Wednesday, 27 June 2012

A couple of weekends ago, I rode my bike to Sapu (town 90km east of Basse). I rode all the way on my bike without incident. I never told my mother before hand as it would only have worried her, but she knows now! Thankfully the road out of Basse is finished so tarmac all the way! Believe me it makes a big difference riding on tarmac to laterite. It only took me just under 2 hours. (It’s not a very fast bike!!) One of my group of vols is posted there and it was a birthday party. Sapu is a little village beside the river and is where the Taiwanese have an agricultural project to grow rice. It is beautiful and full of wildlife. On my way u p to the highway, a group of monkeys crossed my path. It was incredible, but unfortunately I never had my camera to capture the moment. Sometimes I have ridden along the highway and passed groups of them sitting in the trees or at the side of the road. There is hardly any traffic on the highway here that they are rarely disturbed. Anyway, back to Sapu... David (birthday boy) is a fabulous cook so we were well catered for and good conversation. Sapu has also been visited by the ‘great’ man himself, President Jammeh. Infact we dined in his house on Saturday night. It was indeed a nice place, but getting slightly tatty and in need of a paint. However, it was nothing in comparison to our dwellings! They were of such beauty and comfort, the Ritz would pale beside it!!! I mean where else would you share your bedroom with a rat, actually make that 2 rats!! I was sitting in our communal area when I saw this little pink nose with whiskers poking out our bedroom. Beth and I quickly decided to vacate that room. Fortunately for Beth, but not for me, she managed to change houses completely, so Helen and I were left to keep the rats company!!

Sapu Rice Fields

The Gambia River, Sapu

Sapu Rice Fields

The rains have finally come. Although they are not coming every day at the moment. We had a heavy down pour last night. It relieves the heat for a bit but then it’s back up in no time at all. I’ve not really been up to all that much work wise recently. I was part of a Learner Centred Methodology workshop last week. The PEO ‘asked’ if I would volunteer to be part of it. Who was I to refuse! I was nothing more than a glorified Carole Vorderman, writing on the flip board. As this was to encourage teachers to be more child centred, it was rather ironic that the workshop was mostly ‘chalk & talk’.

Since then I was down in Kombos for my 3 month placement review, which I will not bore you with, but certainly did not entertain many of us! It’s hard to believe I’ve only been in Basse for just over  3 months, feels a lot longer sometimes! Obviously I had to visit the beach whilst I was there, really my arm was twisted and I was forced to lie by the ocean by some of my fellow volunteers!! It also seems that Sundays are when the Gambians come out to play. The beach was rammed full of folk playing football and volleyball. I’ve never seen a beach so busy, my photo does not capture the real extent of how busy it was.

Sunday at the beach

Friday, 15 June 2012

I did my workshop on Saturday, and amazingly and I do mean that, all the teachers turned up on time. You could have knocked me down with a feather when I realised that. Most other workshops I’ve been to have always started late with some teachers turning up an hour late, some even come half way through. But no, mine all turned up on time! I thought it went ok, but at times they did struggle with some of the tasks. I thought they were quite straightforward, but some really struggled to grasp some of the discussions, especially the one about assessment. As far as I can see they don’t seem to do much of that here, at least not anywhere near as much as back home. They barely seem to use any formative assessment strategies and rely on end of unit/term tests. The DHT was the best participant by far and I was really impressed by him. I am not sure why the school is in such a mess when he is clearly a very capable man. However, it doesn’t help that he is class committed and is also away a lot with other duties. I am due to go back next week to see how they are getting on, hopefully there will be some positive moves forward. All the staff said they found it very useful and they wanted more and at the start of the term. The feedback was good, well mostly. Some complained that the workshop was too long, it was shorter than their FIOH phonic trainings! Some wanted money to attend, which is the norm. Others wanted it during school hours, although what would happen to the children at this time is not clear. Probably leave them unattended which happens here all the time.

