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To Make the World Beautiful

It will never rain roses. When we want more roses, we must plant more roses

Necessity is the Mother of Invention

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The difficult I’ll do right away; the impossible may take me a little longer.

I encounter many obstacles in my journey as a first grade teacher. One of the biggest is the variety of ages in the classroom and the many completely different levels the kids are on. Somehow, I’ve got to make it interesting for them all – I have to be able to capture the attention of students ranging from five to twelve years…which is a challenge to say the least.

One of our biggest problems is reading. The kids all learn to read with the Ladybird Peter and Jane readers, but that is only sight-reading. Phonetic reading is an entirely different subject – learning to hear and recognize sounds and blend them together – and one most of them struggle with. There was a solution to this problem, because I often taught phonetics while teaching ESL in my home country, and had built up something of a program.

There was one draw back; It required a board.

I am a board type of teacher, but school policy here does not allow the use of a board and I have to find ways to teach without it. Another limitation is due to expensive internet I am not able to watch or download videos or attend online webbinars and seminars. To add to that, ink is expensive here, so printing out a host of extra materials is out of the question. Since I have come to this school, I have not printed a single thing.

My biggest obstacle is that I am a volunteer with no outside support. The school provides for my room and board, and anything extra comes from the funds I saved up before coming here. But they are limited and I have to be very stingy, as there is no way for me to obtain more while living here.

Yes, folks, I had really hit a brick wall: an abyss, a dead-end, an impossible situation!

Or had I?

One of the most amazing things God has gifted humanity with is a brain and the ability to come up things that no other creature on earth would be able to even think of. Imagination is something so beautiful and so wonderful – a real life-saver. I prayed, I thought, and researched a bit, and I found my way out. And here is how I did it:
No fancy store-bought materials, no colorful downloaded resources – just paper, scotch, glue, and colored markers.

To make it easier for the kids, I color coded all the words we are meant to read. Green is for consonants, purple is for vowels we hear, and yellow is for silent vowels.

Then I went through the one and only phonic reader and wrote out all the words the kids need to read. At the moment, we are working hard on recognizing short and long vowels. I cut up lots and lots of papers and wrote down word after word after word, being sure to change markers.


After this, I cut some more paper and prepared some envelopes, all with the vowel sounds.

To finish it up, I taped four A4 papers together and glued the envelopes to it, so I had them all nicely together in one place.

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Learning to read can be boring, but I have turned it into a game.

Before we start, we go over the rules of the word. For example, when we were learning about long vowel e, we discussed the different ways to make it: put e and a together, e is talking, a is silent. Another way is to put e and e together, one speaks, the other listens. I pull out some of the words and we discuss what the green letters are, how the purple one talks and the yellow one doesn’t.

Once the children get the point, I say we are going to play. It’s a magic word. The lesson stops being a drag and becomes something everyone wants to participate in. I get out my stack of words and place them nicely in front of me. My students take turns choosing a paper, reading the word and deciding which envelope it goes into. If they struggle, we pause and break down the word, remembering the rules we just learned. After we have done this for about fifteen minutes I pull out the reader and have the kids read some of the same words, but this time without the color code.

Due to a setup that I am not allowed to change, it’s a bit of a juggle to get the poster with the envelopes out. I can only stick it to the wall during the reading lesson then I must take it off. It does create a bit of chaos while I’m pulling everything out, but the kids are always very helpful, wanting to help stick and unstick the letters. They love the reading game so much and always beg for it to be longer.

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But that is not the highlight of the lesson.

When the children have mastered a new phonics rules, we get to glue a little wagon on our Phonics Train.

What is the Phonics Train?

I shall be sure to write about it in next week’s post. So stayed tuned.

As a teacher, my goal is to make children love learning. Reading is not supposed to be a drag; reading is supposed to be an adventure. Above all else, a child must learn to read, for that is the basis of all other schooling. Even in arithmetic, you need to be able to read: how else will you solve word problems, or know what the textbook is telling you to do?

Of course it’s not all fun and games. We have reading drills (which the kids honestly hate) and reading tests (which they only love if they get 100 percent), but because I include some fun into it, the children are truly beginning to thrive. We’ve progressed by leaps and bounds. Consonant blends are next, meaning I will spend another Saturday cutting and writing a new set of words and making new posters and envelopes. I work by hand, with just paper and marker, glue and scotch. They are my little helpers, my teaching aids, the only thing I really have to work with; and with their help I’ve been able to give the kids this adventure.

