Wednesday, 20 July 2011

On a sunny afternoon in Meheba

A report from Aurore and Julia - 2 french volunteers currently in Meheba.

After a full week of advertising, we’ve finally managed to set up and organize our afternoon English and French classes for adults. School C’s headmaster had very kindly agreed to lend us somes rooms for our classes. We now have four regular students, coming every afternoon, even though they are not as punctual as we would like (see “Being a refugee”).
Of course, we wish we had more students but due to the particular circumstances of a refugee camp, organising english classes has proven difficult. The main reason why people wouldn’t show up to our classes is that Meheba is a very large camp, meaning that the refugees would have to walk for around two hours to get there. This amount of time travelling is often not compatible with peoples work hours or familly obligations.
In a sense, it shows the dedication of our students; Fiston, for instance, has to walk 8km every day for a one or two hour lesson, while Prosper lives in block G, the furthest part of the camp. Cornestone, who is fluent in English and 5 other dialects, has come to us for French classes in order to communicate with the newly arrived Congolese, while w cxe have given our last student, Jean-Jacques, seven English lessons so far. He has improved exponentially in the last weeks considering that he started with no knowledge of the English language.

It is wonderfull to see their progress, from week to week and their willingness to learn a language that might help them to improve their futures.
Apart from the adults classes, we have also set up additional afternoon classes for kids, where they can draw, read some books or play different sports with us. They absolutely love it and hardly ever miss out the “fifteen hours” (3 o’clock) appointment at their school, next to the anthill.
It was absolute chaos at the beginning, and our few swahili words – acha kelele! apana kuiba! hakuna kupigana – were pretty useless since we learned a few days later that most of the kids spoke 3 or 4 different dialects, but not swahili.
Children stealing pencils was also impossible to avoid as the classroom’s windows have no glass, so the kids were constantly running away with our supplies!  But at the same time, it is understandable given the fact that the cheapest 10 pencils box costs about 10 US$.
However, after a couple of sessions, the kids seemed to understand the rules and the classes got more and more disciplined. We have witnessed that, after several drawing afternoons, the children were becoming more and more creative (which is not encouraged in Meheba schools) and some of their drawings were remarkable.
It’s quite amazing to see how these over-excited children can suddenly be absorbed by their creations.
Thanks to those afternoon extra classes for the kids, we have met a bunch of adorable children who are always thrilled to see us, they even made up a song for us! We have been noticing the dual nature of these children, one the one hand they are bursting with energy and are almost uncontrollable, and on the other hand, they are always looking for tenderness and attention, always jumping into our laps and giving us hugs. At first, some of the very young children were afraid of us “muzungus” because many had never seen white people before, but they got used to us quite quickly and now sometimes take a nap in our arms.

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