The number of times Sarah and I have been to various schools and found the teachers missing or gone to their house or on other errands whilst the children are left to run riot in the classrooms or school compound. It is very frustrating as they don’t seem to understand that they really shouldn’t be doing this and the HTs don’t do anything about it, but then they are guilty of this themselves. On Wednesday I went off on my bike back to Wulli West where I’d not been to for ages. Some of the HTs and teachers have been in and out the Education Office telling me how much they miss me, which is nice! I forgot how bad the roads on the North Bank are. I decided to visit 3 schools and only managed to do 1 observation so a bit of a waste of time and petrol. Some teachers were travelling, others were doing tests. Not a successful trek.

It has been really hot here the last few days, we are praying for rain to try and relieve the pressure. I am sitting here typing my blog and the sweat is dripping off me. I am lucky as my compound usually has power as it is on the Governor’s line, so we get power pretty much every night and I get to use my fan. However, Sarah is often without power. She either gets in the day or evening and then the opposite the following day. Sometimes she has no power at all for 2 days in a row. I am very glad to be on the Governor’s line, but it is really not fair on the residents of Mansa Jang that are not. They really should swap it around to make it fair or alternatively sack NAWEC and get someone else in who can actually provide power to everyone. Despite what it may sound like I am still enjoying Basse and loving everything here. The people are really friendly and welcoming wherever I go.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Well the thing I was dreading happening here has happened! I was out monitoring at a school last week, which shall remain nameless for the moment! I walked into a classroom to find the Koranic teacher about to beat a child. The boy was lying prostrate on a desk being held down by other children while the teacher stood behind him with a big stick in his hand. There was a line of children behind, one of whom was crying with fear. I cannot tell you how sick I felt confronting this scene. I wish I could say I handled it well. But my voice failed me for a moment. The DHT was right in at my back and told the class to sit down, said a few words to the teacher then spoke to the HT who appeared out of his office at that moment. There appeared to be no cross words to the teacher and I have no idea what was said to him as they spoke in Mandinka or Fula. Corporal punishment is outlawed in The Gambia but is still practised. Up until that moment I had not witnessed it. The HT assured me he would speak to the whole staff and children about the matter. However, whilst visiting the school today, I saw the self same teacher with another big stick in his hand. I suppose I can comfort myself with the fact that I saved one poor boy from one beating at least. It is sickening to think that teachers still feel it is appropriate to beat a child and the sad fact is they get away with it. They are not struck off or arrested or even disciplined in the majority of schools for administering corporal punishment.

Last week, Sarah and I attended a programme organised by one of the Cluster Monitors. It was supposed to be a phonic competition between 2 local schools. We arrived at about 3.30pm. The children were already there, waiting. We picked some of them up from 1 school on the back of our pick up and took them to the other school. They were all very excited and chanting their school all the way down the road. We arrived to find nothing ready and ended up sitting around for 2 hours before we got started. The children had no food, when we eventually started it was more like board meeting. The CM went through the panel, who we were etc. There were opening remarks, even the Director of the region attended and talked about how important reading was and how many books you need to read to get to university and for your thesis. Bear in mind the children were Grades 1,2,3 with English as a 2nd language. When we eventually did get started it was more like an exam for them. Sarah and I were both trying hard to stay calm. 4 hours it lasted, I am surprised the kids didn’t start a riot. They were that fed up that they could barely raise a smile when getting their prizes. No cheers for the best school, infact no excitement at all. We both agreed that it cannot be allowed to happen again!

At the moment I am busy preparing my workshop for Saturday. It will be a disaster as I am not convinced that the HT has notified the staff about it. I know that at least one member of the senior staff has been give permission by the Principal Education Officer to take leave to visit her family in Kombos. On top of that I have just been told that some teachers at Sarah’s ECD workshops could not understand me, and not only them but most Gambians I have met or work with apparently. Just brilliant! Didn’t think I was that difficult to understand, am I?  Fingers crossed it will go well and they will understand me and hopefully, hopefully will take on board some of my workshop!!!!!!