This is the twenty-first century: we are used to clicking a button and having the world at our feet. Even as an ESL teacher, I browsed and downloaded and printed. Now I can’t afford that, but that doesn’t mean I am stuck. When we lose modern inventions, we discover our imagination is so much greater than we thought. We are able to come up with things we probably would have never come up with before.

I am in no way downplaying modern inventions; I would love to have access to so many of those resources. I am simply saying that no matter what the roadblock is, there is a way out of it. If you think you are stuck with an impossible situation, think again. There is a way out. You just have to learn to be flexible.

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Do you have any experiences where it felt like a dead-end but you found a way out? Feel free to write about it in the comment section. I’d love to hear abput how you invented a way out of your problem.

Necessity is the Mother of Invention

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Introduction.
In this series of my blog I will share with you all my struggles teaching in a little school located in Zambia.

I first came to this school in September with only one year experience of teaching English as a second language. Since then I have found myself faced with many difficulties, most of which were rather unexpected. Not only were resources a little limited, but regulations stopped me from doing things in a way that might have been convenient for me.

But as the famous saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention. I had three options really, give up, whine and complain, or turn on my imagination and see how I could carve a way where there was none. I had to be like water, willing to bend and turn and go around or over or under. My goal was (and is) to teach my first graders to read, write, and count, and no matter what school policy or regulations I was going to do just that.
In this series I will be putting up a post every Saturday, sharing my struggles, my battles and also my victories.

I hope you will enjoy it and I hope it will also help you see that no matter how seemingly ‘tough’ ‘inconvenient’ or even ‘impossible’ the situation is, there is always a way out. Giving up is never an option and complaining is a waste of time. Nobody wants to hear how miserable you are and it’s so hard for you.

Like Leonardo da Vinci so wonderfully said. “I have never known people of accomplishment to sit around waiting for things to happen, they went out and happened to things.”

My first post can be found by this link:Reading Challenge

The others will follow as the Saturdays pass by.

Hope you enjoy!

Blessed

The first verse of the Beatitudes is:

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3)

Ironically, no one ever views anything that has to do with poor as good, much less blessed.

Not having sufficient funds is what a lot of my friends on social media like to talk about. And often I feel a lot of pity for them. Mostly because I can relate to their situation. If there was one thing I learned to do growing up, it was to do without.

Funny thing is ever since I came to Zambia I have yet to hear of any of my local friends complain about poverty. In fact, they are on the opposite always trying to prove to me that they’re not poor even though most of them have like zero money.

It’s a strange contrast.

One of my closest friends invited me to her house just the other day. It’s a tiny, three room hut located in the compound. At least seven people live there, and I have no idea how they fit or where everyone sleeps. The paint is chipping off the black and white walls and the tin roof has a few tiny holes in it, making me wonder how they manage in the rainy season. There is no plumbing and one small tap from which to get water. Cooking is done outside in the ‘kitchen’, which is a random wooden structure of random boards with a random wooden roof. It’s a weird thing. No one in the western world would ever call that a kitchen. Still, you can see the residents take very good care of their little home. They have a small TV and even a DVD player, the armchairs are torn up, but some pretty pieces of cloth cover this up. There is even a nice set of drinking glasses on the shelf. They don’t have much, but a few articles here and there show how the family makes the most of it. Not once did they complain to me about being poor, even though just a few days ago there was no food to put on the table. Rather I was told how this house had been left to them by their grandfather, and how the property was big. (Big is a relative term here. If any of my white friends would have had a property that size, sorry folks, but you would probably be telling me how small it is). The whole place was a matter of pride and they were pleased to show it off.

When I first entered I was of course a little taken aback by the squashed, dismal conditions, but by the time an hour passed I grew to love the little home, despite it’s humble, lowly appearance. There is no table there, and when the food was served, my friend invited me to sit on the floor to eat. Without thinking I went straight ahead. Despite my best efforts, eating nshima with my hands is always a bit of a messy affair and we had a great laugh how the beans and onion sauce kept dripping down from my fingers. Generally anything I do always sets everyone laughing, there is nothing funnier than a muzungu (white person) trying to learn the customs of the locals. Pity there was no one to film how they roared while I tied a chitenge around my waist. You’d think they were watching the greatest comedy of all time.

I had such a good time I was sorry to leave.

But the most interesting thing was the next day when I met my friend she told me,

“You know, my boyfriend was really shocked when you got down on the floor to eat with us. He was sure you wouldn’t do it.”

I was surprised. “Really? Why not?”

“Because you’re a white,” she replied. “He was really impressed though; said he knows quite a few whites but you’re not like any of them.”

