Thursday, 3 February 2011

Sharing skills, changing lives.

This is VSO’s motto and 6 months into my placement I am finally doing just that. Last week I trained 39 men to be teachers. It was a very difficult job as not many of them spoke English well at all, even those that could speak English were not used to hearing English from an English person so basically no one could understand me and I hoped through demonstration and translation that I had got some of my messages across – the focus being on child centred teaching methods as opposed to teacher centred methods.

3 men from the Education Authority were invited to attend to find out what the project is all about. They were old and wise and in high esteem amongst the participants, but honestly, their lack of understanding and the fact it added 3 more men for me to deal with made me resent them at first. Then seeing them so keen to join in the active learning games and answering questions like 5 + 5 made me happy for them to be there.

These men are community people who have been selected by the religious leaders and village heads to teach children English, maths, Hausa and social studies. At present the children in these villages are only learning the Quar’an so ESSPIN (Educatioin Support Program in Nigeria) has brought this project to introduce secular education to provide the children with their basic primary education.

This week I followed some of the teachers to the villages to support them. . .

On Tuesday I was feeling very disheartened as I visited 3 teachers and only saw classic Nigerian chanting and ‘chalk and talk’ learning.

Black board, chalk, mats, slates, exercise books, etc have all been provided by ESSPIN.

With 60 children (when there are only supposed to be 30) plus 20 adults watching (all male – parents, religious teachers, people from the Education Authority, and who knows who else – “prominent members from the village”) I didn’t know how to support the teachers so didn’t interfere much. Although the project has been accepted by the village, some people don’t like the thought of ‘Western Education’ and ‘Western culture’ in the village, plus me being female made me want to tread carefully.

When this teacher chanted ABCD in Hausa followed by EFGH in English I was so depressed I asked for them to take me home, obviously trying to hide my feelings as these teachers were “trying.” I tried to remember that this is their first ever try at teaching after only one week of training.

So on Wednesday I set off to a different government area expecting the worst, but feeling slightly more positive as I had thought of strategies on how to support these teachers (with help from mum). I arrive at the LEA (Local Education Authority) with alphabet charts, songs and number cards tucked under my arm but the LEA officials had different ideas for me. They wanted to take me to all the villages to meet the village head, village elders, religious leaders and other “prominent people of the village” – all men.

A village in Birniwa, Jigawa State. The Village’s religious leader in the centre holding the prayer beads, village head behind him to the left, LEA officials on the right, the rest “prominent members.”
So I just follow, flick of my slippers (flip flops) climb onto mats that I have only ever seen men sit on and just sit. Then after a brief translation of a long discussion I am asked to say something. And I am not good at this type of thing normally and I know they think that I have brought this project to them when I haven’t – I am ‘just’ training the teachers so I have no idea what to say. So I thank them for welcoming me to their village and hope to return soon to support their teacher.

People say things like – ‘the fact that you can greet them in Hausa will make them accept this project.’ And that really annoys me. So I try to tell them, politely, that they should accept the project (lead by ESSPIN, not me) because they want to educate the children of the village, to enable them to be literate, have choices in the future etc. Not because of me. I am only training the teachers. In 2 years I will return to England and know that my children will be educated.

So, again on Thursday, armed with my teaching resources we set off to support the teachers with their teaching.

I am very impressed when I see these children learning a Hausa counting song.

I am very happy to see children counting with bottle tops.

These children are matching numbers with dots and lining up in order 1-10. Also notice the children’s work on display in the background (plus the children learning through the window!)

Out of 6 teachers that we visited, 5 of them were doing something that I had taught them and providing some sort of child centred teaching methods. So I am back to feeling positive and ready for the second week of training which starts on Monday.
20kms of grassland takes us to one village.
I almost get a camel ride! Next time I will definitely say 'yes.'
Check me out. Demonstrating some teaching under a tree with a straw fence providing shade! 30 children on the mats, plus another 30 watching behind, along with all the “prominent members of the village” (only men) checking what I am doing. The children are writing in the air.

I have never taught reception children before but I guess that this must be a classic example of children when they are having their first go at writing the letter ‘a.’ There is a very good one in the middle. These children have never held chalk and written in English or Hausa before, but they learn the Quar’an in Arabic by firelight, using ink and quills on boards, writing the opposite way from us -from right to left.


  1. Hi Lucy

    I think you are doing amazing things out there.

    Life must seem hard at times but you are improving peoples lives. Even if you can't see results straight away look on it as 'sowing seeds' which will grow and grow.

    Take care

    Love & Prayers

    Diane xx

  2. Hi Lucy

    This looks and sounds amazing! Well done! Very jealous of your placement when I see photos like that of you teaching the children under the tree - must have been very rewarding :-)

  3. I think your doing great considering the place. It takes time, for sure and at least people are talking to you more, even if they are all men.

  4. a tear dropped from my eyes as i left my laptop on my table in Lagos when i read the statement below.

    "When this teacher chanted ABCD in Hausa followed by EFGH in English I was so depressed I asked for them to take me home, obviously trying to hide my feelings as these teachers were “trying.” I tried to remember that this is their first ever try at teaching after only one week of training."

    i was deeply moved again to almost crying when you said the children are writing on the wall. who would believe that this is a country where people steal million of dollars/naira everyday?

    you are really doing a good job with these kids. i wish i can reward you for doing what you do.

    Only God can fully reward you for everything.

  5. To provide and cater for the needs of the deserving and needy people is definitely a big act. Many from around the world take flights to Lagos, Nigeria and play their role in the charity of Nigerian people. A number of people are working with charitable organizations to improve the situation in Nigeria.