Let me give you a feel for what its like with kids there: This school is super diverse. (Cindi- you'd love all the "color" in the classroom.) Anyone who thought I'd be teaching a bunch of rich Americans, you were wrong. Rich other cultures mostly :-) I think there's around 150 students, and theres like 34 countries represented. Out of my 5 classes I think there's 6 Americans, maybe. A lot of the students are Cameroonian, but there's also a lot of kids who have lived everywhere, with parents in the Embassy or something similar. Almost everyone has an accent, it's great. This is another time when I feel humbled that I only know English and my small Connecticut world when these kids know at least 2 languages and are learning at this school in their second language. Today in 4th grade one boy was trying to tell me how the pendulum could show different results, and he turned to the boy next to him and asked him in his language how to say it, and then his friend translated "weight." It's pretty amazing to me.
On the first day we had the kids figure out who they thought had the most exciting summer in the class. Oh man, these kids travel more in their summers than I will in my whole life! Paris, South Africa, Holland... everywhere. Although in one class they all voted for the girl who went to Hawaii (shout out to Jenny!). And some even voted for me, because I went kayaking, which I don't think most of them even know what a kayak looks like.
One boy in the 7th grade is from China, and doesn't speak or understand a word of English. That's gotta be so tough. We have a lot of language learning support at the school for students who need help with their English so they can learn, but this boy is going to have to be in support all day. I don't even know what to do with him. No one on the staff speaks his language either, so I am a little worried about how he'll manage.
I've talked to a bunch of kids about how long they've been here, lots of them just moved here this year. And they seem like they handle it so well. I can't even always pick them out, unless they have a different accent. But can you imagine being 10 and coming to a new country for the first time and going to a new school like a few days later? Definitly different than good old Hartland.
So far it seems like most kids are really well behaved. Oh- and I don't know if I mentioned it before, but the class sizes are super small. There's 6 in my 4th and 5th grades each, and there's 15 in 7th grade, which is considered really big. Weird. It's really different coming up with lessons for a group of 6 students as compared to thinking about 25.
I gave a lesson to the 5th graders today on how many drops of water fit ona penny. When I was planning it, I realized I don't have any pennies, haha. I checked the francs, but they didn't really seem like they had a big enough ridge on them. So I found some plastic ones in one of the classrooms (to teach counting money) and just used those. I had a funny moment when I was giving the lesson where I was talking about the different sizes of quarters and nickles, and I had to stop and ask, "Wait, do you guys know the different kinds of American money?" Yes, most of them did. And I couldn't even remember that they call their change francs. But the lesson went really well. (The most drops we got on a penny was 55- you should try it, its fun.)
Ok, so now for the reality part: I watched a documentary last night with liz and ang called Green Eyes in Africa- its done by this guy Ryan, who went to Africa to work at an orphanage. He discovers that Mama, who is the head of the orphanage, is stealing money, beating the kids, neglecting them, and using the orphanage as free housing for her family. Ryan eventually works out a plan to get the kids out of there by getting their living family members to come take them out. In the process he has to call the US embassy to come and evacuate him. He makes his own orphanage, but Mama gets revenge by paying off reporters to say that an American is abducting children. It's a battle between Ryan and Mama, who has friends in high places. It sounds crazy, but there were so many times when it all seemed impossible- they argued with the government, who wouldn't do anything about it, even though Ryan had videotapes of the kids being neglected and beaten. They got death threats. Ryan really only made it because the US Embassy helped him, but even then it was a battle. This was all only a few years ago, and the orphanage is in Yaounde, and Ryan actually works at ASOY in order to keep his visa. It's so different watching something like that when I'm literally here. I know Ryan, I live in the city, and its not like it happened long ago. It's also interesting because I'm getting more of an idea about the whole corruption thing. Even someone who starts an orphanage is corrupt, its so sad. Everything is corrupted. It's so crazy to think that something like that can even happen, let alone that someone would have evidence and money to make a good orphanage, and he would be stopped. Even social services was bought off by Mama. Bribes are everywhere. Even now Ryan is still battling certain family members. I wouldn't have understood or believed the struggles except that now I'm here and I see more of the whole picture, although I know I still don't understand or know nearly everything about it.
Ang, another teacher here, lived in an orphanage in Nepal for her first 2 years, and has been volunteering at Ryan's orphanage and another one in the area. She said that last year they raised all this money for bug nets and donated clothes, and when she went back, the nets weren't up and half the clothes were gone. The director said the kids don't know how to take care of things. It's so sad, that even if something starts out good, it gets corrupted, or it's managed so poorly that it ends up wasting what could be good.
Liz, another teacher who grew up in Gabon, West Africa, was talking to us about the culture here. The whole beating children thing is totally cultural. What we would call abuse, in some cases is just normal. Bad grades=beating. Liz said she used to be kept up at night by drunk fathers who came home and beat their families. (Again, the alcohol thing here is a big issue.) Another cultural thing is witchcraft- at the orphanage they were saying that a little boy had internal bleeding because of witchcraft. Even his family was saying that. Instead of helping him or bringing him to a hospital, they ostrasize him and let him bleed profusely out his nose. Liz said this is very common. What can you do? Ang said that it's like telling someone that their belief is wrong, like saying God doesn't exist. They believe it's witchcraft, and there's no convincing them otherwise.
It's so hard because I don't know what the solution is. We talked about adoption, but how it's so hard to adopt out of Africa, because you have to get every possible living family member to sign to give up their child- and they all want to be paid. It's so sad to think that a family would give up their child to an orphanage, but then you have to realize they couldn't support the child on their own. And then when someone comes who wants to give the child a better life, they want money for it, because they don't have enough. Where is the solution? Even someone who comes with funding to go a good thing faces so much opposition.
I'm planning to visit the orphanage with liz and ang this weekend, so I'm sure I'll have a lot more to write after that. You can look up www.greeneyesinafrica.org and learn more about it. I would reccomend watching the movie. If you have to buy it, you know its going to a really good cause.
Well, that has been my most recent reality check. I know there will be a lot more to come. Still glad I'm here though. Remember to pray for Cameroon- for the corruption and the poverty and the lack of a bright future.
Thanks for reading. Hopefully I'll have funny stories to share from school.