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Kayla: Teacher and Student

28 Sep 16
Kayla Jones

This week had some highs and lows. We’ve been here nearly a month now and the surroundings and way of life seem normal now.

I was initally asked by an NGO that is working with the Zuannah Town Elementary School to provide reading support to the students at the school – which would mean having teachers identify which of their students needed extra help with their reading skills. This I know how to do. When I showed up to do this on Monday morning though, the principal and teachers decided that they didn’t want me taking kids out of the classrooms, because they would miss out on lessons. It was decided that it would be more beneficial if I just taught phonics in all of the grades. 15 minutes per class, per grade. Also, I am to “Develop your own lesson plans”. Okay… being the agreeable person that I am, I enthusiastically said that I would. Well, I quickly discovered that what I remember about teaching my own kids phonics will run out in no time at all. After three days of teaching, I called the woman from the NGO to ask if she had any materials for me to follow so I could better do this. She said that she did not want me teaching phonics. The teachers needed to be the ones to do it so that: a. they learn how to teach it, and b. they improve their own skills of phonics (phonics is not part of the educational system in Liberia). For example: my kids copy teachers’ notes off the board that are most often grammatically incorrect. Ivy’s teacher wrote her a note to remind her that her beaded ankle bracelet is not allowed in school. The note read: “Please, Ivy. Tell me you are not wearing beans.” She was SO confused, and laughed and laughed when she told me! Also, fish is “fich”, beach is “beash”. The reason for this is that most Liberians speak in pidgin english that drops the last half of most words. If a person doesn’t read the words in a book there would be no way of knowing how to spell (or pronounce) the full word in most cases. Another one of my favorites: if something should be thrown away, you “chunk it”. Or if they want you to throw a ball, “chunk it”. Hahahha! Love that one….

Anyway, back to the school. I did love being there. So the next day I went, I told the principal that I had spoken to NGO lady from New Jersey, Christina, and she didn’t want me teaching phonics. That day, I took it upon myself to work my weeding out/organization skills that I got obsessed with this year and organized their library/teacher’s lounge. They have a ton of text books and storybooks that were EVERYWHERE – no order to it whatsoever. So I got my earplugs (the school is SO loud because each room is just a cinderblock amplifier box), and found my happy place going through every single book. Weeding out outdated materials, and organizing by subject so that you can clearly see what’s what to be utilized in a classroom. And cleaning. Oh my word, the dead critters I found! Not to mention the dirt and droppings. One book I removed from the shelf caused a lizard to jump out at me! It took me 5 hours, but I transformed that place 🙂 It felt fantastic and the staff was so appreciative. The principal kept saying over and over what a hard worker I was. Which is so funny now that I’ve seen the way things run here. The motto seems to be, “Why do today what can be done tomorrow?” haha

The day after that, the NGO team showed up at the school again and were doing reading and math assessments on all of the children. I was asked to help, so that was enjoyable. I love the children. It’s fun to work at the school, but I’m just not sure in what capacity I would be helpful. I’ll pop in tomorrow and see what’s up.

I guess the frustrating thing I’ve faced that I didn’t foresee happening, is the feeling that we didn’t move to a new home but that we’re just staying at someone’s place – for a really long time. In reality, this IS our place. We created it. It is easy to feel that this is Rufus and Vic’s place though. They run it. They oversee the chores of the children. Vic does the shopping and runs the kitchen. Rufus directs the nightly devotional. If I think about it too much, I feel like the annoying guest that seriously outstays their welcome. The fact is though, these children have no parents. They are hungry for love and affection (which isn’t really the African way, from what I’ve seen). There is no one that seems to be assigned to attend to the little things, like making sure the small children are bathed regularly, or brush their teeth. The older girls are pretty helpful with the little girls (braiding their hair), but poor Patrick. He is the only small boy and he is terribly overlooked and under cared for. He is the obvious place to start.

The other day Vic went to the market (since we have no refrigeration, she has to go buy perishable food every other day), and I was the only one home. The small children get out of school around 12:30, which is about an hour before others start coming home. They were all so hungry, but Vic had her room locked up – which has the food they usually eat after school (gari). I had access to the pantry, so I decided to try to make them some spaghetti. I couldn’t get the dang coal pot lit though! There were only had 3 matches, which I quickly wasted. We decided to get everything else ready and hope Vic got home soon to get more matches out of her room. I was slicing up the onion and Faith was eating it as soon as it hit the cutting board! Raw onion! Then I opened some cans of tomato paste to put in the pot, and these kids were licking the remains of the tomato paste from the cans. Ah! Did I mention there’s no can opener? Cans are just opened with a knife. So I snatched away the cans before someone cut off their tongue, and gave them dry spaghetti instead. Luckily, Vic came home soon after that, and we got those kiddos some food. Boy, did I feel helpless though. I never want that to happen again.

I know there has been a system in place for many years that seems to work well enough for everybody living here at the orphan home. They have their budgets, their methods for getting things done, their division of chores, etc. Stepping into that system and developing my own system within it has its challenges. Ownership needs to be more fully felt though, on my part. I’m such a tentative person that hates to step on toes. It takes real effort for me to step in. I’ll figure it out 🙂 Tis a process!



  1. Brittany September 29, 2016 at 4:25 am

    So awesome, Kayla. I love hearing about your process and progress. That’s life, right? Hugs and take care!

  2. Jan September 30, 2016 at 3:11 am

    Great, GREAT information. I loved reading every bit of it.

    It sounds like you are really adapting to your circumstances and embracing the Liberian way of life…with your own twist to it. It is so nice that you love the little ones. The children are easy to love. They just melt into hugs. I am glad that you can help at the school. It really is amazing that the kids even learn, what with the heat trapped in that school, as well as the noise.

    Keep the information coming. I love you!

  3. JUSTIN STARR October 4, 2016 at 3:04 am

    We miss you guys. Thanks for sharing your experiences with us. I’m almost envious that you get to spend your days going about doing good. But then I take a hot shower and remember that I’m a total wimp. Thanks for your example. And thanks for posting videos of those precious children. They’re amazing.

  4. Wynn October 18, 2016 at 4:06 am

    Love your post, Kayla, Tough to know where to change things up and to know where to let things be.

    That is so great that you are helping out at the school.

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