I was touched, and at the same time just a little bit sad. Sad that there are those in this world who are so used to the comfort and customs of the western world that they cannot bring themselves to sit on the floor of a humble hut and eat food with their hands.

When Christ left His home in Heaven and became a man that He might understand men, he did not show up in pomp and splendour. Rather He walked the dusty roads in the clothes of poverty. Foxes had holes and birds of the air had nests, but the Son of Man had nowhere to lay His head. He was never ashamed, never hesitant to stoop down to the lowest of the low and show them the love of His Father.

In the same way He calls His disciples to follow in His footsteps.

A few of my white friends couldn’t believe I wanted to go visiting my friend in the compound. “Why?” They asked. “It’s the compound. White people don’t go there. It’s dangerous.”

My reply? I didn’t come here to enjoy the luxuries of the rich, if I wanted that I would have stayed in Russia. I came to partake of the poverty. I came to share in the hardship. I came to love the lowly, as my Savior loved them before me. I don’t know how to be rich. I don’t know how to enjoy riches. I can’t.

The other day I was asked where my dream home would be. I was a little shy to reply that it would be the compound, the slums, any place where the poor and the outcast live. I have nothing to do in the beautiful part of the world. It doesn’t need me. It is the wretchedness that calls to my heart. Those are the places that need to be made beautiful.
I know what I risk going to the compound. I know germs and disease are on every corner. I take as many precautions as I can and have faith for the rest. Spending too much time in the better neighbourhoods makes me depressed and restless.

Not everyone is called to the compound, but I believe everyone is called to make the world beautiful. In their own special way they can change a little part around them.

Life isn’t supposed to be about compaining of how little you have; it’s supposed to be about searching how much you can give to others. And it doesn’t have to be material things, the gift of time and the gift of love can often go a lot farther than money or possessions.

After all, is it not more blessed to give than to receive?

Easter Thoughts

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The view outside my window is a thatched hut and rows and rows of maize.

You could call Kazembe village and the surrounding area the Siberia of Zambia. It’s out, out in the middle of nowhere.

There is singing today, lots and lots of singing and the beating of drums. Today is Easter Sunday, the joy of Christ’s resurrection cannot be hid even in a remote village located deep in the African Bush.

I’m not here to stay, it is just a short visit. Come Tuesday and I’ll return to ‘civilization’. A place where cars drives and there is pavement (in some places), a place that once seemed to me to be simple and village like, but now that I have seen what a real African village is, the cities are truly cities, filled with people and traffic.

The singing continues and I sit and listen to it. I’ve hardly seen a white face since I came to Kazembe. There is Mr. Morrow, the owner of the orphanage, but he’s busy and not around much. I am told often they have volunteers from America and Europe, but I somehow planned my time in such a way that I came at a moment when there are none.

I am surrounded by children and their devoted caretakers. I don’t speak Bemba, which often makes me feel left out. Everyone of course can speak English, but between themselves they chat in their native language, of which I can boast of knowing only a handful of words.

I guess you would think I would get lonely – but I’m not.

I can’t explain why; why I feel more at home here than when surrounded by those from my part of the world. Maybe it’s because I never really fit in with so-called ‘western civilization.’

These days it’s all about which tv series you watched, which movies came out. It’s all about who is an introvert and who is an extrovert, about who bought what who dresses in what, who can get more attention on the internet. It’s all about letting the world know each and every thought that passes through your head, each and every action, each and every part of your day.

And I tried, I tried so hard, but I couldn’t become a part of it.

Out here no one argues about what is right to eat and what is not, you’re thankful to have food at all. No one cares where the clothes came from, just be glad you have them. Medical care is primitive, fancy medicine is unheard of. There is hardship and poverty, you’re lucky if you have a bicycle, There is fear and darkness, superstition and witchcraft.

And there is Christ and His unending light. I feel it so much purer and closer to Him here than I could ever feel it back in the comforts of home.  It’s like any moment I can reach out a touch God. He’s not buried in materialism, personality types, and retail value.

I see friends writing things that used to be part of my life and I feel as though I am reading tidings from a different planet. A planet I am so glad I no longer live in.

They are still singing. Songs of joy and celebration to Christ who came to this dark and lonely world. Who died that we might have salvation, Who rose again that we may have life and hope eternal. Soon the children from the orphanage will return from the service, they’ll be knocking on my door and demanding attention. They’ll be asking me why I only came to visit for a week, why I am not going to be there for longer. I can hardly wait for them to come back. I could not love anyone on this earth in the way I love children. I never feel more secure, more peace, more joy than when in their company.

While I wait for them I write this post and muse about the surroundings. There is something about the lonely, remote location that has captivated me, something I can not explain no matter how hard I try.

