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Creative Ideas Needed for Orphans in Sierra Leone, West Africa

I had to make a “last-minute” road-trip to meet my new niece today; I am now an “aunt” for the first time! Baby Katelyn is adorable and a truly wonderful Thanksgiving gift!

As I held that beautiful newborn this morning, I thought about the blessings she already has in life, including her two loving parents and extended family (including “Aunt Sue”) who love her to pieces! We will all make sure she has every advantage in life. This is a stark comparison to the situation described below.

Recently I received the following plea from a subscriber, looking for creative ideas to help some very needy students in Sierra Leone, a country in West Africa. If you have any suggestions for her, please post them on the comments section below. Your assistance will be greatly appreciated!

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Dear Susan,

My situation is probably unique, but if you could help, you’d be helping students in the poorest country on earth….

I’m the Education Chair for a 72 child orphanage in Bo, Sierra Leone. We had a chance to visit the schools they attend back in March of 2010 and we weren’t surprised by what we saw, but we were dismayed.

The classes we observed while in Bo were at a private school. There are government schools as well. School is “compulsory” in Sierra Leone, but all students (even the ones who attend government schools) must pay tuition and buy their own books and uniforms. Many children don’t attend school at all because their families cannot afford to send them (and to have them not earning money for the family) so that compulsory thing is obviously not really enforced.

Because of the rampant poverty and recent devastation of the country’s infrastructure, there just are no resources. Classrooms are four walls and a battered blackboard with no electricity. Teachers use a spiral notebook to record attendance, grades and lesson plans. Each teacher has a few pieces of chalk. Students must buy their books, but they don’t bring them to school for fear they’ll be stolen and resold on the black market.

All classes at all levels and in all subjects are taught by rote memorization. Students write down verbatim what the teachers say and recite it back from memory. That’s it. Students are not encouraged (or in many cases allowed) to put things into their own words. We have seen students punished for writing anything other than what they were explicitly told to write.

One summer we taught our orphans an easier modified Cornell note-taking method, thinking that if they were taught by lecture at least this method would afford them some ability to analyze and synthesize the information they received – but after observing in March, now I worry that they might be punished in school for this.

What I’m wondering is if there is a way to help them use their verbatim notes more actively when they study at home in the evenings? If we can take this raw material they’re given and help them to figure out ways to synthesize or organize the information to maximize the learning we can get out it that would be ideal. Is there a way we can help them use this raw material better to increase their comprehension and retention?

Thanks,
Laura
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Hi Laura,

One question I find myself wondering, and I am sure many others will ask is, “Is there anything we can do?” I know you are looking for specific ideas, but people will want to know if they can offer any additional help. Let me know if there is anything I can elaborate upon in this regard.

Thanks,
Susan
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Susan,

What kind of help are we talking? The needs are many – that’s for sure! Honestly, we’re pretty well set with school supplies and backpacks; that sort of thing – we get donations of these items all year long.

What I’d love for them is new computers. They have about 8 used laptops networked together in a lab on campus, but it’s not enough and they’re old, tired and unreliable. Mostly we just need some good ideas for how to help these kids retain what they’re taught in schools.

Deep down, I also worry about their critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Although these are not the things that are taught and tested in Sierra Leone, I worry about their ability to function and excel as adults in the world.

Sierra Leone in still squarely in the third world, but if they’re ever going to make the leap in to the second or first worlds, they’re going to have to learn the skills that help folks to be successful the world over – the ability to collaborate, create, analyze, synthesize,evaluate; to think outside the box. I struggle with being caught between the need to prepare these kids for the world in which the currently live and my need to prepare them for a better one they could potentially create.

Sorry if that sounds a little pie in the sky. I know that most people who want to help want to be told what to send – and I do appreciate these kinds of donations too! I think what these kids need more is some good ideas for how to be successful now and in the future, and I know that’s a lot harder to do!

Thanks so much for including us in your blog project!

Laura
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-Susan Kruger

 


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