Beautiful post written by Nathan Haines. Aerie Africa, CCC, and ICS are blessed to have Nathan as a teacher, supporter, and mentor.
April 22, 2015
This was a conversation that happened in one of my 8th grade English classes this past week:
Me: Okay class, we’ve got to submit these LifeBook pages so that we can be done with our Week Without Walls stuff and get into a new unit.
Esete: But Mr. Haines… we don’t really want to be done with Week Without Walls.
Tamar: Yeah. We should plan another trip back to Soddo. We could all go for like two days and deliver these LifeBooks to them ourselves.
Lei: Plus… I want a re-match on the soccer pitch.
The trip in March was absolutely exhausting and I cannot even fathom arranging another trip down there this year, but this interaction with my students this past week was rewarding nonetheless.
March 23-27 was the culmination of a year’s worth of hard work on both ends of my life here in Ethiopia; on the Addis end where I teach at the International Community School (ICS) of Addis Ababa (www.icsaddis.edu.et), and on the Soddo end where I help with the Aerie Africa-funded CCC Children’s Home. Though a culmination in some ways, because of its success it’s also just the beginning of a potentially long-term relationship that I believe can greatly benefit the CCC Children’s Home.
In the summer of 2012, Richelle, Titay and I left our home of one year at the CCC Children’s Home in Wolaita Soddo and moved to Addis Ababa. Since that time, I have remained involved with CCC, while teaching at ICS. My Addis work and life and my Soddo work and life have often felt like two very different worlds, but about a year ago, despite a little trepidation, I decided to slam to the two worlds together and hope it would work.
An important part of the curriculum at ICS is what we call our “Week Without Walls” (WWW) program. Each grade, from 6th-12th, participates in a weeklong learning experience away from the walls of the school, somewhere around the country. As an 8th grade team teacher, I participated for two years with the 8th grade class WWW trip to Axum, an important historical site in northern Ethiopia. These WWW trips go beyond just a weeklong school trip and are integrated into larger curriculum units. For example, our Axum WWW trip was always the culmination of a social studies unit on Ethiopian history. Despite the value of this Axum trip, for a couple of years the 8th grade team of teachers had been discussing the possibility of a new kind of trip that would involve a greater long-term relationship with a particular Ethiopian community and incorporate a service learning component. So it was that about a year ago, not long after our last Axum trip, that I proposed to the team: “How about a WWW learning experienced centered around a partnership between the 8th grade class at ICS and the CCC Children’s Home in Soddo?” After I took 3 other members of the teacher team with me to Soddo to visit CCC last June, we all agreed to give it a try. Both our principal and the WWW program coordinator were onboard, and so the collision of my worlds began.
Our plans were ambitious. We wanted to develop a yearlong relationship between the two sides, one that would not be based on one-way charity, but rather on a mutual learning exchange, beneficial to both sides. We also wanted to fold the weeklong trip into a multi-disciplinary, authentic learning experience for our ICS 8th graders. So…
In science class, our 8th graders, in the midst of a unit about clean energy and electrical circuits, built solar-powered, LED-light, desk lamps for the purpose of helping the CCC kids study and do their homework on the evenings of power outages. These lamps were quite ingenious. Students repurposed electronic waste such as wires, resistors and magnetic toroid rings from used CFL bulbs. They boosted the voltage from two ‘AAA’ rechargeable batteries using a nifty circuit design called a “joule thief” in order to power double LED lights. They did all their own soldering (with only minor burns). And they participated in a lamp stand design competition.
In English class, as part of their learning about reading and writing memoir, students created LifeBooks for the kids at CCC. Memoir is a genre that involves the author making meaning of an important moment in his or her life and communicating that meaning to others. The LifeBook is an idea that comes from those who work in foster care in the US. A LifeBook is basically a scrapbook of a child’s important moments, not unlike the scrapbooks that many parents keep about their children with baby pictures, first words, first steps, and lost teeth. A LifeBook, though, is designed so that the child can be the “author”. For children without parents, or without one consistent adult care-taker, a LifeBook can be something that allows them to take control over the preservation of their own life memories. Like memoir, it can help a child make meaning of important moments in his or her life. Creating these LifeBooks involved ICS students getting to know a partner at CCC and developing page templates, peppered with lots of pictures, of a book that their partner can complete further for him or herself in the future.
In Social Studies class, ICS students conducted research into issues related to Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVCs), developed a community needs / asset survey for CCC, interpreted the data after the survey was completed by the children and staff at CCC, and then developed their own project proposals of ways to contribute positively to CCC. The three winning student proposals were: a) a remodeling of the CCC library to create a more conducive space of reading, studying and homework, b) developing academic tutorial materials, including instructional videos and learning games, and c) creating some home-made toys and drama materials so that the kids at CCC had some different kinds of simple props and toys for imaginative play.
The actual week we spent at CCC in Soddo started on Monday morning with an early bus departure from ICS, followed by a 5-hour drive southward. After arriving in Soddo and getting settled into a hotel, ICS students received a tour of the CCC home and introduction to staff. As the CCC kids began arriving back from their school day, there was time to meet and get to know each other, ending the afternoon with some soccer on the CCC soccer pitch. On Tues. and Wed., while the CCC kids were in school, ICS students remodeled the library, built a shade over the CCC stage, visited the schools that CCC kids attend, created tutorial materials, and made toy cars and sock puppets. Each afternoon when CCC kids returned from school, the time was filled with organized games together and demonstrations of the solar lamps. Each day ended with some organized sport: Tues. was “dimo,” a type of tag / dodge-ball game often played at CCC; Wed. was volleyball, after we set up a temporary net on the soccer pitch.
In order to take in a bit of the beautiful Wolaita countryside, Thurs. morning involved an ICS hike. One group went up Mt. Damota, the 9000 ft peak just north of Soddo town, while another group hiked into the Damota Cave, a large cave in the side of Mt. Damota that includes a cascading spring over the mouth of the cave. Thursday afternoon included two culminating championship soccer matches, one boys and one girls, ICS vs. CCC. Both matches, though competitive, resulted in CCC victories. ICS players learned that there were some unique skills involved in playing on an uneven, dusty, red-dirt pitch. Thurs. evening was our ending celebration with lots of roasted goat, speeches, gifts, a bonfire, some Wolaitan dancing, and a few tearful good-byes. Friday was our return travel day, with a couple of hours stopover at Lake Langano for some Rift Valley swimming, before battling the Friday afternoon traffic back into Addis.
It was a remarkable week. It turned out to be a deeply rewarding and beneficial experience for both sides; both ICS and CCC agreed that it’s a relationship we want to continue into future years. Since returning from Soddo, ICS students have presented their experience to parents and finished the LifeBooks (which will be delivered to CCC next week), and the 8th grade teacher team has already begun plans for next year. We haven’t eased off the ambitious ideas either. Among some working ideas so far: factor in an additional trip early in the year where ICS students and the CCC kids meet part-way for an overnight of camping at Lake Langano, have some of the older CCC kids visit ICS in Addis for a couple of days and attend classes, schedule our WWW trip next March for Thurs. through Mon. so that we have a full weekend with the kids at CCC while they’re out of school.
So no, Esete, Tamar and Lei, we will not be making another trip to Soddo this year as a class of 50. That thought exhausts me. But, I’m grateful the experience went well, I’m happy my two worlds have collided and benefitted each other, and I’m looking forward to continuing the relationship into next year.