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More great blog entries from Laura and Lauren in Ghana... most recent about their trip to Burkina
We also got our Western food fixes by eating pizza, a club sandwich, and fries at a nice restaurant called Paradisio. Afterwards, the power miraculously turned back on just in time for my favorite activity of the entire week: catching a Burkinabe flick at an outdoor cinema (see Charley's FAVL blog post about the movie). Nothing could beat this quirky ambience. In the parking lot, people were selling bananas and mangoes presumably for movie snacks. The comfortingly familiar Big Dipper was clearly visible, hanging upside down directly above the screen. Occasionally, a HUGE airplane from the very very nearby international airport would pass right behind the screen. The evening temperature was enjoyably cool while the metal chairs were unbearably hard and uncomfortable. All this for the low low price of about $1! Bonus: I think I understood most of the French/the movie.
If you are still reading this, you are a trooper. I'm about to launch into some long-winded stuff on cultural differences, so go grab some snacks.
To provide some background (or at least my basic understanding of it) on the aforementioned "interesting conversation": there were some...um..."interesting" things going on at the national level for Burkina while we were there. First, there had been student demonstrations that turned a bit violent in the weeks leading up to our visit. The students were upset about another senior high student who died in jail, allegedly due to mistreatment. We actually headed to Bereba village really early Saturday morning to avoid a planned student demonstration near the FAVL office in Ouaga (but this one was pretty subdued). Second, military personnel in Ouaga were unhappy about a comrade being jailed, so they decided to riot (meaning, shoot guns in the air and loot stores) the night before we returned from Bereba. Third, the following day merchants were demonstrating in protest of the looting from the previous night. *NOTE: we ourselves never actually witnessed these things, but were given great updates from FAVL/Peace Corps and felt very safe our entire trip.* Fourth, set this against the backdrop of the uprisings in North Africa this past month. President du Faso Blaise Compaoré has been in power for the last 30 years via a combination of coups and elections...sound a bit familiar? Throw in the fact that historically Burkina has close ties with Libya. Compaoré and Colonel Gaddafi are close friends.
The librarians all seemed very proud of their libraries and the spaces were very neat and orderly at the time we visited
Additionally, the decorations in each library were fantastic, particularly in Koumbia with the paintings from a local artist and large masks. There were also abundant homemade decorations that Dounko taught us how to make. Hopefully we can make some of these with the kids in Ghana when we return.
As for library activities, we had the opportunity to take part in and listen to a few. The children really seemed to like the contes we heard from both the librarians and Dounko at Karaba and Dimikuy. Dounko is super animated in storytelling, and he should keep it up. It was great to see how much the kids loved him. We liked that Burkina has an "animateur"/activities coordinator whose sole responsibility is to run activities at the libraries. A big personality like Dounko's seems to be a good way to attract children to the library. The librarians themselves were a bit less animated in their story telling, but still elicited a good reaction from the kids. We also enjoyed hearing the riddles or "devinettes" and seeing games such as alphabet hopscotch (hop on a letter and say a word that starts with that letter). At Boni and Dimikuy, we were able to teach the children and librarians the Hokey Pokey (or "Hougie Bougie") en Francais! They seemed to like it a lot.
We were very impressed with the reading level and comprehension of the students present at Douhoun library's activities. They seemed well beyond anything we've encountered for that age group in Ghana (CM1 or 2 level). However upon further reflection and conversations with Charley, this has not been experienced by other visitors to the libraries. It was a very small group of students, and we're not sure how anomalous this was but we were surely impressed.
The libraries in Burkina Faso were open about 20 hrs per week and often had two librarians or assistants sharing the responsibility. This is very different from the system in Ghana, but it appears to work well for the libraries in Burkina. It is clear they are able to accomplish a lot even with this small amount of time.
There was a large ratio of adult to children's books at the libraries. Again, in contrast, the opposite tends to be true in the Ghanaian libraries. We imagine there may be less French children's material available in general?
We've been thinking about a lot of new ideas for activities to do with various age groups that will be different from the reading strategies taught in the summer camps. We're looking to organize two-week after school mini-camps with 4th-graders that will focus on the mechanics of reading words (phonics, pronunciation, syllables, etc) so that they will have a solid foundation for learning the comprehension skills that come later. We do have a lot of constraints that we need to work around in organizing these camps though - for example, our number one priority right now is doing inventory at all three libraries, a process which takes 2-3 days per library. We also need to renew our visas before the end of the month, so we are planning a trip to Burkina Faso for the 3rd week in March to visit some of the libraries there. So right now, we are looking to start up three evening programs with 5th graders, 6th graders, and 7th graders, respectively. We hope to combine reading activities, word games and puzzles, arts and crafts, phonics, creative thinking activities, and writing in these classes. We have so many ideas and not nearly enough time to do them all! We also need to figure out a way to recruit students for these activities - we were originally planning to visit the schools and talk to the headmasters and teachers, but it seems the teachers will be staging a protest on Tuesday, and it remains to be seen whether they will commit to a long-term strike over wages, benefits, etc. I'm having flashbacks to my time volunteering in Santiago, when I showed up for three weeks to volunteer at a high school, only to find the students and/or teachers on strike.