On Tuesday I shall have to leave and go back, but I fear I’ll have left my heart in Kazaembe, and who knows, perhaps fate will be kind and allow me to return and take it back again.

(media from pixabay.com)

Bless the Wilderness

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Sometimes we have to walk through the wilderness.

When I came to Africa, I knew it was my calling, but I never thought it would become my wilderness. I never imagined it would be the place where I would stumble, blinded by the heat of despair and the sands of doubt and fear. How could I have known the heavy rains of confusion would pour down on me, and, worst of all, unmerciful depression would beat down on me till I was ready to lie down and give up, or worse yet, turn around and go back.

We never think of the wilderness as a good place. We never think of it as a place to be happy for, a place to give thanks about, a place to bless. I know that I certainly never thought that. I was ready to curse the wilderness. I was ready to run away from it. In fact, I almost did.

I had come back to Zambia after a Christmas break full of plans and dreams of how it was going be. The first three months went so smooth I was sure the rest of it was going to be just as wonderful. Day two at the school and all those plans slapped me in the face. By the end of January I was seriously ready to call it quits. Out of the blue came problems I didn’t know how to handle, unfairness that I couldn’t cope with, and so many things that just didn’t make sense. I didn’t know how to deal with it on my own, butt they were the sort of decisions no one could make for me. I was scared, lost, and felt so alone.

By the end of February I wrote my mom and said I was coming home at the end of the term. Broken and destroyed, I was ready to accept defeat.

But not quite all of me.

Deep down, somewhere in the depths of my heart, a little voice kept nagging. It told me I was stronger than this, that I just needed to keep going forward. If I kept running a little farther I would find my second wind. It was okay that I felt hurt and lost, maybe that was part of God’s plan. Maybe as I wandered around, unsure of everything, I would find what I was looking for.

I went back and forth, back and forth. My reasons for leaving were perfectly justified, but I had once said that just because you could justify an action didn’t make it the right thing to do. It’s funny how easy it is to say something that sounds smart and full of wisdom, and how hard it is to eat your own medicine and to do your own saying.

Thus, confused and tormented, I came to God. I begged Him for help. And because He is always faithful, He gave me that help. No, He never took me out of that wilderness, rather He gave me the desire to continue going through it. That second wind I was sure would never come, came. It came from the Hands of a Maker who blesses us with joy and sorrow and knows that sometimes we don’t need the green pastures and the soft waters. Sometimes we need the valley of the shadow of death and the table in the midst of our enemies.

I wrote my mother that I had changed my mind, that I would remain until the end of the school year. Things sorted out, and while it is still a challenge I know I have the strength to make it through.

I cannot say I am out of the wilderness. Far from it! At the moment I feel like I’m stuck right in the middle of it. I may not have won the battle yet, but I did not let the battle win me. That is victory in itself.

Aleksander Solzenitsyn, the Russian writer who spent nearly a decade in a labor camp simply for being a POW and was later award the Nobel Prize for Literature, once said: “Bless you prison, bless you for being in my life. For there, lying upon the rotting prison straw, I came to realize that the object of life is not prosperity as we are made to believe, but the maturity of the human soul.”

While I cannot compare my little struggle to eight years in a labor camp, I can agree that I too have found that the object of life is the maturity of the human soul. And ease and comfort will never give you that. You need the struggle, you need the toil, you need the fight.

Jesus Christ said in His famous Sermon on the Mount, “blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

That is why in life we must learn to bless the struggle, bless the hurt, bless the prison, bless the wilderness; for there we will find that we too are blessed.

(image from pixabay.com)

Teach Us to Pray

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(Out of respect for the privacy of my students, I have changed the names, after all the internet is a big open space and they are but children)

As a volunteer teacher in a small pre and primary Christian school in Zambia, I have a habit of starting off each school day with group prayer with the students of my little class.

It is a simple procedure. We sit around the table and pray for the school day, asking God to bless us, help us learn, and (most important of all) help us to be obedient. As the teacher it was of course my job to lead them all in prayer. We never started a day with this very important minute with God, and if there was a rare day that it slipped my mind, I always had a little hand raising to remind me.

With time the prayer time began extending a bit. It started when one of the students got very sick and I offered that we pray for her healing. One of my other students is deaf in one ear so we decided to pray for him as well. Then it became unfair that two of the kids were getting prayer and the rest weren’t, so I would be sure to include a line about each and every one, (there are only six), asking Jesus to keep them healthy and happy.

