Every day is a new experience
It is now the end of the week for us at the Namibian School for the Vision Impaired and we, generally speaking, all feel incredibly blessed to be such a big part of the lives we have touched. To these children, teachers and staff our presence has been more than an impact; it has brought hope to their lives. This goes both ways because these same people that we give hope inspire us to be the best person we can aspire to be. Every day offers all of us a new experience which we can and will grow from.
Reflecting back on this week in the school makes me smile, giggle, tear up and even feel frustrated. Everyone has good days and bad, but these children make it very difficult to think any way other than positive. The days that the vision impaired learners are disruptive and overwhelming are the same as the days any student we have been in contact with. The fact about these children that differs from those other students I mentioned–these students have a valid reason to become frustrated and act out but more often than not you find them smiling, singing and dancing, hugging, or even just looking for someone to talk to. This alone has been an amazing experience and taught me so very much about patience and support.
Yesterday I sat with a group of children during their break time. This time is usually used for them to socialize and get something to eat before going back to classes. While talking to the learners I was asked to tell a story, “Something from America and not about you,” said a little boy. So I began to tell the story of Cinderella. What started out as three learners and myself turned into six, then nine, then 11 learners surrounding me to hear what I was saying. A simple fairy tale for a few children turned into story time that has become an anticipated event. Today the little boy that asked for the story initially came up to me at break and asked me to tell a new story. The same crowd growth occurred as I told the story of Snow White. Requests for another story were shouted from throughout the crowd of learners so I continued story time with Peter Pan. The children had such a good time; they were crushed when I left to take my break but sent me on my way with a large round of applause. Never has a simple couple of stories that I take for granted become such an astounding experience. Story time is something I plan to continue throughout my days at the school, the bonds that are forming because of this have created a new environment for the children both in and out of class.
After school the children are dismissed from class and able to go home, but usually they stick around to hang out with us UW-Stevens Point students until our bus departs. Most days we stand in the school yard and play fun games where everyone stands in a circle and chants with particular hand claps and movements. Learners of all grade levels participate in these games and there is no disappointment when someone is out, just excitement to see what happens next. This is so different than the students in the U.S. because the negative of “losing” a game doesn’t impact them; they just cheer on the others. I am learning so many new games from the learners; but more importantly I am learning that to teach means to help children learn the implications of positive and negative actions and how they can both be rewarding. By only focusing on the positives of everything students will get the idea that they can do no wrong instead of using negative reinforcement as a social bonding experience.
Working in the pre-primary or Kindergarten grade level at the school I have the benefit of the learners getting out an hour earlier than the older children. This gives me opportunity to explore other classrooms and talk with the teachers and staff. One day I went to a history class and learned more about Namibia than I would have ever dreamed I would know. Not only did the class teach me a few new facts, but then after dismissal the teacher stayed behind to answer my inquiries and clear up some of the confusions. This teacher then asked me for help in recalling some data and facts about geography of the world and America to help her in the lessons she was teaching to her learners. It is amazing what a few minutes can accomplish and how much we can learn from one another by just listening and asking.
After talking with many of the participants on this trip I have come to realize that everyone has their own stories of experience to share. This school is a whole new world and nothing anyone could have ever prepared me for. To celebrate all of our hard work, successes, and the first week of school in Africa we all went out for an authentic African meal. Our plate consisted of stuffed Springbok tenderloin, Oryx sausage, Oryx steak, and a Kudu-Oryx satay, served with chips (French fries), steamed cabbage, and mashed sweet potatoes. This plate was designed by the restaurant at the Arebbusch Lodge just for our group so we could experience as much game as possible within their realm. I have to say that I didn’t dislike any part of this meal and was only disappointed in the fact that I was not able to finish every morsel on my plate.
Tomorrow our group leaves with Gustav, our impeccable bus driver and tour guide, to depart for Etosha National Wildlife Park for a safari! Along the way we will stop and tour Okaukuejo Primary School and make a few other unknown stops of interest. A six hour drive that will be well worth the adventure to see the wildlife in their natural habitat; a zoo may never have the same impact for me again.
Rebecca Wagner, a junior majoring in early childhood education at UW-Stevens Point, is blogging about her study abroad experience in Namibia, Africa.