have also had my LCM workshop, which went well and the feedback was very positive, so am now trying to get funding to be able to deliver it to more teachers in the region. My aim is to work with the cluster trainers, for them to lead the training and I’ll support them. It can be hard trying to get some teachers to make lessons more learner centred, but hopefully this workshop will help give them ideas on how to make lessons more active for their pupils. I feel it is important that the cluster trainers lead the workshop as I have shared my skills with them and they now need to share it with their colleagues. They need to move it forward themselves as no-one else will do it for them. I have found that there are many hardworking teachers in The Gambia who want to improve and change their practice, but struggle to do so as they have no support or quality training to do so. Much of the training they receive is pretty much of the chalk and talk variety. I hope to have got my funding approved and all workshops completed before the end of February when my placement will end. I fear that if they are not, then these workshops will not happen, which would be a rather sad thing!

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Njie Family Salibo
My Compound Family
The 26th October saw the Muslim festival of Eid-al-Adha, otherwise known as Tobaski in West Africa. It celebrates the day Abraham was prepared to sacrifice his son, Isaac, to God. As a result of his devotion and willingness to sacrifice his son in God’s name, God stopped Abraham and provided him with a ram to sacrifice instead. It is probably the most important time of year in the Islamic faith. Everyone travels home to their families to celebrate and the pressure for each family to have a ram to slaughter is enormous. Those that cannot afford a ram feel quite ashamed that they cannot afford one for their family. In the morning, they go to the prayer ground in their new or best clothes to pray with the local community. It is much the same as at Koriteh, only it felt more crowded this year. It is mainly the men who go and the women stay behind at home to prepare the lunch. On return from the praying ground, the men change then they slaughter and skin the ram, according to Islamic law. For those of a delicate disposition, skip to the next paragraph! They dig a small hole in the ground and then place the ram over this slit the ram’s throat and let the blood pour into the hole, where is seeps into the ground. Then they skin the carcass and remove the meat. They then keep some for themselves and give some to family and the remainder is given as charity, to those who cannot afford a ram of their own. One of the 5 pillars of Islam is Zakat, the giving of charity, so this is a very important aspect of Tobaski. Lamin walked out of the compound with a very large platter of meat for the neighbours who did not have a ram of their own.

Tobaski Ram (no longer!)
After this, the cooking of breakfast began. On the menu today and for the next few days was....any guesses? Ram, ram and more ram. I even had the delight of eating ram’s head...not once but twice! I wish I could say I was brave enough to try the brain or tongue, but I looked for the meaty parts and ate them. Then after lunch, as with Koriteh, groups of children came round in the sunglasses and new clothes for Salibo. It was a nice day and I am glad that I have celebrated it here in The Gambia as I suspect it is quite different to the UK.

Lamin & Sarah
After Tobaski I travelled to Kombos for Sarah’s wedding. She arrived back, with her parents, to marry Lamin and Lilli and I were bridesmaids. It was a lovely day and was good to catch up with her again. They married in the registry office in Banjul. It was quite an event, about another 5 couples were also marrying. We were all squeezed into one room where everyone was married one after the other. It was quite a surreal event what with the registrar’s being quite a scary woman, not to mention her phone going off in the middle of one of the marriages. Then there was the bride who kept falling out of her dress and exposing herself to one and all, the canned drinks that must be brought so that the marriage can go ahead!! We did wonder what they did with 48 cans of drinks, per wedding that is. We worked out it was about 250 cans for that day! Then it was to the place they had their first date for lunch, which was lovely. After which we spent the afternoon lazing round her hotel pool before heading out for some dancing in the evening.

But now is back to reality and work. I have another LCM workshop on Saturday for the Cluster Monitors and trainers. Even some of the Peace Corps in the area are coming along. So hopefully all will go well!

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Schools have now returned and I have started revisiting them after opening. I say they reopened but they are only now teaching the curriculum and assigning teachers classes. Bear in mind the schools opened on the 17th September! Not long after opening I went on trek to the North Bank, where I had not visited since July. The landscape has changed markedly since I was last there. The river is up a lot further at the ferry.  The corn has grown everywhere so some roads were completely enclosed and barely passable on my bike. I kept wondering if I was actually on the right road at some points. The bush is so green and fertile because of the rains you would think you were in a different country at times. It was really nice and tranquil in those places.
Basse Ferry (before rains)
North Bank
I squeezed my bike through here!

North Bank

I conducted my first workshop at the weekend on LCM, Learner Centred Methodology. It went well and the teachers were generally receptive, but the crunch will be whether their lessons will become more active. The school has invited me back to hold a material productions workshop next month. Teachers in The Gambia do not have the luxury of being able to order any kind of teaching aid from a catalogue that would be common place in a UK classroom. They literally have nothing to use or work with. We try to encourage teachers to make use of resources they find around them; cardboard boxes, sticks, stones, bottle tops. Another problem is that teachers struggle with ideas for teaching aids and also how to use them effectively. Part of my next workshop will be to show them how to make and use teaching aids such as number cards, number squares, dice effectively and the various ways in which the pupils can use them.

Basse Ferry (after rains)
I have also become involved with a newly opened ECD in Basse. Although my knowledge is more based at primary level, I have agreed to help as the teachers are not qualified and ECD teaching is, at times, very difficult. I am using Sarah’s manual, of which I gave them a copy. I went back today to see how they were getting on but they have not been doing the activities on a daily basis as advised. It will be a long road, but the teachers are willing and receptive which is half the battle here. I have also started to tutor a young boy in Grade 3. He has managed to get through 2 years of school without learning all his single sounds. He is a bright boy and his spoken English is not too bad. Unfortunately, this not the unusual here but the usual. There are a variety of reasons for this. Teachers work long hours here, from 8.20am to 6.20pm if they are on double shift (teaching 2 classes a day) so they do not get much time for planning, class sizes can be 40+, a lack of resources, but also as teaching is mostly chalk and talk, pupils do not get much of a chance to do activities or to discuss their learning with a partner or group or even on their own. They generally copy from the blackboard. Even the boys on my compound, in Grades 7-9, copy the vast majority of the work in their jotters from work the teacher has scribed on the blackboard. They are not given the chance to think or discuss their work or learning. It actually makes me want to cry at times. Don’t get me wrong, there are some teachers who do active lessons and give their pupils the chance to think and discuss, but these are in the minority. More work is needed here to support the teachers. Giving schools a budget to work with would be a start. At present schools are funded by the pupils and other donors giving money to the school fund. This is what the HT uses to pay for repairs to the school, painting, resources (if they have any), providing food at school based workshops, basically everything bar salaries.

Well I think I have rabbited on enough for today. Till next time!