One of the many farewells was saying goodbye to Mphungu Primary School.
Category Archives: teaching
One afternoon while at Josophat Mwale Theological Institute, I was chatting with another teacher (the principal’s wife) who mentioned that when she was studying in Zomba, her home would be checked each month to see if it was sanitary. So…perhaps I’ll have to randomly visit the ladies’ houses. Wives of pastors and theological school teachers teach the classes at the women’s school. Which means that they have few teachers.
There is only one paid teacher for the women’s school. She is the one who translates for me. It has been fun getting to know her, and to hear her story. She is a widowed pastor’s wife and, because she has a university degree, can teach at the college. Therefore, she always encourages the women to finish their education, and then go on for more.
One of the difficulties in Malawi is that funding is so low that across the country that there are few spots at colleges and universities. People often apply for several years until there is an opening—Just another challenge in a developing country. Actually many of the educated people I’ve met went elsewhere for their schooling: South Africa, Europe, even to the US. The Nkhoma Synod is working to open a university, which would offer more people an opportunity to further their education. Nevertheless, as with everything, things move at a snail’s pace.
As for primary school, it is better than it used to be. In talking with a few people here, I have been hearing that the education for young children has improved. About thirty to forty years ago only boys went to school, few girls attended and even fewer finished and went on to secondary school. This means there are many illiterate adults, or self-taught adults actually.
From what I have learned, if a school is built, the government will send teachers. But will they maintain it? No. Unfortunately, schools end up being over-crowded because more children, both girls and boys are attending. Also, because of the small number of spots in higher education, not enough teachers are being trained. In the schools, promotion is based on exams. Students advance to the next year when they pass the exam. I have heard here and there where a parent will ask if a student can be put into the next class, even though they haven’t passed the test. This is understandable, especially when the child hasn’t passed in a while and is older than the other students in the class.
Both children and adults seem very hungry to learn. I have noticed this in the various settings I have been teaching. Therefore, the willingness is here. It’s just the money, school facilities, and skilled professionals that are lacking. There of course are all of the problems that come into the picture of this being a developing country. I don’t know if in time change will come, my optimistic side does believe that it will whereas my cynical mind does not see that drastic change will come in my lifetime.
Walking up to the podium in front of all those women in their white and black uniforms felt like my first oral presentation in elementary school. Spending the night before reading over the report, writing it onto note cards, making sure to number the cards just in case they fell into disarray, and finally trying to be able to talk about what I had written down on paper. I remember my palms feeling sweaty and the pencil marks on the cardstock smudge as I held the stack in my hand. I remember trying my best not to look down and read each and every word, hoping my memory wouldn’t fail me. I remember my cheeks getting hot, turning red, and trying to gaze out into the classroom of peers looking at me intently. When I stood in front of those women, all of the same feelings came rushing back. Sentence by sentence I pushed through and as I came to the last page with a few more bullet points to share, relief started to come. I was almost finished! I had hoped they would understand the point even through my American accent.
little did I know.
I was never asked, I was never given the option to say no. One day in December I was just told that at the beginning of each year the Abusa and Amayibusa preach at the first few Women’s Guild meetings of the year. January was approaching, so naturally, as there were two Abusas and two Amayibusas, we would take the next four meetings. I was going to be last, which meant February.
The idea of preaching has always seemed intimidating to me. Maybe this is because I have heard some horrible preaching and also some life-changing words come from the pulpit as well. Mostly though, it is daunting to me because it is speaking about God’s Word: Scripture, and I know that doing this comes with much responsibility. A responsibility to communicate clearly what God would say. A responsibility to make comprehensible what can often be so confusing to us as we read the bible. A responsibility to be the messenger bringing forward what God wants to say, not just getting personal attention. There is also a responsibility not to skew scripture. I have heard some speakers say things that are just flat out erroneous and that just rub me the wrong way, and then their words have just been an obstacle to me hearing anything at all. What I would want to avoid at all costs would be to turn someone away by saying the wrong thing.
Of course, the day in February when I spoke at the Women’s Guild, it was also announced that I would be preaching at the Women’s World Day of Prayer. A surprise to me. All turned out well in the end though.
Really, what good is knowledge if we don’t apply it to our lives?