OK here's the real deal: The theme of Mines is how tenuous life can be on the outside, from an objective point of view. But the underneath that tenuousness, inside it, in the heart, lies a rich commentary, a detailed and sharp monologue, a fine intelligence. By the end of the story, a prison guard is our friend for life, because we appreciate how she retains her humanity, her dignity, through her struggles.
We're both doing very well, adjusting to life in Sumbrungu and working on our Frafra. We have already set dates for doing inventory at all of the libraries and initiated the book club with the librarians for "Wife of the Gods".
We've also been working with Darius running a "minicamp" for about 1-2 hrs in the evening for new 5th grade students (about 28 of them). The first day we arrived Darius said he wanted to do this and had already spoken to the schools and received a list of students. This is 3 times a week, for just these next 2 weeks to start. We're doing sort of a condensed version of the reading strategy materials that Francesca and Nico worked on this summer. Laura and I are both extremely impressed by all the hard work they did. The booklets are a great resource for
the libraries and the librarians.
We've also met Bernard and Jennifer, and went on our first bike ride to go visit Sherigu library today in its new space. There's a lot of potential for the new space, great big walls to paint things on!
On my blog, I spent two years trying to describe and share my life in village. There is no denying that this year, living and working in Ouaga is completely different than my experience in Pobé. Yet I've realized that since I've been in Ouaga, I haven't really written about a typical day here. What is it that Emilie is doing exactly in Ouaga? How does she spend her days? Where does she go? Who does she hang out with? Well my friends, you don't have to torment yourselves with these burning questions any longer. Welcome to "A Day in the Life : Emilie Crofton, special edition Ouagadougou"
I wake up in the morning in my comfy bed, wrapped up in my sheet like a sandwich roll because I'm ACTUALLY cold from the fan blowing on me all night (I love you electricity). I go to the boutique which is so perfectly located directly in front of the house. They know me so well that now their standard greeting to me is not "Ney y beogo" but "Fo data gela wana?" How many eggs do you want? Because I always buy an absurd amount of eggs.
You can read about Laura and Lauren's volunteer work at their blog.
An extract from today:
So we're finally settled in at our home away from home in Sumbrungu. We LOVE it here! It's only a short shared-taxi drive to Bolgatanga (read: to internet access), which is an adorable small 'city' with none of the hassles and annoyances of Accra. I suppose I need to clarify that; despite my initial praises of this country for not staring at us and shouting, a few more days in the city, especially when we were by ourselves, brought out the negative. Some people just can't resist stretching out their arms to touch us as we pass, and will sometimes go out of their way to do this, resembling sea anemones or some other type of tentacled animal lying in wait.
Our rooms are part of a square compound with a central courtyard - well, a central expanse of cement at least. It looks like drab concrete from the outside, but the inside is painted in a cool geometric design. We're sharing a room so the other one will be available for other guests, and we're right next to the library and Lucas' office. Our hopes were raised when we saw a bathroom with a sink, showerhead, and flush toilet; but alas, there is no water hookup yet, so we depend on a nice man named Fredo to bring us water every day. The library is very different from the one in Jordan Nu - it is more geared toward children, so there aren't as many adult novels, which is unfortunate for us. It is actual a favorite study spot in the evening for students from the Polytechnic across the street. Readers can choose from one of four tables to read quietly at, which is a marked contrast from the madhouse of children sprawled across the floor that we're used to dealing with.
We hope to have a clearer idea of our agenda after a meeting tomorrow with the librarians from the three libraries with which we'll be working. For now, we're working with Darius, the Sumbrungu librarian, to organize a 90-minute evening reading session with 5th graders, combining teaching reading strategies with games and fun activities that make them learn without realizing it. We're looking forward to teaching them the basics, such as how to sound out words. And again we find ourselves facing a language barrier, which hopefully will improve as they get used to our accent. Our favorite moment with the kids so far was last night, after the demonstrated some fast-paced dances that they do, and they asked us to share an American dance with them. After racking our brains, we presented the Macarena, which was greeted with peals of laughter. We think they liked it though - we saw a few of them continuing to do it as they walked away.
Marilyn Deer Community Library
This library established at Jordan-Nu, a healing town in the Volta Region of Ghana by Mad. Deer (USA), is a great asset to the community and a lot of people from outside.
The lady deserves great commendation.
The place is well furnished with books and games that are hardly to be found in even city libraries.
It makes the future of the children very bright since teachers and parents make patronage high and reading culture is being acquired very fast.
Mr. Lucas Amikiya A. from Bolgatanga, experienced library coordinator (Friends of African Village Libraries) thanks a lot for your frequent visits and advice.
Elders, the Committee and the High Priest (Patron) do keep 'eagle eyes' on the facility so that it lasts for generations yet to be borne (sic).
By C.K. Kwami
The Committee Secretary