When it became clear that prayer could be about anyone and anything, other requests began pouring in. Jack’s cat was having kittens and we prayed for them, Albert felt his dog was lonely so we were sure to slip a in a line for the canine. We also added a prayer for the children around the world to have enough to eat. and be safe.

Thus prayer time turned into a five-minute procedure, but my little 1st graders did not stir or fidget, they listened very closely to make sure their teacher didn’t dare skip any of the very important requests we were laying before the throne of God.

One morning, only about a week before Christmas break, Martha looked over at me and asked, “Miss Lada, may I pray today?”

It was the first time anyone had asked to be allowed to take over something that had always been considered Miss Lada’s task, and the little eyes of the rest of the children stared curiously at me, wondering what the answer would be.

I, in turn, gazed into the beautiful brown eyes of the five-year old. She is from Congo, French is her native language, she only speaks English at school.

“Of course Martha,” I told her. “I will be very happy if you lead us in prayer.”

We all folded our hands, and the children closed their eyes, but I dared to keep one eye open, interested to see what would happen.

Taking a deep breath, Martha began. “Dear Heavenly Father and Lord Jesus,” she said in the same way she has heard her teacher say for the past two months. Word by word she asks God to bless the day, asks Him to help them be good, to keep them safe while outside. She prays for Crystal, who is still in the hospital, she prays for the ear that can’t hear. She names all her classmates, asking God to keep them healthy. The cat and the kittens are blessed, the dog is not forgotten, the wellbeing and health of children around the world is remembered. Of course she used her own words, but she didn’t leave out a single request.

When we all said Amen, six pairs of eyes blinked at me.

“Miss Lada,” they begged. “Can we all take turns praying.”

And thus we fell into the routine. Now it’s not Miss Lada who says the prayers, rather it is the children themselves, filled with that pure faith we adults can often only dream about, who bring the list of petitions to their great Heavenly Father, and His Son, the Lord Jesus.

I am a teacher. I wake up early in the morning and spend the day trying to help my little flock learn something. I teach reading and writing, I teach arithmetic and science. The wonders of the world, the joy of art, I pour this into my students, hoping to pass on the knowledge I have to them.

Yet there had been a lesson that I never prepared for,  a lesson that never had a plan, a lesson I didn’t even realize I was teaching, but now I know it has been the greatest achievement, the greatest accomplishment that will outshine any scholastic subject I could have ever given them.

Once upon a time, the disciples of Jesus came to Him with a simple question, but one that held in it the very heart of our faith. “Teach us to Pray. Teach us to communicate with You, with your Heavenly Father.”

Jesus gave his disciples the Lord’s Prayer. He helped them to find the words with which to come to His Father’s throne.

And in a little school in the heart of Africa, He managed to use a young, inexperienced school teacher, who often struggles to hold the attention of a  mere six students, and taught His younger disciples how to pray.

And no matter what they learn,or do not learn during their time with me, I hope this will be a lesson they will keep with them for the rest of their lives.

(picture courtesy of pixabay.com)

My Journey to Africa.

David Livingstone once said: If you have men who will come if there is a good road, I don’t want them. I want men who will come if there is no road at all.

And going where no road was, this great missionary and explorer put southern and central Africa on the map. To this day David Livingstone is known as one of the greatest explorers of all time. But more than that, he gave his time and his care to the natives he came across. As a doctor he treated them and did all in his power to put an end to the slave trade. When he died, his faithful servants buried his heart in Africa, saying he loved the continent so much, the heart belonged there.

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When I tell people I am going to Africa, the reaction usually follows the same pattern. Their eyes go wide and they present me with a single question. “Why Africa?”

My initial response is, “Well, why not?”

But that probably isn’t that great of an explanation so I am giving a more in depth view as to why I am picking up and moving to a country so far and so unlike my own.

Growing up, I was never one of those people who planned to settle down, get a job, raise a family, and then retire. The unknown always called to me. It beckoned to me. I wanted to do more than just live for myself, I wanted to bring help to others. I wanted to be a part in making our world a better place. I wanted to make the world beautiful. By the time I had finished school I had set a dream before me. I wanted to go to Africa. More importantly, I wanted to go to what I called ‘Livingstone’s Africa’. I wanted to go to the part of the continent where my childhood hero had lived and worked and died. Like him I wanted to make a difference. Except I didn’t want to travel as a doctor, but as a teacher. I wanted to work with children, I wanted to help them build a future, I wanted to help them have a life worth living.

