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23 April 2012 – The root of all evil – by Carol

Posted by on April 23, 2012

The Chickens Are All Gone:  All chickens in the residential neighborhood of Kwena Sereto have been beheaded, plucked, and stored for eating later or they have been sold.  The school does not allow farm animals to live on the grounds.  They have finally taken a hard-line to get rid of the chickens.

Agriculture classes are available at Kwena Sereto and a requirement of that class is to plant and grow a garden on the school grounds.  Many of the students have very nice plots that they water and weed every day, including Saturday and Sunday.  The school garden is several acres big with surrounding razor wire.

The garden plot

The garden plot

But the chickens love the gardens and find every nook and cranny around the fence, and they eat the garden fruits and vegetables.

At our school weekly staff meeting, there was only one announcement.  Those persons with chickens will be fined and the fine will increase every day.

Most of the meeting was in Setswana and it is often difficult for me to fully understand – but they said “It is not fair to the students” in English.  And I got excited for a minute.  I was wondering what they were talking about besides the chickens.  I was so happy to hear someone say something at the school was not fair to the students.  The principle was doing something to support the students!!!!!!  The meeting ended shortly and I asked a teacher exactly what was discussed.

Teacher:  “The chickens have to go and teachers are being fined.”

Me:  “Why are the teachers being fined?”

Teacher:  “The chickens.  The teachers are letting them roam and they are eating the garden.”

Me:  “What was the Head (Principle) saying was unfair to the students?”

Teacher:  The chickens are eating the gardens.”

Me:  “That’s it – just the chickens?  The whole meeting was about the chickens?”

Teacher:  “The students get graded on the outcome of their garden.  It isn’t fair that the chickens are eating the gardens.”

OMG! Here are the things I think are unfair to the students every single day in this school

  • Teachers can and do beat the children with sticks, their hands and their fists  for whatever whim strikes them every day.
  • There are not enough books for the kids to take home and sometimes not enough to share.
  • Form 3 students (10th grade) are still being taught with Form 1 books (8th grade)
  • Several classes are using books that are no longer used for testing because the school won’t buy current books.
  • There are not enough desks.
  • There are not enough chairs and these 12 – 18 year old boys and girls must share chairs for an 80 minute long class.
  • Some classes don’t have an assigned teacher or a book and students are still tested each month (most all of these students fail the test).
  • Teachers do not attend class with no consequences.
  • Classes don’t really start the first week nor are there classes conducted the last week of the trimesters (that is six weeks of missed school), because teachers use those weeks to organize and grade tests.  Classes are also cancelled if the teachers get assignments from the Ministry of Education.
  • Students are not allowed to use the 4 working computers the school has in the student computer lab, and are not taught a required computer class the entire time they are in junior school.
  • Students are required to sit for a 1.5 hour study hall at the end of the day, but there are no supervisors.  A handful of students make it impossible for anyone else to study.
  • There is no nurse’s office (for 900 kids of which at least 5% have HIV).
  • There is no counseling office and if a student wants counseling he/she must come to the teachers’ lounge and tell their problems in front of everyone.
  • Many students wear rags, like out of Charles Dickens novel rags, threadbare, shredded, with rips and tears to school.
  • Lunch is served from bowls that are sitting on the ground.  There are no tables, chairs, napkins, condiments or silverware.  Lunch is mostly palache (grits) every single day.  One day a week they get a piece of meat.  Two days a week they get a piece of fruit with their palache.  Sometimes they get samp instead of palache.
  • The school has broken doors and windows that have not been replaced in the entire time I have been here.  Wall panels which are necessary to separate one class room from another are not replaced when broken making it extremely difficult to hear your teacher.
  • Teachers can and do sexually harass the girls and there is NOTHING that will be done about this unless the girl can “prove” it.  If she can prove it, the teacher can be fired.  This has happened once in 8 years in the entire county.
  • I have seen some teachers sexually harass boys too.

Never have I heard any of the issues be brought up in staff meetings or even generally discussed outside the circle of Peace Corps volunteers.  But the chickens merit one entire staff briefing.  It turns out many of the teachers don’t like the chickens roaming the hood (and I don’t blame them for that).  Since this seems to be a concern of students as well as teachers it is being addressed.

Mitigation:  I was very happy when later that day the head girl (explained below) and the head boy came to me to ask why the teachers don’t care about them or school.  Both students were upset that their education is being short-changed.  We reviewed some school policies about their “rights” as students and she was going to call a meeting of the other prefects to discuss setting up a meeting with the School Head.  I am reminded of the young people’s movement in the sixties in the United States.  I sometimes feel like I can see the future here, because so many things are like the United States 50 years ago – and I am happy to sort of get a chance to re-live a time like that in a different county.  I am sad about this school, but very happy to see students take steps to take care of themselves.  These specific students future looks bright regardless of what the school does or does not do.

I remind myself that African-Americans were given the right to vote after the civil war.  However, it took another 100 years before the Civil Rights Law was passed, and there was some will behind the law to provide equity, and many would argue that African-Americans are still disenfranchised from voting in America today.  Botswana has only been an independent county for 46 years.  Things have changed a great deal in America and I believe they will change here too.  I will do what I can to play my part.

Head Girl and Head Boy:  are the “heads” of the prefects.  The prefects are selected by teachers and administrators to represent student interest in the schools.  Ministry of Education policy requires they have a place on each committee and in most school meetings.  Policy outlines many rights students should be given to take part in the governance of the school.  Nice policy – but little action.  The prefects are allowed to serve lunch, and do a few other work projects – but I don’t see anything like getting to take part in the real policy of the students.

Sleeping:  While we miss the chickens – we do enjoy the morning much more now.

Set up for the Sequel:  There are two mother hens brooding on about 25 eggs that are nesting/hiding in discarded grass.  John continues to feed and water the broody hens…..

Will they hatch, grow up and deprive the students once again?

Will they hatch, grow up and deprive the students once again?

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