I am teaching a subject that can be taken home and used each day after class: Home Management. This is an extensive subject including everything from organization to sewing to cooking. While mentioning to someone here in town what I was teaching, she asked if I had any training in this area. Living in a home my entire life, I told her, I figured was training enough.
Much of Malawi is not near a city, which means no running water, and no electricity. It means fetching water from a borehole each day and cooking over an open fire. It also means going to sleep when the sun sets and awakening when the sun rises. Most of the women who will become pastor’s wives will be stepping into a higher class, with more prestige, and more responsibility. Pastors here live in a manse, and each home comes with at least one staff member (this could be a house-keeper, cook, gardener, or guard). It might or might not have electricity and running water, but it most likely will be an improvement from what they were accustomed to in the past.
On the first day of class, we did introductions and discussed our backgrounds. Two of the seven women feel comfortable writing in English, while the other five, write only in Chichewa. In my experience as a teacher, as the children grow older the learning gap grows –only because there is more and more to learn. Here, while working with adults, I have the largest range that I have ever had. However, they are thrilled that I am there to teach them; this makes it a joy for me. I have had to get used to lecturing, which is also new and because of the language barrier, there is another teacher to translate. The translation makes the classes slower, which means I can only plan for half of the time, knowing that a good portion of time will be used for translation.
In the first few classes, I taught proper waste management and sanitation. Their assignment was to implement what they learned. Simple, right? So in order to see if they had implemented everything, we spent class #3 walking around to each of their houses, touring all of the rooms and the exterior. When I mentioned this assignment, I received a round of applause! I have to say, it was the first time in my life I have ever been applauded when assigning homework. The women went to their houses and as we went from home-to-home, we collected the women and their children along the way. In the last house, we all sat around and enjoyed some tea and bananas. This last house was the cleanest and most organized. She had her cups placed together by color and design! The house visits were encouraging; all but two had made sure to cover any food that was being kept. In addition, two of the women had already built a compost pit and had started disposing of their organic waste this way. These two collected and divided the banana skins to add to their compost!
Thus far, it has been fun to see these ladies begin to use what I am teaching them. My hope and prayer is that God would use me to help the women and their families live healthier.
In the last five years, I have had the privilege to teach children. My students have come from many different cultures and therefore, have come with different languages than English. They have been in different stages in the process of learning English. One thing this Malawi adventure has done with me is, it has shown me a new perspective. It has shown me and will continue to show me what it’s like to step into a different culture than my own. I do hope to learn Chichewa in the course of my time here.
I now understand what it’s like to be in the process of learning a new language. All that is unfamiliar surrounds me. Therefore, all that is uncomfortable. After going to some Chichewa services at church here…I have the frustrating feeling that if it’s ALL in Chichewa, why should I go?! I cannot understand all but a few words here and there. I feel excluded. I know I am the visitor here. I do all in my power to listen intently to all that people say. I can’t tell when one word ends and another word starts, it sounds like long words with brief moments to breathe here and there. Nevertheless, it just gets very tiring. I walk away drained of energy. I now understand why my students might not pay attention during class, avoid participating, or just misbehave. I find myself paying attention for the first hour, following closely to each word, but then I loose patience and interest and stop paying attention..I read other parts of the bible..write down my to-do list..or just stare into space and zone out.
The more Chichewa that I learn, the more confident I feel. People I meet are both encouraging and at other times, discouraging as well. I have heard that I am learning the language very quickly and they express that they are so impressed. They say things like, “You sound like a Malawian!” On the other hand, it seems many tell me “Chichewa is a very easy language, so easy to learn, you will know it soon!” Then I feel pressure to study up even more.
From now on, I will have more patience. As I speak to my students, I will talk slower, review new vocabulary way more often, and provide more encouragement when the struggle increases. I will know that learning a new language takes time and persistence.
As I learn Chichewa, I will continue to persevere.