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Dreams are never realized easy, if they were they would lose their value. At first it seemed my desire to go to go anywhere just hitting dead end after dead end. Still, I didn’t let the dream die. As I struggled with grasping the idea of adult life, I kept this dream burning in my heart. I helped my parents with their youth project, I studied graphic design, I worked to help pay the bills, but I told everyone it was just a temporary settlement, one day I am going to Africa. I didn’t know how I would get there or where I would end up, I simply prayed for God to show me the way to go and waited. It was this dream that helped me through some rather tough years in my life, when everything I hoped for just didn’t seem to be working out for me. It helped me cope, it helped me not give up. I couldn’t give up, because if I did how would I get to Africa?

And five years after I set my dream, it began coming true.

It all started with an email. In February A friend, whose parents are missionaries in Africa, wrote me and said her mom had a friend who ran a school in Zambia and was looking for a teacher. My initial response was to just write one big YES! But of course I had to be reasonable and weigh out the facts before giving an answer. When the decision was made to travel to Zambia for half a year and work in the school, it was both exciting and terrifying all at the same time. Yet the goal was worth it, so I took a deep breath and began the preparations.

The school that has invited me is called Brilliant Kids. It is a small NGO/mission school situated in Zambia’s second largest city. One of the main objectives of BK is to have a great impact on the education of children in Zambia. They run a pre and primary school with the purpose to provide to the foreign diplomats, investors and missionaries the educational level they desire for their children and thus encourage and enable them to further develop the community. On the other hand these children’s fees provide the financial means for a number of bright Zambian children to attend the BK school as part of their sponsorship program

Brilliant Kids also helps to organize workshops and seminars for teachers from around the country where the school provides hands on training with a clear example of what should they aim for in the instruction and teaching they provide at the learning centers where they work

Also BK is working to provide basic education in remote rural areas of the country where there’s nothing of the sort. During the last 5 years Brilliant Kids have set up two such places of basic education, calling them “community schools”. Both places are deep in the ‘bush’ area with the closest learning center more than 40 km away.

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In going to work at Brilliant Kids, I hope not only to be a teacher to the students there, but to actively participate in teaching workshops and the setting up of schools in remote areas.

It is of course a large change in my life. Traveling to another country, living a new way of life, dealing with all the problems that will come about, but I know it is where God wants me to be, and I sincerely hope to make a difference in the lives of children and young people. I want to give them hope for their future and show them that no matter how big and seemingly impossible their dreams are, there is hope that one day they can fulfill them too. Sometimes you can’t get the dream fulfilled on your own, sometimes you need help, sometimes you need someone to guide you into the right direction. Brilliant Kids has given me the wonderful opportunity to do what I want to do most in life, in turn I want to give the same opportunity to other children, and I want to challenge you to also become a part of helping others have a chance at a better life. Let’s make the world beautiful together, one step at a time.

If you would like to be a part of my journey to the heart of Livingstone’s Africa and help in making the world beautiful there are several things you can do.

Follow my blog To Make the World Beautiful at: https://tomaketheworldbeautiful.wordpress.com/ I will be updating newsletters, photos, thoughts and articles on my journey to Africa.

Follow me on Instagram for regular photo updates. You can find me at: https://www.instagram.com/justalittlesparrow/

You can also make a donation to help support my trip. Through the year I have worked hard to raise the finances I need for the journey. During the school year I taught English as a second language and all through out the summer I worked in summer camps. Through hard work and the help and generosity of friends I was able to raise nearly 1000$. I still need to raise at least another 700$. You can help by making a donation via paypal at this email address: ania_quigley@yahoo.com
(due to Russia’s policy, you cannot accept money via paypal through any Russian banks, thus a friend from England has offered her account to accept international donations. When you are sending the money please write: For Lada’s Africa Trip, so she can set the money aside when it comes. She will pass the money on to me when she comes to Russia this August.)

If you have made a donation, please send your email address to ladasablina93@gmail.com so I can add you to my mailing list and send you regular updates and newsletters about my work in Africa.

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It will be a journey into the unknown, but I am excited about what it will bring and what I will learn. I look forward to sharing this journey with you.

A Miracle Called Human Kindness

 

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Looking after kids at a city camp is not walk in the park. Having to keep them entertained all the time is more of a roller coaster ride. Doing it day after day from morning to evening can be pretty taxing. When Friday evening came along I was seriously glad to have the weekend off. And it wasn’t just the kid care that wore me out. Problems with one of the administrators came along and I found out from my sister that there had been some gossip circulating about me. I had shrugged it away because it was not the time and place for drama.

So that evening I just went home, almost dreading having to go back on Monday for another week at camp. I stopped by my grandma’s place to pick up my stuff (I’d been staying with her as it was closer to work than my place) and went out to catch the bus.

