Monday, June 10, 2019

Up with the birds. It’s bright and sunny—yesterday was cloudy—so it feels like a good day to start the tutoring sessions.

I drop by HQ a little after 8, and everyone’s there, doing the usual morning routine of coffee and scrambled eggs. Blake’s washing dishes.

We head out for the first session at 9. As yesterday’s roster noted, we’re tutoring just elementary students in the mornings, and we have just 8 students total for those morning sessions. I told the crew that their first objective is pretty simple: find your student(s) and get them to the class location. Sometimes they’ll hide to avoid coming to class. But by 10 minutes into the hour, everybody’s in place and at work. Off to a great start! I suggested that the major other objective for the first session is just to make some kind of connection with the student(s). I expect that will go fairly smoothly, since we’ve been playing games together for several days; but as I’ve noted before, sometimes the change of attitude when tutoring sessions start is pretty stark. So we take our time, ask questions, get a conversation going, learn about likes and dislikes, just enjoy each other’s company. Play some games—Bananagrams™, Hangman, something with a little academic content but non-threatening and even enjoyable. We’ll be able to compare notes at chai and see if we’ve done that.

As I wander by each section throughout the hour, the children are engaged and seem to be having a good time. I call that objectives achieved, right out of the gate. Great start. I love having 10 team members to tutor 8 students. That’ll change in the afternoon, of course, but in the mornings we can really focus in on individual students and make some progress. As we informally debrief during chai (chapati and tea), the team has already identified the children’s key individual learning characteristics and is talking about ways to adjust their instruction do be more effective. Continuous improvement education going on right there. ISO 9000. 🙂

Second session goes well, as the team members pick up where they left off. As I’m making my rounds, I hear Cheyenne say to her two students, “I want 9 – 7 red flowers.” The boys take off toward the hedge and each comes back with two flowers. Now there’s a creative method. The others are doing just as well. Obviously, the children are all different, and some are considerably more of a challenge than others—and a good start doesn’t guarantee long-term success—but so far the signs are all good. I’ll need to talk to the crew about the likelihood of the students getting tired and uncooperative in a few days, something that, with the team’s growing weariness, will present an increasing challenge.

At 12 we all gather in the kibanda for Bible story time. When the team’s not here, the Tumaini staff does this; we’re giving them a 2.5-week vacation. (We started last Wednesday.) Today Abbie leads in some opening songs, which the children select. As usual, they start off pretty slowly, but a couple of songs in, they get involved, with a couple of the older girls acting the part of the cantors, and the spirit of the group rises substantially. After the songs Cheyenne presents the memory verse, which today is Ps 90.1-2, since Blake will be speaking on God’s eternality. She breaks the children up into groups to work on memorizing the verse, in either English or Swahili. About 12.40 Blake presents the devotional, talking about why it’s important that God is eternal.

Lunch at 1 is leftovers. We’re heating up the shepherd’s pie, and there’s some pasta salad and potato salad left, and some spaghetti and sauce. We have plenty.

Third session of the day is at 3. You’ll recall that we add 18 more students (Forms 1 & 3) to our little student body of 8, and every tutor has his own class. All 4 of our tutors spend the time in English, from vocabulary to sentence structure to reading comprehension. So the first day of tutoring seems to go quite well; the students are cooperative, and they stay on task reasonably well, though of course we’ve made this first day relatively light. In years past the cooperation level has dropped as the days proceed; we’ll see how it goes this year.

We’re scheduled for games at 4 and reading time at 5—for that, each tutor gets together with one of his students and reads aloud to him. This first day we take a very informal approach; some of the boys play football, but not very many; a staff member puts on a Disney video in the Big House, and as you might expect, most of the children want to do that.

Supper is beef cubes, spinach, and ugali. Actually the children are having daga,  but the cooks know that many Americans don’t find that very appetizing (though I do), so they’ve fixed us something different. We appreciate their kindness.

At suppertime we get a little schedule reconfiguration. Beth got a notice from the school that the Form 4 “crush” kids need to be taking a major test every night this week and next week. Apparently they would do that if they were boarding at crush—which most kids do—but Beth doesn’t want the Tumaini children staying overnight there. So the school says we need to administer these tests for 2.5 hours every night. Shelbie volunteers to proctor tonight, and Cheyenne will set up a schedule for the rest of the time we’re here. It’s just one person every night, so we’ll be fine. My greatest sympathies are with the students: they’re in review sessions all day, and then they take a test every evening for more than 2 hours? I don’t know that I’d call that child abuse, but the educator in me thinks that tests given under those conditions would have pretty much zero reliability. Yikes.

Blake leads devotions in the boys’ house, speaking from Ecclesiastes. They boys sing well.

We have a lot to talk about tonight after team devotions, with the debrief for the first day of tutoring and some lifestyle clarifications we need on things like trash disposal and food management. About the time we wrap up, Shelbie comes in from proctoring; the kids finished about half an hour early, and I’m glad for them.

So we’ve gotten through day 1 of the main mission, and signs are good so far. We know there are challenges ahead, and we would appreciate your prayers to that end.

Dan Olinger

Chair, Division of Bible in the BJU School of Religion.

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