One of the benefits of being here is having the opportunity to do good. Some ladies at the Chevron camp have taken advantage of their time here to reach out and help kids and organizations, and I'm grateful for the times I was able to go with them! Those have been some of my favorite days here. And I'm also thankful to have a stewardess to stay home with Grace so that I can go do these cool things! Three places I've gone are: the Ishahayi Beach School, the Bathesda School, and the Motherless Babies Home.
Ishahayi Beach School - visited on February 23
I am not 100% sure if all my facts are correct here, but I believe it was begun and is still being run by a missionary couple. Then about 10 years ago, Exxon and Chevron came on the scene, and in the years since have built much larger buildings to hold more classrooms, bathrooms, quarters for the teachers, and an outdoor kitchen. It has expanded to include 180 students from preschool to middle school. Once a month or so, the board members make a trip out there and anyone who wants to tag along to see it is welcome to come. :)
To get there, we drove to a dock and then took about an hour-long boat ride. The boat was interesting because first you saw the buildings and houses we drive past all the time here on the peninsula. Then we rode past small, shack and trash pile-filled communities, then the giant cargo ships at the port, and then after a while, we left civilization behind and started seeing a much more tropical scene. It was pretty cool. It was the first time I felt like I was in the Africa you might see in the movies. The school itself is located in a very simple fishing village with a population of about 500. Here are some pictures from the boat:
All the trash washed up against the shore at the dock, and one of the many container ships we passed. I just imagined people's household goods being shipped on there. It sure doesn't look like there's much keeping them from toppling right into the ocean!
We saw a couple communities like this, right outside of the main populated part where we live. It was a sharp contrast to see these so soon after seeing tall buildings (not sky-scrapers by any means, but probably still 10+ stories) and cars and the hustle and bustle. I was shocked at how much TRASH was washed ashore. Some buildings looked like they were built on top of the trash piles.
Once we got farther out, we saw men working on these boats. They'd drudge up sand from the bottom, load it onto the boats until they were full and weighed down, and tow the boats back to their village to made the sand into bricks.
The tropical, quiet part of the boat ride, and a view of the village - including completed bricks (or maybe cinder blocks?) they made.
More of the village. We didn't go into it much - and the people seemed very private and we didn't see many people besides the school children, but I was struck by what a simple life these people lead. I thought about what their lives are probably like. These are my own assumptions, not based on anything anyone told me about the village, but I bet most people don't have electricity or running water (we saw a few wells). That means no distractions from TV, cell phones, computers. It also means they're probably very poor and very isolated. Maybe they're also not very educated, which is why this school is a big deal for them.
The picture on the right was a wall someone built. I thought it was cool - sticks and dried palm leaves, I think, but it looks pretty effective!
One of the school buildings.
Left: this past year, a nice open-air kitchen with a fridge and burners and counters was built for them. Then they turned around and built this one -which they use more often. haha I'm sure they're grateful for the new one that was built, but it goes to show that sometimes when we come in with our Western idea of what "better" is, people would rather just have what they're used to!
Posing with the kids in one of their classrooms :)
Playing with the kids
Left: a look inside a classroom Right: a picture of their very strange-looking food prep for lunch, but they grow/catch it all from their village. They're working hard on becoming self-sufficient with food so Exxon and Chevron are also helping them get gardens going (I think. Maybe they're doing that on their own)
I won't lie: most of the pictures with me in them were staged. I thought we'd go there specifically to play with the kids, but mostly we just peeked in their classrooms and walked around the school grounds a bit while the board met and took care of business. Then when the students came out for a break, I was so, so hot I basically sat in the shade wondering how they had so much energy and then walked around to say hi, take pictures, show them the pictures, and take a few turns with the parachute. I wish, in hindsight, that I'd just toughened up and interacted more with the kids! I think that's a missed opportunity on my part.
After going to the school, we walked a short path to the beach and had lunch in this beach hut. It was so nice to be in the breeze and shade! It was also a beautiful view of the ocean, but I was so hot and lethargic, I didn't even move from my chair to explore! :)
The group of Chevron ladies who went that day
Bathesda School - visited March 11, April 18, and will go again May 13
This is a school that was, I believe, started by the Non-Denominational Church here, and once a month a group goes to teach a Bible-centered, hour-long lesson. The school is really close to Chevron, but as we drive to get there, we go through what I would call a slum (more on that later). Being at the school has been a LOT of fun for me! I love planning lessons and putting my teacher hat on.
The first month I taught 3rd graders about Easter, last month I taught kindergartners about the steps to salvation (which I had to modify a little for a different religion :D), and this month we're teaching about mothers in the Bible. This picture is me with the kindergartners.