Two weeks ago, I visited the primary school that is directly behind our house. The Head Mistress gave me a tour of all of the classrooms and we chatted about what the government fails to do and how few teachers there were for the number of students at the school. I learned from her that many teachers don’t live in the area because they can only house a limited number of teachers in the faculty housing. The teachers who don’t live there come from other areas, so they ride a public bus to get there. Sometimes the government forgets to pay them so they can’t buy the bus fare to come to work. The enrollment has grown substantially since the school was built, and rather than build another school, the students just keep coming. There used to be 50 in a classroom, but now there are anywhere from 90-200 per class. If there are 200, they assign 2 teachers. The school did benefit from a charity organization that built them several new blocks (classrooms) where they house the upper grades. In the newer classrooms, they have desks and chairs. The older rooms have a few chairs for the teachers to use; the children sit on the floor. To be honest, the number of children would not fit inside the room if there were any furniture for the children to use. Upon entering a classroom, the children all stood up and in unison said, “Good Morning Mother, how are you?” The Head Mistress would respond with, “I’m fine and you?” and again the 90-200 students would say together, “I’m fine thank you!” She then told them that they could return to their seats and introduced me as Amaibusa Rohde, Mother Pastor Rohde. I was tired after visiting all of the classrooms, so I told the Head Mistress that I would love to come on Monday to observe some and then, after a few days of observation, I could see how to best support the teachers.
I arrived the following Monday and observed grade 1 for about ten minutes. After the morning song that played on the radio (it was in Chichewa, so I’m not really sure what it was about), the teacher began a handwriting lesson. I noticed that only some of the children had paper and pencils, so I asked if the ones who didn’t could practice writing in the air. They did and then she asked if I wanted to take a group of students outside who could practice in the sand. I did. I had a group of about 60 or 70 who I had sit in a big circle. We would first practice in the air, and then write in the sand. A few spots of ground were more solid than others, so we used rocks and sticks as writing instruments. I walked around the circle giving handshakes and smiles to those who had been practicing. After about 20 minutes, their attention started to falter so it was time to return to class. The teacher settled everyone again, gave them their assignment and then said it was time to go to grade 2. There was no teacher for that class because she was out with a broken leg and couldn’t come to work. It was just next-door, and as we walked, she explained that they were working on subtraction. When we went inside there was a number of subtraction problems on the board. I noticed that the children had piles of bottle caps to use as counters. It was encouraging to see that they did have counters, however it was difficult to see if anyone was using them. I said I could teach the math and the other teacher returned to grade 1. So much for observation, I had seen and heard what I needed to. I would expect to teach something each time I came to the school.
After teaching English Comprehension to grade 4 on Friday, I ran into one of the 5th grade teachers. He asked if I could come to his class to teach a life skills lesson on malaria. I said, sure. I was happy to have some direction and time to prepare. The 5th grade is the year when students transition from having subjects taught in Chichewa to having them taught in English. This was encouraging, as I figured that I wouldn’t be acting everything out as I had with the younger students. When I arrived on Monday I was greeted with the same respect I had received the prior week. They may not have many materials, clean classrooms, or proper uniforms, but they do have a willingness to learn and good manners. As I began the lesson, I remembered to talk very slowly, having the students repeat main points, and allow for partner discussion. It seems that they are not used to talking about their learning with other children, but they enjoyed it. It’s like they couldn’t believe they were allowed to talk to their fellow classmates. I had the privilege of teaching the lesson to two different classes. The first had been in grade 5 for some time, while the other had just come from grade 4 (I’m still learning about the scheduling). The first class was more rowdy and larger in number. The second class was very pleasant to be with. They listened attentively, participated and did especially well during partner discussion. The classroom had life skills books that had a small summary about malaria.
As I gathered my things, I chatted with the teacher for a few minutes and she shared that her dream was to open her own school where she could keep the class sizes low, around 40-50 students. We enjoyed talking, one teacher to another. We shared the common struggle that comes with inspiring and shaping young minds. I walked away through the dust, past smiling faces and I shook small hands of children, saying “Tsalani bwino” (stay well) and “Tionana” (see you later). I continued past the young ladies selling mangos and sweeties, under the tall trees along the dirt path that led to the gate of manse number two. Happy to be so close to a multitude of children in need of another mother to share lessons with them.
