Hey all! Lucky us- our new place at Vivien’s has internet in the evening hours, which means more frequent blog updates. We feel so spoiled! We had a great day at UCA today. We’d hoped to get to the school right as it opened this morning, but unfortunately there was another miscommunication about our ride and we ended up getting there around recess time. Also unfortunately Christine has come down with some sort of bug, so she ended up sleeping in and joining us a little later (only to sleep on Pastor John’s hard floor because she still felt sick…but luckily staff said a prayer over her stomach). She went to bed early tonight and we’re all hoping she’ll wake up feeling 100% tomorrow. (Update: she got up and is munching on some PanPan…or, the Lebenese version of Pringles….and an orange, so things are looking up for her 🙂
We were all looking forward to becoming honorary UCA teachers for the day! Katie and Ali started in the seventh grade classroom, which has only 9 students. Ali’s 5th grade class in DC had made cards for the UCA students with surveys on the inside so the students could learn fun information about one another. They handed those out, then had those students fill out the same surveys to take back to Ali’s class. We’re hoping this can be the start of a great relationship between the two schools. They did the same thing in the 6th grade classroom, then made their way to the 2nd and 3rd grade classrooms for spelling and math games and of course songs. Meanwhile, Sean took his National Geographic donated maps to other uppergrade classrooms for some really great lessons and geography related games. The students were incredibly engaged and were very thankful for the new additions to their classroom walls (thanks National Geographic!).
After spending some quality time in each of the classrooms, it was time to meet with the administration of United Christian Academy. We were really looking forward to hearing both the successes and challenges of UCA straight from the teachers. It was a very productive meeting, as we were able to learn about and prioritize the needs of UCA teachers. One of the main priorities we discussed was the need for professional development. We’re greatful to have a full teaching staff at UCA who stepped up to the plate to educate the children of Swaggart Island, but they are currently lacking official teacher training. Classes are offered at universities around Liberia and the teachers are incredibly anxious to get the proper training to better serve the UCA population. FUEL Youth is currently brainstorming ways to help pay for this, as it is often expensive and unaffordable for teachers. Other concerns addressed at the meeting that we hope to tackle include:
- Electricity and a generator for the school. Once this is accomplished, we can put lights, air-conditioning, computers, and other appliances to use. It will also allow for an adult night school at UCA in the evenings.
- Bridge construction. In order to get to Swaggart Island, many students have to cross a bridge across a small waterway. During rainy season, this is nearly impossible due to current bridge conditions.
- Water well. Currently, there is no clean drinking water at the school. Students have to walk 25 minutes to the nearest well to obtain the necessary drinking water. A chlorination system and pump need to be put in place to make the current well suitable for drinking.
- Textbooks for older children and a library for the school and community. Lack of appropriate books is a serious issue facing UCA and Gardnersville in general. Students in the older grades have no textbooks to use, while students in the younger grades find it difficult to develop a love of reading without fun and engaging books in their hands.
- Lunch program. Because UCA doesn’t currently have the funds to provide lunch for the students, school dismisses at 12:45 so they can eat. This cuts off a solid few hours more that students could be spending learning in school.
- School nurse. Lack of sufficient medical care is another issue faced by the Gardnersville community. Often times, kids are sent to school ill, only to be sent home by the staff because they’re so sick. Unfortunately, there’s no one home to meet them because parents have left for the day.
We also met with members of the community and parents of students, who echoed the needs the teachers laid out.
As Edward mentioned at the meeting, his dream for UCA was a 5-year plan. So far the school has enjoyed 2 successful years. But there’s a lot more work to go in the remaining three, and in 2010 we’d like to have a big blow-out dedication for the school. FUEL Youth will be looking at the ways and means that we can best support the development of UCA. We’ll be updating our project page on the school from our home website in the coming weeks.
The UCA staff, administration, students, and parents feel like one big extended family and are so very warm and welcome to us all. We’ve really enjoyed our time at the school, and some of us have enjoyed it so much, we’d like to spend some extended time teaching there. We will see what the future brings.