Just as I got out of the building the bus rolled along, which was not good news as the bus stop was a good walk away. I knew that even if I took off running I wasn’t going to make it, especially with the heavy backpack on my back. But human instinct is stronger than human reason and the minute I saw the bus I was running, despite the fact that my brain was yelling at me not too. I watched the people come in and then I expected the doors to close and for me to not make it. But that’s when the miracle happened.

An interesting fact of life is people often attribute miracles to something big and supernatural, impossible even. Of course when a blind person gets his sight back or a deaf person can hear, it is, without a doubt, a miracle. But that wasn’t the sort of miracle I got on that defeated Friday evening. It was a smaller miracle, though in my mind it was no less great or supernatural.

The bus driver saw me running and waited. He had a schedule to keep, the bus had to be at the next stop in so many minutes, but he chose to wait. I arrived breathless, hopped inside and thanked the driver. He nodded his head and pulled out.

It was just a small gesture from his side. He didn’t know I was having a rough day, he didn’t know I had a rough week. I was just a random girl to him, one of thousands who rode his bus that day. But something caused him to wait those two minutes it took me to get to the bus doors. There was no logical reason for him to do it, and that was the miracle.

In my mind, human kindness and human compassion are one of the greatest miracles God ever gave to mankind. Two things that cannot be fully explained by reason, by logic, by intelligence. We can’t say why some people never bother and some people always do. Why do some  bus drivers just follow the time and drive off and why do some turned a blind eye to the clock and wait? What is it that causes a person to lend a hand or turn the cold shoulder?

Working at the camp, we didn’t get our meals because for some reason they weren’t included in the budget. The idea was we bring our own food, but finding time to eat when you’ve got kids to keep out of trouble easier said than done. We would take them to have their meals at a little Greek cafeteria and stand around while they ate and keep the peace. When the owner noticed we fed the kids but never ate ourselves he asked us if we would like something and my sister (who was working with me) had to explain that our meals weren’t covered and we didn’t have the money to buy our own food there twice a day for two weeks. He nodded his head and walked off. Later the waiter brought us a type of Greek pizza and declared it was on the house. We were of course touched and grateful, figuring it was a kind gesture for this day.

Not by a long shot. The next day they fed us again, and then again, and I can honestly say I had one free meal a day at that restaurant for the entire first week of camp.These people were total strangers to us, yet something in them, something beautiful and unexplainable made them forget about profit and money.

That is human kindness in its purest form. A form we often overlook. We know and remember the grand acts of kindness. The hero who saved a kid from a burning fire, who pulled the biker out from under the burning car, that always stays in our memory. And yet how easy is it to forget about the bus driver who waited a few extra minutes so you wouldn’t have to wait half an hour for the next bus. Forget about that fellow in the metro who didn’t sit down because he saw you out of the corner of his eye and decided to let you have the seat. Forget to say thank you for the free meals because we were so busy fussing over rowdy children and personal problems.

So we forget and say the world is a miserable place and we hate it.

But matter how much we hate it, no matter how much we complain that we’ve lost hope for humanity, there are a few people who haven’t. And they remind us of what our life and what humans have to offer.

I’m not saying the world is perfect, I’m not saying there is no  injustice or cruelty. There is. I am witness to it every day. And yet I feel that all to often we focus on the bad, focus for so long that we don’t see the good. But what is worse, we don’t contribute to the good.

Maybe the world is in the state it is not because so many evil men are destroying it, but because the good people are letting them.

What did you do today to make the world beautiful?

(photo courtesy of pixabay)

An Open Letter to the Elementary School English Teacher

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I teach ESL to preschoolers and tutor elementary school kids in English as well. All my students came to me from the local school, where the kids weren’t handling the school program. I was a little surprised when I discovered how the children didn’t know the full alphabet, even though many of them have been studying English for well over a year.

After nearly a year of tutoring them, I felt inspired to write an open letter to their teacher. I am not here to condemn him or his teaching methods. This letter just came from another teacher who doesn’t understand why the children have to struggle with this foreign language in school and not make any progress, even after two grades of learning.

An Open Letter to the Elementary School English Teacher.

I am not here to tell you how to run your class, because I know handling over twenty students is a challenge that Hercules probably would not have been able to handle. I know the system under which you must work is hard and complicated. I know it is so much more than just a couple of hours with students. I understand the vast amount of paper work you are loaded up with, the pressure from the principle, and other problems that a teacher must deal with while not in the classroom. It is hard and draining and I praise your determination to teach in a school at all, as it is not the most rewarding of tasks as far as many people are concerned.

I am not here to tell you what a horrible teacher you are, or tell you that there is something wrong with you. All I am really here to do is ask why.

