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Monday, July 19, 2010

Politics and Candy

So I'm walking in town and I get a phone call. It's the Embassy of Taiwan. The ambassador is going to come by tomorrow afternoon to watch our class!!!!

This is huge news, as the Embassy of Taiwan is considering funding our laptop program. I mean, this is bigger than huge. This is the culmination of a year of work, and it's all happening tomorrow.

About an hour later I'm sitting in the office of the Minister of Education, a really sweet man who sounded really pleased to hear that the laptop program was going well. His office had cancelled on us about three times up until we actually got to see him, so meeting with the guy was a treat and a half. Roberta (of STeP UP) and I basically explained to him that he has to talk to the Embassy of Taiwan himself in order for us to get funding through them. He's interested in lending us this hand and writing a letter to the Embassy right away, knowing that I'm going to leave the country on Friday.

When I get to school, I meet all of the students in one classroom. We're only getting about 50% attendance these days, because of the fact that it's summer and attendance isn't required, as well as the fact that this is the last week of campaigns (for Prime Minister, I think) and people are literally skipping work to participate in campaigning. I, in fact, got caught up in a parade today while driving my motorcycle to work. Actually, "caught up" is an overstatement, because I literally drove into the parade because I knew otherwise I'd end up like ten minutes late to class. Oh well.

So anyway I meet the kids in the classroom. And I clap in rhythm to get everyone's attention- it works perfectly- and then I grab a piece of chalk and say, "Let's play a game."

I draw the spaces for three words on the chalkboard and start our favorite game in class, Hangman. The kids love this game-- I introduced it to them last year and now they play it all. the. time.

The word ended up being "Embaixador de Taiwan" (Ambassador of Taiwan). Then I asked the kids why I wrote "Ambassador of Taiwan" on the chalkboard. No one knew. I asked if anyone had met a real ambassador before. One girl raised her hand; she had met the Portuguese ambassador at one point. I asked if anyone had met the Taiwanese ambassador before, and there was silence.

I told them that tomorrow everyone was going to meet the ambassador of Taiwan because he was going to come to our class to watch.

I explained that this past year, this class has been an example for how computer classes in São Tomé can work. I explained that the Embassy of Taiwan is interested in not only financing our project, but maybe even other projects in other schools across São Tomé. This means that tomorrow is a very important day, and we need everyone to (1) be there, (2) be there on time, and (3) be on their BEST BEHAVIOR!

This was the theme of the day.

So these are the good things. Class ends up being a disaster in all other respects. The teachers arrive 30 minutes late, then we do an hour of repairs class which ends up leaving the teachers feeling rushed because I had told them we needed about three hours of time and for some reason they didn't seem to believe me, started class at about 3:30, went till 5 and covered the joystick and about three of the first steps in Lesson 8 (or in so many words, we didn't cover NEARLY enough material). I was very frustrated. I spent my time in the back repairing some computers and came in a couple of times to basically glare at the teachers and ask them what the HELL was going on. It seemed that they had no ability to manage the class of 40 kids...even though there were about five teachers there! It drove me crazy. I thought I was working with teachers, and here they are hardly able to manage this classroom. And then they start to teach Lesson 8 and they're doing it all wrong, like, literally teaching the students to do things incorrectly!

When class was over (10 minutes later than normal), I sat the teachers down and basically said "So, what happened???" I told them if class is like this tomorrow, there is no way in the world anyone, let alone the Ambassador, would want to finance our project. It's so disorganized and was just "uma grande confusão"-- utter chaos. Professora Mirian said the reason why it was like that was because the teachers didn't practice their lessons the night before, and they will do this tonight. I told them it's so, so important that class goes well tomorrow, and all the teachers agreed. I think there are a number of things that are frustrating them-- the energy problem certainly doesn't help, as when there is no energy at school, there's usually none at home, so the teachers can't practice with their computers because they don't have electricity anymore. They are also still learning the materials themselves. Professor Miguel insisted that the confusion was just part of the learning process, and that they would get things and be able to teach them better later.

I understand that it's a process, but there's no reason why the teachers can't confidently teach material and manage their classroom. I was livid today watching class go down- teachers standing up there, letting kids go crazy, not able to control them. But I also need to remember to breathe-- these teachers believe strongly in this program, and I know that. The material is new, and there is no rush to learn it. The current students are nearly gone now. The teachers learning the material effectively is better because they will be the ones teaching it to the following 6th grade.

Professor Nélys asked me to teach the class tomorrow while the Ambassador is here so things run more smoothly. I looked him in the eye and said "I can't believe you just asked me to do that." I can't possibly show the Ambassador that we have a sustainable, working program if I am the one teaching it!

As you can see, some frustrations today. But perhaps a chaotic day today was what we needed. It might be a good kick in the pants for the teachers tomorrow. Now I know that they're going to try their absolute hardest to give a good class tomorrow. I'm not sure how many students we are going to get, but they have been told to come to class early and to be on their best behavior, not just by me but by the other teachers. Since it's the summer, I do hope the embassy understands our lack of attendance. But everything else needs to be perfect, just perfect.

Got an email from the American Embassy today-- I asked them to fund our summer program. They received the proposal but it looks like half of the proposal- which consists of my travel back to São Tomé- can't be funded since the Embassy doesn't fund travel. That's all good and well, but it looks like we're back to square one trying to figure out how to get me, the program collaborator, over here for an annual check-in!

Cross your fingers. Tomorrow is a big day for us.

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Eric McClafferty
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