Wednesday, January 29, 2014

My Triumphant Return, Part 1

After a somewhat rocky start during which I felt both the highs of elation and the lows of deflation, I can now safely say that I am back at Msaranga Primary School, droppin' knowledge and wrappin' knuckles.

I think it was a good move to wait a few weeks into the new school year before making my triumphant return in order that the regular teachers register all the newbies and learn their names.  Then, me and Vumi could go in more easily to pick up with the special needs group where we left off last year....Though of course, she was with them more recently than myself, so it wasn't really such a return for her....

I must confess that the very first day back was tough and when the bell rang 2:30pm, I was outta there faster than a Tanzanian off a bus ride from Moshi to Iringa (i.e. VERY fast).  It was an exhausting day, hot as all get-out, with the sun just bearing down on us and when we were lucky enough to get the relief of a breeze, it would blow all the red dust of the dirt road and the school yard over everything, up our noses and in our eyes.  When I got home and before I toweled off, you could have planted a line of potatoes in my neck with the amount of dirt clinging to me.  I was so grumpy and grumbly that Yohana, my gardener, with whom I usually chat about the events of the day, later admitted that he was terrified to speak to me that afternoon!  Poor Yohana, almost one year of living in this house in Moshi and he still doesn't understand my mercurial ways....

Anyhoo, Vumi and I had two goals to accomplish in this last week of January prior to beginning the Kipindi cha Utafiti (Observation Period) for the new Standard One students next month: 1) to re-test the students in our special ed tuition sessions from last year, 19 kids total, and 2) to gather testimonials from those children, their parents, and the teachers at Msaranga Primary concerning their thoughts on the Project thus far.  Amazingly enough, we are now three days into the week, and what I had thought would be kazi kubwa (big work) has been relatively pain-free (aside from that first EXTREMELY painful day....).

We finished the re-testing on Tuesday and gathered the testimonials from all the parents today.  The kazi remaining for tomorrow and Friday is to talk to the kids and the teachers for their testimonials.  So, Part 2 of this blog entry will concern their thoughts and feelings and, hopefully, I'll have some decent video to show you.

We also need to return to Brenda at Gabriella to iron out the details for the students who will not be continuing at the regular school in Msaranga.  We finally did get a chance to go over the results from the first Week of Therapy with her over last weekend, but now decisions need to be made about who will go to Gabriella and who will stay, who will be a day student and who will board, and the way forward for all including the new group of kids who we will know more about after the Observation and Assessment periods are completed, probably in April.

One very important thing is already in the works: the little girl who was the victim of repeated sexual abuse last year is going to board at Gabriella as soon as we get all the paperwork done.  I believe she may move there as early as next week, which will be a PHENOMENAL step in the right direction for her.  She has already seen a doctor and been tested for illnesses and, while her body is obviously not that of a typical six-year-old, she is okay and she will thrive, at least physically.  As for the case against her abusers (yes, there's more than just the one baba, he seemed to enjoy "sharing" her), I am out of the loop; I don't see how justice can be achieved here, so there's no point in getting all work up over it.

Another big leap for this young girl?  Her second round of test scores!  She has improved by leaps and bounds, and I am hugely gratified by this progress.  See the protocols below concerning the identification of letters and numbers, the first from May and the second from yesterday.  A check indicates a correct answer and a zero indicates an error.  By no means is she ready to be captain of the Mathletes or join the debate team, but for her with her more severe intellectual impairment, this is REALLY good work.
See, I think that one of the things that made Monday so hard (aside from being re-introduced to the school's less-than-sanitary squatty potties again) was that I wasn't seeing the results that I had been hoping for on the tests.  The kids didn't seem to have made much headway, and at first, I couldn't tell whether we really weren't getting anywhere with them, or whether they were shocked by my sudden re-appearance and distracted into testing poorly.  Or if it was maybe just because it's so bloody hot these days.  And, honestly, I may never know more than that, overall, the second round results were pretty dismal, and for me, the consummate perfectionist, the New Yorker who wants it done yesterday, this was really frustrating.

But then, for a couple of them, like this one little girl, it was clear that at least some progress had been made and we haven't been doing kazi bure (free work) all this time.  Plus, I should know better than to put all my eggs in the testing basket.  That these kids don't necessarily test well is par for the course; that that means that they don't know things or cannot excel in other ways, well that's what Toa Nafasi is supposed to be about.  And it's early still.  To affect a change takes time, and I can't rush development, only urge it along and nurture it as best I can.  Sometimes I suppose I need a reminder of all these things myself!

That said, here are a couple more successful before-and-after results, the first set concerning the reading of simple Swahili words and the second, math problems appropriate for student this age.  (The problems that have been crossed out were deemed by us last year to be too difficult for Standard One and we have corrected this for the new students we'll be testing, but we figured we should use the same test as we did the first time for the initial group.)  Not too shabby, methinks....
Finally, I took these two videos of one of our students concentrating VERY HARD on the exam.  In the first video, the boy uses bottle caps to count his sums and I am distracted by a *visitor* in the room.  And in the second, Vumi and I have a chuckle at the absolute intensity and supreme powers of concentration he uses to write a few words.  But who knows, maybe he'll be the one having the last laugh and one day he'll be penning a novel, composing a symphony, or writing set of legal briefs with the same intensity?  (Btw, this kid was one about whom Mama T at this same time last year, said "Yeye, hajui yuko wapi." or "This one, he doesn't know where he is."  Well, he does now!  He's with Toa Nafasi!!)

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