Tuesday, November 27, 2012


It saddens me how quickly I have come to accept stereotypes in the country as fact.  Since stepping foot off the plane in Namibia, I have been constantly told that many of the men in the country are players.  They will try to sleep with you.  They have many girlfriends, and cheat on the ones they do have.  This was told to me constantly.  I admit, they did it for my safety.  They wanted all of us female volunteers to be prepared for the onslaught of attention we would receive from the men.


We would get approached on the streets.  Strangers would come up and ask to marry us.  Introduce us to their friends as their girlfriends or wives.  It was easy to believe the stereotypes;  it happened so often to me and my friends.  I learned early on to never go out at night without a male friend around.  It just wasn’t safe.  My host mom even thought it was funny when  a strange man started being very forward with me.  He told me that his car was across the street and he had a house in town.  I didn’t know him.


So, after months of hearing these stereotypes, and even worse, seeing them and experiencing them with my own eyes, I started to believe that all men were pigs.  I was at a wedding, which was an affair that lasted all weekend.  I had met this amazing family: a girl my age, her longtime boyfriend, son, father, and mother.  I had spent the weekend with them, and had been thrilled and awed to hear about how the parents had been together for almost twenty years and were planning a giant anniversary party around Christmas.  It made me happy to see an honest man willing to love one woman.


I had exchanged numbers with the daughter, excited to make a local friend.  The next night I received a text from the father, asking if we could get to know each other better.  My happiness was shattered.  This man wasn’t what I had hoped he had been.  He was just like all the rest.


So, I started to believe that every man I saw was a cheater willing to sleep with anyone.  That they left their wives and children to move to ‘greener pastures’.  Until I was hiking back to my home one afternoon.  I was sitting in the back of a baki (truck), when this family joined me.  It was a father, mother, and their two young children.  They all looked nice, so it seemed they had spent the afternoon in town.  The father sat down, and his children climbed in his lap to take a nap.  For the next hour, he was making sure the sun wasn’t on them and that they were comfortable.  He was so concerned about them.  He would stroke his daughters hair absentmindedly as well. 


I realized then that I had given in to the stereotypes of the country.  I had believed upon first sight that this man was like the rest.  But spending an hour with him, watching him interact with his children made me realize that not all men were like I had been told.  Not all of them were like I had seen.  It made me both ashamed of myself and ecstatic that there were exceptions to the stereotype.


I can’t wait to see what other horrible stereotypes are false as well!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Letters for the Library

After spending so much time getting the library in working order, I came to the realization that getting donations is going to be a bit more difficult than I had hoped.  We have the books ready to go, but the funding to send it over is being elusive.  People are more than happy to help when they get some sort of recognition, like a tax break, but without that they are much more wary about giving their hard-earned money.  I cannot blame them. 


I had written a letter, which I gave to my mother to forward on to potential donors.  In this letter I wrote about how the books we have at this school are ridiculously old, and above the reading level of the learners.  All of the good books have already been read by them, and they either don’t read or read the same book over and over.  I included pictures showing the potential of our fantastic library space, and how sad it is that the shelves are all but empty.


One of our teachers has been gone for the last week and a half, and I have taken advantage of his now teacher-less class to practice various teaching methods and lessons.  It occurred to me that many of these learners have no motivation to do any work.  There are about 8 different assignments which are graded, and it is those which constitute their overall grade for the class.  Everything else is done purely as practice.  To make their assignment more real, along with helping out the school, I informed the kids that I was working on getting more books for the library.  I told them that I had written a letter, but it would be much better if their wrote to the potential donors.  They were very excited.


English, especially writing it, is especially difficult for these kids.  Yes, they do write, but their grammar, punctuation, spelling, and creative thinking are lacking tremendously.  They have been brought up in a learning environment where no one speaks English natively.  Their home language is the language of instruction until Grade 5, at which point they are expected to be able to learn in a foreign language.  Unfortunately many of their teachers are not qualified to teach English, and often feel uncomfortable., Which often results in their returning to their home tongue.


So, by the time they get to secondary school, they have the ability level of someone much younger than they are.  A solution that the kids, the teachers, the ministry, and everyone in any education field agrees to is that if the kids develop a culture of reading, they will be able to unintentionally absorb grammar, punctuation, and spelling.  They will be able to see different writing styles, genres, and, I hope, a passion for reading and writing.


So, I informed the kids that they would all be writing a letter explaining why they need good books to read.  I left it open for their ideas and creativity, and told them that the top 10 letters would be typed up and e-mailed to America.  I have never seen such devotion to their work.  I made sure to stress that I would not be looking at grammar, or anything but the message they put.  Many came up with good, but obvious answers.  It will help our spelling and grammar.  But some kids were very surprising.  I was unable to reduce the list to 10, so with the potential winners I went to my fellow teachers and asked them to help me choose learners who are struggling behaviorally and academically, but could use some success.


I have to say, it worked.  So far we have only spent one afternoon painstakingly typing one letter, one word at a time.  But boy do they work!  Their spelling, and grammar, and punctuation are atrocious!  But isn’t that the point?  These are children aged 15 to 20!  Supposedly they have been learning and speaking English since they were 6.  But their writing still resembles that of an American 8 year old!  I know that their message will come through much better than mine, because really, the books aren’t for me.  They are for these unfortunate kids who live an hour and a half drive from the nearest shop, with absolutely no way to get reading material.  If they do not improve their English, they will be the ones who can’t find jobs, not me. 


As an avid reader myself, I would be perfectly happy reading the books in the library.  Even the ones written in the 1920’s.  But I am a proficient reader.  It would make sense to me.  To these kids, it's daunting and gibberish.  So, here I am, hoping that there are people in the world who are more interested in helping children succeed in the world than to get a tax write-off.


Here is one of the kid’s letters.  He has spent hours trying to type it.  I dare you to read it and not feel your heart strings pull.


Dear madam,

First of all I want to say good after noon or morning at the library.

I have to tell you the problems about the library book   to read and understanding what is going in the book so that I can take and read those thing that is inside the book please. 

I have to talk about myself how I can take this book to read them in the library because the teacher they not allow us to go and read the book in the library so that we can read good story

At the school also we need good book to read easily for myself only  because  me I like to read story book and magazine also about the HIV and AIDS to know what  we going allow  to do when we can doing sex  you cannot get HIV and AID in the school or on my w ay  if I thing about the school book here . I thing I am in the school where I am teaching every day until school out .I like to pray to god so I can be good reading in the school except in the class only because I like  to try  my spelling word to write  again  in the same so that I

Can writ easily and I can become reading learner in the class .so that I  want to tell you about the book that is here in the library now the teacher or secratery now give us to read it is ok but just bring us at the library or give us book to read that was my good news for all teacher and secretary and myself.



With many thanks


My poor library!  No wonder the kids don't read. They can't!