Saturday, 7 November 2015

October - It's good to be back at Ekorian's Mugie Camp

It has been thirteen months since I left Mugie, and although in many ways it feels like I was just here last week. But the myriad changes that have happened around camp betray this. Probably the most notable change is the constriction of the pool.  An oasis in the midst of thousands of acres of bush, the pool is on a large, raised deck made of the native olive (Ekorian, in Turkana) and eucalyptus wood. There is a large picnic table and spacious corner seat, and plenty of room to spread out. A plunge in the pool is just what’s called for on a hot afternoon.

Another new addition to the camp is the reception area – a shady, marulla roofed building in which to receive guests and with a comfy and cozy wifi area to charge phones and gadgets and to connect to the Internet.

On this trip I am very fortunate to be helping at the Mugie School. The school is comprised of a central assembly area surrounded by one long lunch room building, a staff room, and about six, two classroom buildings, a large veggie patch and a dormitory for the 20 girls with physical disabilities who board there. There are about 130 students and it is a public school on private property so hasn't had to follow suit with the other public schools and be on strike for five weeks in September/October. Because of this public/private combination, Mugie privately employs five of the teachers and the Ministry of Education employs five. Sending their children to the school is almost compulsory for Mugie employees and the education, the uniforms, and the 2 or 3 meals a day are at no cost to the families - Mugie ranch foots the entire bill (through personal funds, donors, and sponsors).

I am assisting in a nursery/pre-unit class – ages 5 to 7 and enjoying it tremendously. The teacher is Madame Agnes, a friendly, passionate woman who has a great rapport with the students - who also clearly respect her. The day begins with tidying up the classroom and a handkerchief and fingernail inspection. The first class is English, then a 20 minute break to play on the playground, then math (or environmental science or creative arts depending on the day), and then a break for porridge and P.E. and finally, Kiswahili before lunch and nap. They're a remarkably well-behaved class, especially for such a young age group. After each subject, Agnes has them copy down or complete the exercises she has put on the board, in their workbooks, which we then mark. Agnes teaches something by explaining it, writes it down on the board, and then has them write it in their books - oral, visual, and kinesthetic teaching. And the stuff they're learning seems quite advanced to me. When we have P.E. the daily routine is to play football so I station myself in a goal, and Agnes is in the opposite goal - it's a massive field.  The children are playing completely barefoot, or with only a shoe on their kicking foot, or, the most creative footwear I see, there is a little boy playing in wellie boots... quite a contrast to the soccer-cleats and ideal playing conditions at home. After P.E. we have Swahili and I busily jot down new vocabulary words. The students come to school knowing only their tribal language - Turkana, Samburu, or Pokot usually - so learn Swahili and English when they start school. So, when they leave school at 15/16yo they can speak three languages -  English, Swahili, and the language of their tribe - pretty impressive. The lessons are taught mostly in Swahili and with a bit of English.

On week two I brought with me pencils, sharpeners, and rubbers for the class, something I found them to be very short on. Their expressions of sheer joy and words of heart-felt appreciation were extremely touching. And I asked Agnes if it would be ok for me to bring a picture book and read to them everyday. So, at the start of their English class I read whichever book I’ve brought that day and we discuss it, an opportunity to learn new words and work on pronunciation. I’ve also taught them a few songs – “Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed” and “If You’re Happy and You Know It” are favorites so far. I’m thrilled to be given the chance to learn from them and from Agnes, and to participate and contribute where I can.

It is such a joy to be back at camp – a place that my heart feels so happy. And I plan to make the very most of the next couple of months.

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