On our second day in Chiawa, we arrived mid-morning to the Volunteer House. With forty preschool children on their way, we had new games, books and posters to prepare! Soon enough, we heard the unmistakable giggles of four year olds as they approached the house.
The students took their shoes off on the back porch before entering and then looked up at us with saucer-sized, eager eyes, as if to say, “What’s next!?” We had laid out big straw mats and a mattress and divided the class into four small groups, which we figured would allow for more individual participation and give the teacher a break from the large class size. Throughout the morning, each of the groups, led by an adult, played games to identify shapes and colors, practiced counting, pointed out body parts on large posters and sang “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” in the loudest, cutest voices I could possibly imagine.
I somehow found myself in the group with the head teacher. She amazed me as she devised games from the tools provided and alternated seamlessly between English and the local language, so that her students would learn both simultaneously. She told me that in the younger classrooms, instruction is typically in the local language. Then, as the students reach the higher levels, instruction changes to be in English. Therefore, she mixes English and the local language in her lessons as much as possible, giving her students a head start.
The plan moving forward is to have the preschool visit the Volunteer House once a week as a field trip.
Following lunch, Cherri, Richard, Steven and I packed up and drove to Chiawa Primary, where we re-met with the teachers we had lunch with the day before. I was excited to see them again, this time in action with their students!
As we pulled in, we saw groups of students running around and playing games. We didn’t quite know where to start, so we followed a group of boys past the school blocks to the building at the end of the drive. Once we realized the boys were carrying paddles, nets and little white balls, we knew were heading to the ping pong recreational hall! The three tables inside were instantly occupied, but the students quickly handed Steven a paddle and asked him to play. Eventually, I also joined in and we had a blast keeping the rallies going --and not keeping score.
After what felt like only a moment, we were ushered outside for a surprise! The Power Kittens, a group of promising girls from the school, were ready for their performance -and we were the guests of honor. In the shade of a big tree outside the classroom blocks, the girls danced to and sang traditional songs, accompanied by three of the boys on drums. I successfully fought the urge to pull out my camera and video the performance, as I wanted to be completely present; I knew I wouldn’t be able to capture the energy and poignancy of the moment anyways.
Afterwards, we were ready for sports. I started playing volleyball in seventh grade, and even now I play in an adult league. Through volleyball – and love of sports and teamwork in general – I have kept myself healthy, made friends and even met my husband. I knew I needed to bring a volleyball with me to the school, to leave a bit of my heart behind! Gladys and the other teachers joined the games and we even played “Girls against boys!” One girl on my team played with an intensity and competitiveness that I certainly understood, and she had the skills play as well. --She called out one of the boys for jumping in on a ball that was clearly hers. –Fantastic!
I felt completely at ease and welcomed into the experience of being at the school, and especially in all the games we played, from volleyball to frisbee and ping pong to netball. Time after time, Cherri mentioned, “Five more minutes,” until we actually DID need to say our goodbyes. The afternoon was gone in what seemed like an instant. Before we knew it, we jumped back into the truck and departed. --I hadn’t even set foot inside one of the classrooms!
As we drove back to the lodge, I wondered… How could the last two days, and this section of my trip, be over already? And… the big, existential question for me was… What do I do now? There I was, possibly the farthest away from home that I had ever been, in an African village that was everything I imagined it would be, playing volleyball, laughing and connecting with people. But, on such a short visit, what impact had I made… and how can I continue to make an impact? Had I made a difference, and could I continue to do so…? Would they remember me?
I’m still searching for my answers to those more abstract questions, I suppose. In the meantime, I know that I am continuing to support Chiawa Primary from my desk in Boston through my work at EXPLORE. I look forward to hearing updates on the upcoming projects at the school, from the Recreation Center to agriculture classes to running water in the teachers’ houses. And, I hope to return again.