In our own school days as American high-schoolers we were tantalized by colorful visual aids, elaborate media heavy lessons and homework and had the opportunity to be involved in every type of club that could be possibly imagined. What would happened if every high school was stripped of the fancy projectors, massive computer labs, libraries with hundreds of books and even the bus to take the football team to the neighboring town for their Friday night game. Then you would be more like a Sierra Leonean student.
School begins at 8 am. The girls gather in a sea of blue in the courtyard in the center of the school. Flanked by the classrooms and showered by the morning sun, they have devotion, pray, sing the Harford School song, the national pledge and often hear announcements from the principal or the teachers. They are divided according their form either JSS or SSS (Junior High or High School equivalents). Then, the manual bell is rang and they scurry to their classrooms where they will remain until lunch and then to 3pm when the day ends.
I was having déjà vu. Getting myself in situation I had been many times in the past but in many different capacities. I entered the classroom to find 40 sets of eyes staring at me waiting for me to make a move or even speak at all. They were wide-eyed and probably a little confused. SSS1 English Language and Literature was my domain and I was responsible in making sure these young teenage girls get a well rounded foundation in the English language.
The classroom is minimal. A moderately expansive square made of concrete. The walls have paint chipped, faded and cracked. There is a beat up bulletin board lining the back wall and a well used blackboard mirroring it in the front of the classroom. In between are all my eager girls. Sitting in worn, often broken, unstable wooden desks with chairs that is flat and emphasizes good posture for which I never hear one complaint that they are uncomfortable. Windows line the walls and are always ajar to let in any puff of breeze that Mother Nature is allowing. You can often hear other teachers lecturing in neighboring classrooms, the some what disheartening whipping of corporal punishment, the manual clink of the period bell and girls reciting things in unison.
Like all teenage girls, my Harfordians are talkative but what else is really expected, they sometimes lack motivation to be in school or even to try, but again probably teenage rebellion, they make me so mad I threaten to walk out, still stubborn teenagers (I struggle to find respective ways to discipline them and interact techniques to teach them.) But what brings a smile to my face is the few who are eager to learn. Who are ambitious even in a social environment that has just recently started promoting education for the girl child. Some of their mothers didn’t have a chance to be educated or even their older sisters; this enhances my own motivation to trudge on engraining the parts of speech into my girls’ heads.
Even without easy internet access or information at their fingertips, they want to learn something. Even without a TV and DVD player to show them documentaries, they still want you to read them a story about something new, even without textbooks, you are creating their textbook by the notes you copy onto the blackboard. So take away the colorful displays and visuals of the American classroom, you would still find children who want education and want to learn.
I know I have expressed to exhaustion how friendly, hospitable and welcoming Sierra Leoneans are and how incredibly lucky I am to be in this country. But again over the last few weeks, I have realized how lucky I really am. For some special reason, I have been blessed enough to be given two villages. Traditionally, a volunteer is assigned to only one but I have been in for double the fun, double the challenge, and double the chances to succeed, embarrass myself, or to be confused. I live in the provincial city of Moymba as most of you frequent Dispatch readers already know…but also I live within the moss covered concrete walls of Harford School for Girls which is a small village in itself. It has its own dynamic, atmosphere and of course its own individual challenges. Life in Moyamba is comparable to any small town and is surprisingly familiar to me. Everyone knows each other in a dozen different capacities, you are personally close with that lady who sells bread on the corner or the hardware shop owner, a place where news spreads like wildfire and most people are related to each other. Moyamba is my African Lennox, SD. Harford on the other hand is more like a university campus driven my academia, centered on students and ruled by the school administration. Harford is its own individual community. The girls are my little sisters, the fellow teachers my new best friends and the principal a protective, mentoring mother. Harford is my newly found family.