Sep 12, 2010

From village girl to city girl

I’m back in Burkina and my 3rd year with Friends of African Village Libraries (FAVL) has already gotten to a busy and productive start.

I’ve been promoted from village girl and am now “livin it up” in the big ol' capital city of Ouagadougou. I live in a house (complete with electricity, running water and yes, a TOILET) that’s just a short bike ride from the FAVL office. I’m living with Charley who was located in a village up north but because of the Al Qaeda threat had to evacuate his site. Even though he’s still a 1st year volunteer, Peace Corps agreed to our living together and his working with me at FAVL.

Our house is nice but very empty. Every free time we’ve had has been spent running back and forth getting furniture made and buying much needed supplies. I’ll post pictures up and give more details on our living situation as soon as our house is furnished and set up.

For our first official week with FAVL, Charley and I went down to a village called Boni to help run one of FAVL’s summer reading camps in the village libraries. It felt so good to be back in the village setting, where things are calm, the people friendly, and 8 oclock bed time is the norm!

Overall the camp went well. No one can deny that Dounko, FAVL’s ‘animateur extraordinaire,’ is incredible with children. He’s energetic and loves to see kids having fun. (Unfortunately it’s not often in Burkina you see a grown man “lowering” himself to a child’s level, someone whose not afraid to look silly or poke fun of himself for the sake of children’s education.) With Dounko around, children always have a great time. He knows how to make learning fun.

Between the reading and art activities, games, songs and dance, the camp was an entertaining and busy week. Sadly, witnessing the children's reading levels was an eye opener to the realities of Burkina’s lousy education system.

The camp consisted of 26 boys and girls, all between 11 and 13. In the U.S. most children this age have a pretty good reading level, easily reading young adult novels.
But during this camp the vast majority had trouble reading simple children’s books. Some could slowly stumble through a sentence but when you asked them questions, you realized they had no concept or understanding of what they just read.
One experience struck me particularly hard. During an individual reading session I asked a young girl to read to me. She told me she couldn’t because her eyes hurt. After I sat down with her for a while she got more comfortable, and opened the book. It was soon clear, however, that it had nothing to do with her eyes, she simply couldn’t read. She couldn’t even write out the alphabet.
It was a reality check to the problems of schools in villages. When you have 100 ten year old students in one class it’s easy for them to be ignored and simply slip by.
When I shared my thoughts with Dounko, he said he thought the reading level of the students in Boni’s camp were higher than the other camps he'd run.
The experience was challenging but also gave Charley and I many ideas on ways to improve next year’s camps: Start at the basics; instead of focusing on reading, put more emphasis on teaching them HOW to read.