So, the more that I talk with people about Africa, the more it becomes a real. I had some friends from work over for dinner. We started out chatting about stuff we’ve been doing for the previous week of time off, it went to the weather, to some reflections on the school year, and then the conversation rolled around to me talking about Africa. Where we are going, what we will eat, how our families are taking it, etc. After getting gelato I walked back alone…thinking that soon enough I would be meeting new people and forming new friendships. I will be stretched, I will grow. I will also miss friends here. I will miss sharing life with you. It’s not so often that one gets the opportunity to work with people who are amazing at what they do, who collaborate and always have some idea to contribute, who have good hearts, and are plain funny and fun to be around. I have so enjoyed working with you all. The people with whom we surround ourselves tend to rub off on us. Thank you for being around me to mold me into a better teacher, and probably a better person too.
David gave me a challenge a few months ago, to bring home funny stories from work. Silly things kids say, funny things they do. It’s one part of my job that brings joy. I must pay attention to the small ways these children shine. Their innocence brings hope.
This world is full of darkness. It manifests in so many ways. With each new year I have seen more heartbreak, pain, confusion; we live in a world in sin, evil. I know people who would say that no, each person decides his or her own right or wrong. I can’t agree with that. Confusion comes when I see children who have been abandoned by the people they call mom and dad. It doesn’t make sense. These are blameless people. Little people. Too small and young to care for themselves, yet they do, in so many ways. What do I say to a kid who is biting and hitting just to get some kind of attention, some sort of physical touch, I know it’s because they don’t get it from home. I search for the good, the joy each day. God did create this place, intended it for good, and then we have to mess it up every day. This week, a student says in a whisper, like he’s telling me a secret, “Mrs. Rohde.. my shoes are getting tight! ..I think I’m growing big!” The last thing I want for him is to grow big! Stay young little one!! Enjoy that you can play on the playground, get dirty and not care, read stories for the first time, be enchanted by the growth of an insect, fall down and get up without a scratch or a care. It only lasts so long. Then we fall down, walk away with scars, pain, maybe don’t get well, ever. Growing hurts though. Our shoes get too tight, we get uncomfortable in what we walk around in every day. It doesn’t fit anymore, so it’s time for something new.
I used to think that I had a plan. That I knew what life would hold for me. No longer. There’s this constant battle I have with myself, of giving up my life to God and then trying to take it back. How stubborn of me. Knowing that giving it up releases the burden of control that pushes down my shoulders. Yet, I’m still holding on. I pray for provision, direction, that God would chose for us. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. Ephesians 3:20. Knowing that when I am weak, when I let go, is when God’s spirit works within me. Light does shine in the darkness. When I do catch a glimpse, it is a gift from God.
This morning I read a devotional from a book, God Calling by A.J. Russell.
“Spend more time alone with Me [God]. A strength and a Joy come from such times that will add much to your friendship, and much to your work. Times of prayer are times of growth. Cut those times short and many well-filled hours of work may be profitless. Heaven’s values are so different from the values of earth. Remember that from the point of view of the Great Worker, one poor tool, working all the time, but doing bad work is of small value compared with the sharp, keen, perfect instrument, used only for a short time but which turns out perfect work.”
After a tiring week at work, this is what I needed to hear. My work is in the business of loving and teaching children. It is often tiring. Loving twenty-six children daily. I often feel far from good at it. I often feel that I fail in this delicate work. It is in these times that weariness comes. In my earthly self, I have limited energy to give. As I was reminded, God’s Spirit will work in me when I have no energy left. I need to seek it out and open myself to let the Spirit work. Challenging in a self-focused place. I remember times in ministry when my heart was open, when prayer enveloped each part of my day. At camp, where I worked for a summer, the day started with devotional time alone with God, then collective worship, then more devotional time alone with God, then prayer, then prayer with my ministry team, then prayer with my counselor team, then prayer with the children, then more prayer. At every transition point, we prayed. We prayed that God would protect,that God would provide, that God would lead, that God would minister to the campers, that God would use us to do His work. How do I do that in teaching? I pray alone. Or I find other teachers who will pray with me. Before school, during recess, lunch. Stop, close my eyes when I feel my patience slipping away at any other point. Stop, close my eyes when I see that they’re not understanding and frustration is building. Pray in gratitude as well. It’s my first reaction to look at what’s going badly rather than what is succeeding. The only perfect work is work in which God is in control and I am merely His tool.