by Jess Cropsey
The Kibuye primary school is located right next to the hospital, but what goes on at this place has been somewhat of a mystery. We’ve enjoyed stopping by from time to time to watch the after-school drumming practice, but usually try to avoid that area around noon when school is dismissed and swarms of children are all over the place. I’ve had an interest in being involved there somehow, but haven’t felt like I had any extra reserves for that until recently. A few months ago, I started dialoging with the principal (who also was one of John’s surgical patients) about being involved with teaching English and we tossed around a few possibilities.
In the end, it was decided that I would teach the two 2nd grade English classes twice a week. In addition to their regular subjects, students study Kirundi, English, French, & Swahili, so the teachers have a high bar but very few resources to help them in their lesson planning or for classroom activities. It’s a good day if each kid has a notebook and pen. When I pulled out my pack of colored notecards, there were many “Yooooos!” uttered throughout the room. The teacher was even straining to see the pictures from Dr. Suess’ ABC book. The hand puppets that I used to model a simple dialogue almost put them over the edge! With nearly 70 students in each class, it’s difficult to find ways to give everyone a chance to practice, but I’m learning to be creative. Group/pair work is a foreign concept, so we’re slowly trying some new things. I have really enjoyed this opportunity and it’s definitely a highlight of my week to walk into those classrooms and hear a resounding chorus of “Good morning, Teacher!”
I also discussed with the principal the idea of enrolling Sammy in the pre-school class, primarily for the purpose of giving him the opportunity to learn more Kirundi and develop relationships with Burundian kids. When I had back surgery right at the beginning of the school year, life got a little hectic and I thought I had missed my chance. As it turns out, I was talking to the principal several weeks later and found out that they were in fact just beginning class that very week. I decided to give it a shot. I went to the parent meeting and was told about the “uniform”, which is any red shirt (orange or pink are close enough) with dark pants, and materials that they would need for class (a pen & notebook). The following day we arrived for the first day of class. Sammy was eager enough to go, but not too keen on me leaving him by himself. I was also hesitant since I had no idea what was going to happen, so I stayed. For the first week, there was no classroom available, so we sat outside on some mats. They have absolutely no toys, games, or materials (Sammy’s 16-pack of crayons caused quite a stir), so the teacher did some listen and repeat exercises aimed at teaching the names of various body parts (primarily for our benefit, I assume). The class kept Sam’s attention span for about 45 minutes and then he was ready to go. I thought that was not too bad for a just-3-year-old boy, so we said our goodbyes and went home. Over the last few weeks, we have had lots of positive experiences interacting with the other kids in the class and it’s great Kirundi practice for me. For a variety of reasons, it has become clear to me that I need to stay in class with Sammy. Expectations here are very different. Nobody seems to be concerned about leaving a class of twenty 3 to 6 year olds completely unattended for 45 minutes until the teacher arrives. After a few trial classes, I have decided on a 3 times a week schedule with the goal of 1-1/2 hours each time. So far, so good.
This school weighs on my heart as I see the brokenness and long for better opportunities for these kids. Yet, it feels impossible. How can the cycle of poverty, lack of resources, etc. ever be broken? Please pray for me & Sammy as we develop relationships with students and staff at the school. Pray for wisdom as we look for ways to be a blessing. And pray for these kids and teachers to find creative ways to meet the many challenges that they face. My prayer is that Kibuye Primary School will become a model of educational excellence in the years to come.