3rd graders with the Easter eggs we brought them. They'd never seen dyed eggs before and had a lot of fun doing an Easter egg hunt.
The school: each classroom is basically just three walls and they're all connected. You can hear the other classrooms pretty well, but at least you usually also get a breeze. Then there's the "hot box" the kindergartners are in. It's basically a metal single-wide with one tiny window in each of the two small rooms, and yep, I can attest that it is VERY hot in there.
I wish I could get a picture to truly capture what the crowded, narrow, dirt streets we drive down to get to the school look like. People's homes/shacks/stores are connected by pieces of scrap metal, people are sleeping, bathing, cleaning, cooking, selling things all where you can see them from the road, and the hardest, of course, is seeing the little kids. The older ones are in school, but the little ones that look about Grace's age are really hard for me to see living in those poor conditions.
Left: more views of the neighborhood Right: as we leave, the kids who aren't in school line the streets and wait for our cars to pass as we hand out cookies or candy to them out the window as they call "Oyibo" - a Nigerian word to refer to westerners. This was my poor attempt to take a picture while I did it :)
Left: the neighborhood again Right: piles of trash like this are a very common sight everywhere I've been. This one is right across the street from that neighborhood. I can't imagine the bugs and rats it attracts! :(
Motherless Babies Home - visited on May 5
A group from Chevron goes every week with a trunk filled with toys and books to play with the kids at a nearby Motherless Babies Home. They play for about an hour and a half and then give the kids a snack before saying goodbye. I'd been wanting to go with them since we got here, but always thought it was strange for me to leave my own little one at home with a babysitter while I left to play with other kids! And while I went this past week and played with the kids, I did feel like, "Man. I should sit on the floor and give me undivided attention to my own kids like this more often", but it also really struck me that the visit from Chevron may be the only time in the entire week that these kids get one-on-one interaction! The big kids were at school the day I went, but there were still 17 children there, probably all younger than Sophia.
I wasn't supposed to take pictures, but I did secretly snap a few. The facility itself was interesting - we turned into this nice neighborhood with fancy houses, and the orphanage was nestled right in there! The collection of buildings looked cheerful - painted in yellow - and they had a big field and nice playground set. The other volunteers told me it hasn't always been in such good shape and as a state run orphanage, they'd seen a couple others that were much better than this one was. But overall, I was pleasantly surprised by the look of it. It looked to me to be a series of little houses/buildings, and I only went into the one for the little kids, but it was basically a long, but dark room with a row of cribs on one side, and a row of bunk beds on the other side.
We played with the kids outside and one of the workers supervised. I could tell the kids were pretty afraid of her, but apparently she's one of the nicest. Some weeks the lady who comes out to supervise brings a stick and beats the kids. That would be really, really hard to watch. One little girl and I were making a bed for baby dolls as we played. We lined up the babies and tucked them in with a little blanket, and another girl came over with a mallet from a xylophone and started smacking the baby dolls. I put a quick stop to that and we found her the xylophone to play with, but it really made me wonder if she was doing that just because or if she was acting out a scene from her own daily life. :( Sad to think about.
One thing I noticed while interacting with the kids was that they were pretty content to play by themselves. Of course we had to work on sharing and being nice and using our words, and maybe it's just because I was new or maybe they don't speak English that well, but there would be times when I'd look around and see all the kids engaged either with another volunteer or entertaining themselves, and I'd have to kind of insert myself into their game or offer to read a book. I thought they'd all be anxious to have someone to play with. Another thing I noticed was that it was pretty much survival of the fittest, in terms of stealing toys or getting what they wanted. It always is with kids, and I've especially seen that in my own kids now that I have two and they have to share, but it was even more so with these kids. I mean, with 17 other kids around you all the time, you probably have to fight for whatever you want. It's not a great way to learn to grow up, but I can definitely see why they do learn it.
Left: A sneaky picture of the playing action
Right: Nigerian women pack their babies around by tying a long cloth around them. A lot of babies end of bow-legged from having their legs wrapped around their moms so often, but then apparently grow out of it. I thought it was really cute that this girl was doing that with her baby doll. :)
Left: in the background, my friend was helping a little girl practice walking. I thought that was really nice of her since I'm sure that little one doesn't get a lot of one-on-one help with it otherwise!
Right: The kids running back to their room after we said goodbye
Right: The kids running back to their room after we said goodbye
A snapshot of the field, "stage" (kind of back, left/center) where we played with the kids, and on the back right is their room/building