I am not a kid person. I never was. I jokingly state that the only reason my children survived is because I was obligated not to kill them! I have to be careful what I say here because sarcasm and satire are not so easy to understand in this culture. Don’t get me wrong, I love my children and I am proud of the people they grew up to be, but there were times when I wished I had less obligation in life.
That being said, the idea of working in a school is a setback for me. I struggled with it. In Liberia I was to work in a high school, way different level than a primary school. Primary schools are where the children hold your hands and hug you constantly. They want you to mitigate arguments and make other kids stop, whatever the infraction is. It can be exhausting. I was not looking forward to this aspect of my service. In fact I contacted the schools a few weeks before school started and was worried that I would be overwhelmed with work. Then no one called. I sat through September wondering if they were just busy getting situated?
As my farmers were getting frustrated and I was losing momentum, I struggled with this aspect of service. I have to work in a school, but none seem to want to reach out to me. I finally rode down to the local primary school and met with the principle, who really wants to utilize the environment as a teaching tool. This is my in! I am totally capable of making this happen. So began my service at the Three Hills Primary school. About two weeks later I was contacted by the farthest school in my area. They were told I was willing to work with the environmental clubs. So now I have two schools, which I promptly enrolled in an environmental competition.
The following are the obligations for the school in this competition.
- Recycle plastic bottles and count how many we recycle.
- Plant 40 trees per school.
- Create a school garden.
- Create an active environmental club.
I now have 20 trees donated by trees that feed for each school, my only obligation is to go and pick them up. One school already has an environmental club and a school garden. They also already recycle their bottles and keep the school clean.
My main school is starting from square one. So I spent my first week reading the Lorax to grades 1-4. I talked about the importance of trees and how to take care of the environment. Then I watched the kids rip limbs off trees to beat (lick) each other with. I yelled at them “What are you doing to my trees?” in my Lorax voice of course, so far less limbs are being torn off.
Recycling is still a mess. The kids throw things on the ground and refuse to pick them up. They put trash in the recycle bins. I figure by years end, I might have made a difference in this aspect. I think my next step is to create a school clean-up committee. If they spend a few minutes daily picking up trash maybe they will be less inclined to litter in the first place.
The school gardens, this is where I get the most enthusiasm. They all want to help and work in the gardens. Maybe as an incentive, the gardens will be for those who help keep the school clean each week. The gardens however were a struggle in themselves.
I asked for a few farmers to help break the ground. The ground is tough and full of rocks. It is also on an incline and kids are just not going to be able to break it up right, neither am I. I was informed that the farmers would not break ground with the grass on it. I asked if they could just burn it, but was informed that the preferred method was to spray. Spray poison where kids play? You cannot be serious? I don’t want to poison the kids, I just want to make something nice for them. I was so frustrated at this information, I even called RADA (a governmental farm agency) to find out if they had any spray, they did not. I am not buying this, I do not like this idea and I am certainly not putting my money into poisoning children. Besides how will I keep them out of the field after it is sprayed?
As I pondered in frustration I had a huge aha followed by a major duh moment! I have a Master’s with a focus on sustainable urban agriculture. This means I farm where there is no space or there is no way to farm in the space. I am an idiot! I was staring at the small concrete structures that I had decided to make raised beds for the first and second graders. Why am I not making raised beds for all the classes. I can showcase how to build a bed in an area that has never been farmed before! Also I can utilize the hugelkulture concept and really show some sustainable farm techniques! I am an idiot and a genius!
So began the project of finding help to get bamboo and build these wonderful beds. See not only did I solve my initial issue of how to get the beds, I used local resources at no cost! A huge win. Not only that I brought men from the community down to help with the kids. I can show them and the kids how this concept works and they in turn can share skills with the kids.
We built up the first two beds on a weekend when kids were not around. I did not want them around the machetes and tools, I worried it would become anarchy and chaos. We were able to build the first two bamboo beds. It took longer than I thought because my idea was not translated well to the men until we got to constructing it.
The following Tuesday I spent the day showing the classes the recycling station and the beds that were built. Explaining in detail how we need to take care of the beds because nice men took the time to come do something nice for them. It has been a bit of a struggle and I had to inform one child he cannot work in the garden until January because he knocked a bamboo slat off of one of the beds.
We were finally able to finish the last two beds yesterday. I wanted to do it after school, in hopes that the kids were more interested in going home. Fortunately for me this was not entirely the case. Several students stayed behind and were super excited about helping. They carried bamboo up to the work site. They even worked together to get it done. Some stayed around trying to get involved in many ways.
In the end Mr. Johnson told me how inspiring it is to see them so excited about a project. It renewed his faith in moving forward and continuing to try to build the community up. It was also great to see the men and children work together. I believe the men enjoyed seeing how excited the kids were about the project and how much they wanted to be involved.
Just remember in those moments during your service when you are feeling lost and wonder why you are there, kids are your go to. They are your saving grace. Like it or not, kids will always want you to be near them, they always want to hear you talk and listen to the things you say. They may not always follow the things you say, but change is difficult and long, but eventually one day it will change. You just have to sound like a broken record most of your service.
Also one last note, connecting the community members to the school is a great way to help unify the community. Sometimes people forget that children are the next generation and that schools are super important for that to happen.