Why do your students come to me nervous and fearful? Why are they afraid every time they don’t know a word from the textbook vocabulary? Why do they get red in the face and start fidgeting as though searching for a place to hide when they don’t understand something? Why are they so tense? So quiet? So afraid of me? Why does it take me two to four lessons just to get them to relax?  To start talking? To open up?

Each one of your students followed this same pattern when they came to me for private tutoring lessons. They would drop their gaze when unable to answer a question. They would take deep breaths waiting for me to lose my temper, or get mad, or react in some other negative way. For the first two weeks I had to reassure them before, during, and after every activity that it was okay if they didn’t know the answers. That it was alright if they didn’t understand. That I was there to help them learn so they shouldn’t be afraid to tell me they don’t know.

I know teaching a new language is hard, but I’ll let you in on  little secret: learning it isn’t much easier. The children are all elementary students. This means they have only recently learned to read and write in their native language and are still struggling with the rules and grammar. Now, plus to that, they are given a foreign language and asked to grapple with it as well.

I don’t want to judge your teaching methods, but your students come to me not knowing the alphabet. Some of them know less than half the letters. You have been teaching some of them for two years. May I be so daring as to ask: what have you been teaching them all this time?

One of the second grade students told me how you began giving her reading and writing assignments before she even fully grasped the alphabet. She still can’t read in English properly and this is after nearly a full year of studying.

You complain to their parents that you can’t get them to read, but has it ever occurred to you that without a proper knowledge of the alphabet they will never read? The alphabet is the basis of reading, the basis of the language and if your students do not know it how can they be expected to read or write anything in the language?

You give them dictations every week without giving the proper time to learn the new words – to children who have only been studying English for less than a proper school year. Children, who, I repeat, don’t even know the alphabet!

Some parents have the time and knowledge to help their students, but some do not and that is why they are forced to turn to me; not so much as to teach them English but to help them with the homework that you insist on loading them up with. I was taken aback by the amount of homework you give them. I wonder if you realize that the children don’t understand the homework. How do you expect them to do it?

Extra homework is not the solution the problem. It would be like giving pages and pages of multiplication and division to someone who hasn’t yet grasped the full concept of numbers. What is more, when they come to me for private tutoring we spend so much time doing the homework that I don’t even have time to teach them the basics that you were supposed to have given them from the beginning. Out of one hour we spend half an hour to forty-five minutes trying to figure out the homework; that leaves me with half an hour to fifteen minutes to drill them in grammar, learn the vocabulary in the textbook, and hopefully learn something that will help them next time they come to your class.

Once again, I don’t want to come down hard on you, but I am a little puzzled. The children don’t understand what they are learning. What is the point of teaching them, then? What is more, because they don’t understand the learning experience becomes a drag. It’s not fun, it’s boring, it’s confusing, and it is something you are teaching them to hate.

Learning a foreign language can be so much fun. It is an opportunity to learn about a different culture, a different way of life. And yes, you may not have the time and energy to make each lesson some grand adventure, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make it simple.

In fact, I am of the opinion that simple is the way to go. Don’t try to cram all sorts of information to the children. Be willing to take it slow. Don’t expect the impossible of them. Understand they have other subjects in school, and that they don’t need you to give them as much English as possible with the hopes that they will be reading and writing fluently by the end of the first school year.

Just give them the basics. Especially to the second graders who are being introduced to English for the first time. There is a saying. Do few things, but do them well. Perhaps the kids will know less, but they will know it well. Well enough that when they enter the next grade they will be able to keep up with the school program instead of fumbling around, confused and discouraged.

You are not a native English speaker yourself. Surely you understand what it is like to try and learn a foreign language. It is a challenging process. Lots of things don’t make sense and it takes an effort to get the hang of it. And being loaded up with too much information is not the way to go about it.

We are entering the fourth quarter. The sun is out, the weather is getting warmer and it will become even harder to keep the kids in the classroom, be it yours or mine. I want to ask you to take it easy on the kids. Give them time to learn the material. Explain the rules in such a way that they will understand. Don’t over load them with information. Make it simple, but doable.  This will not only help the kids to enjoy and understand their last two months of English in school, but it will make your job easier, and mine as well.

Wouldn’t you agree that it is better to finish the year with students who have a basic knowledge of English instead of students who don’t understand what on earth they were doing in their English classroom for two hours every week?

After all, we all know that Rome wasn’t built in a day; surely we can just as easily understand languages can’t be learned overnight.

Signed,

The private tutor of some of your students.

 

(media gotten from freeimages.com)

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