Visit to Mabang
Janet O’Shea’s trip to Sierra Leone earlier this year included a visit to Mabang School.
Read below to share Janet’s account of her experience.
Mabang is not the easiest of places to get to, but with a new bridge over the river instead of the rickety ferry, plus ongoing road improvements, the journey usually took us about 45 minutes each morning.
When we arrive, the children gather outside the school for praise and prayer. African time is very much like the Cornish word ‘dreckly’ (meaning at some point in the future; soon, but not immediately!). The start of the day is often delayed as the children saunter in, many having walked several miles. And quite often the teachers arrive later than the children!
Whilst there, I taught some of the youngest children, aged between three and six. There were 48 children in the class, and I confess that I never learnt all of their names. In the classroom I discarded the tables as most of them were broken, and seated the children on benches and the chairs that had arrived in the last shipment from the UK. They were all facing the front so that I had eye contact with them, which again was a new arrangement for them.
There were two class teachers, one was older and experienced, and the other was a young lady. Establishing a working relationship with these ladies was a challenge. In most schools in Sierra Leone, teachers raise their voices and use the equivalent of a cane to punish. After much discussion, time and tears the cane was banned from the classroom and instead of 'ruling by fear' we forged a different regime. At the end of the three weeks, parents of the children thanked Magnus for the change - and he is now trying to implement a ‘No hitting’ policy across all of the Connexion schools.
During the morning sessions our focus was on literacy and numeracy, and I introduced the children to ‘Jolly Phonics’ as well as sight vocabulary. They were like sponges!
By the last day many were able to word blend and start to read. We read many stories together and for some children handling a book was a completely new experience. We used a number line for most of the numeracy work, but we also sang songs and explored shapes.
In the afternoon we played games such as musical chairs, ‘British Bull Dog’ and ‘Duck Duck Goose’. Why? The reason being that the children were lacking many social skills. For example, taking turns, working in a team, not pushing and hitting, working out strategies and, most importantly, having fun!
We concluded each day with a Bible story.
Transforming the classroom
In the third week we transformed the classroom. We removed and replaced windows, replaced the ceiling, and applied fresh paint.
Then the fun began! Using templates and acrylic paint I'd brought from England, the staff did not have to be persuaded to decorate the classroom with teaching aids. I soon realised that I had no control as enthusiasm captured all of the staff. The transformation was incredible and had such a positive effect on staff and children alike.
On my last day in Sierra Leone I led a three hour seminar for 28 Early Years teachers. Definitely not my forte!
As I entered the room the teachers' faces were so sombre that my heart fell. But I soon discovered that my greatest allies were the teachers I'd worked with from Mabang and Brama, who supported my every word! We focused on four key areas: the role of the teacher, children, the class environment, literacy and numeracy. By the end of the three hour session all barriers were down and we enjoyed playing a few games to finish up.
Difficulties they face
Teachers in Sierra Leone face huge problems. Classrooms are often cluttered with broken furniture, and it is so hot they are often unbearable. Ceilings are frequently missing or incomplete, and very often one room is divided into two or three classes, separated by ripped flimsy partitions. The teachers have no teaching aids, very few books, and the classes are huge and still growing. Added to this, If they have a well it is likely to broken - as are the toilets!
What reward do they receive?
The teachers receive very small monthly payment that might just buy a bag of rice.
Sierra Leone Mission (SLM)
The SLM committee have resolved to make a difference in our schools in Sierra Leone. This might take several years but we all agree that the children and teachers deserve better. There are over 5000 children currently being educated in our schools. We need to help them achieve their full potential.
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