Tomorrow is a big day. Tomorrow the director of the elementary school of Niandouba and I will be holding a village-wide meeting to further discuss the idea we've been tossing around.
After living in my village for 3 weeks I casually asked Director Balde if he thought the village needed a kindergarten. He looked me straight in the eyes and said "that is the best thing I've heard all week". We've officially requested one, but we haven't gotten a response from the government's educational agency. A month ago I visited him in his office and asked if he thought it would be possible to just create our own kindergarten. Again his eyes lit up and he immediately was on board.
Whenever we've spoken about the idea to our fellow villagers they always welcome it and generally give positive feedback. I've presented the idea informally to many people, and Director Balde has presented it to a small group of villagers at an earlier meeting, and tomorrow we will be putting the idea out to the masses for discussion.
Wish us luck. We need people in the village to step up and volunteer for support positions such as the foster mother and grandmother jobs listed below. We already have cooking crews, and Director Balde is working on getting a teacher. Although I've been constantly reassured people will step up tomorrow and say "Yes, I'd love to spend every Monday (or Tuesday, Wed., Thurs.) taking care of really little kids!", I doubt it. I hope they are just as right in their predictions as the older volunteers were about the weather.
I also hope I'm not biting off more than I can chew. I know this is a good idea, and many mothers and villagers have agreed that early childhood education is important, but what if they don't want to pay the 500FCFA (one dollar) tuition? What if we can't get a well trained volunteer teacher? What if we get everything all set up, and then each day is a horror story of kids hitting other kids, crying, not sharing, getting sick, pooping and peeing all over the place...
Here is an excerpt from my working grant request outlining the idea:
The Village of Niandouba
The village of Niandouba is situated 15km southeast of Kounkane. In the middle of dense forest, there are roughly 1500 people residing in Niandouba itself and the close surrounding villages.
In the recent past, the government of Senegal in conjunction with foreign partners constructed a dam on the river Kayaga, which has created a large reservoir on the edge of Niandouba. This was done to encourage increased residency in and around Niandouba and the barrage built there. The water is fished daily and there are around 30 personal gardens surrounding Niandouba’s side of the reservoir alone.
Niandouba’s main sources of income are agriculture, followed by charcoal production, trading and fishing. The close proximity to Diaobe – a very large weekly market-town – adds incentive for women to garden salable produce and travel weekly to trade.
The only educational infrastructure in Niandouba is the elementary school. Students ready for college level must travel 15km to the road-town of Kounkane.
Largest Issues in Niandouba
- 20% of children aged 5 and under are considered malnourished by our village health structure.
- Charcoal making is conducted by almost every male in Niandouba, contributing to deforestation.
- There is a dearth of educated adults.
- The educational system in Niandouba starts at age 6 and ends around 13; for many, education at college/sahem levels in Kounkane is not possible due to the distance.
- Lack of tools, herbicide and pesticide in agriculture; lack of fencing in gardening; lack of tools in fishing; and the lack of a wholesaler in village.
- 115 children aged 3-5 reside in Niandouba, enough to warrant the installation of a Case des Tout Petits (kindergarten), but a request for the installation of a Case des Tout Petits has been ignored thus far.
I and my fellow villagers have considered these issues thoroughly. Agroforestry and integrated pest management techniques implemented in the fields and gardens of Niandouba can mitigate the stress from animals and pests as well as increase the yields each harvest. The selection and planting of tree species in the form of woodlots can help fight deforestation. We are currently taking steps in these and other directions, but to tackle the problem of a weak educational infrastructure within Niandouba we must request financial support for the initial materials and equipment.
Considering the lack of an educational structure strong enough to support Niandouba, and considering the extremely low levels of child nutrition: the Nutrition Committee for the Children of Niandouba, the director of the elementary school Mussa Coly Balde, Niandouba’s village chief Sakou Balde, ASC Souba Balde and myself are requesting a SPA grant of $1000 to improve upon the existing educational infrastructure through the creation of the Sudu Cukalon, as well as to facilitate the installation of a school garden and the planting of trees on school grounds.
Sudu Cukalon (SC)
Counterparts: Director Mussa Coly Balde, Nutriton Commitee for the Children of Niandouba
The SC is a multifaceted educational institution focused on:
- Increasing and monitoring the nutritional levels of the children of Niandouba aged 0-5.
- Providing early childhood education to children aged 3-5, including health/environmental education.
- Establishing a link between health, education and environmental issues which will encourage better health monitoring of young children and pregnant mothers, as well as an increased desire to understand health/environmental/education issues.
Children attend the SC every Monday through Thursday. The school is open from 8:00am to 3:00pm, October to June. There are three grades in attendance each day; petite, moyen and grande; serving children aged three, four, and five, respectively.. The SC’s staff includes:
- versatile leaders, talented members of the community who serve as teachers
- foster mothers, female members of the community who serve as support staff
- nutrition specialists, members of the community trained in nutritious cooking
- grandmothers, female members of the community who sing and tell stories
- religious teachers, members of the community that teach about Islam
The staff is all volunteer. A tuition of 500 FCFA/person will help establish and maintain the food store. Vegetables grown from the school garden will be cooked and sold to supplement the store. We will also accept donations of staples and vegetables from the community.
The kitchen, garden, and classroom are each different facets of the SC and are described below.
According to the health hut of Niandouba, 20% of children under the age of 5 are malnourished. After speaking with the residents of Niandouba through public and private meetings, we have decided to revitalize an old health hut structure into a nutrition kitchen. Informal education about nutrition will coincide with the cooking of nutritious porridges in the form of animations or causeries, informal teaching sessions which will cover various health issues. The porridge will be given to the students attending school, and the weight of each child will be monitored on a monthly basis.
Though nutrition causeries held by PCV Charlene Hopkins in September and October of 2011, 15 women have been educated in nutrition and food groups and in the preparation of nutritious porridges. These women will be both assisting in the further nutritional education of Niandouba in causeries and will be preparing the meals.
Funding is needed for two pots and a few cooking utensils, as well as serving equipment such as bowls and cups.
A school garden will be started to supplement the lunchtime meals cooked at the elementary school as well as the meals prepared at the Nutrition Kitchen. The garden will be maintained by the students of the elementary school.
Funding is needed for the fencing of the garden, seeds, watering cans, and individual fencing for out-planted trees on school and SC grounds.
Sudu Cukalon Early Childhood Education
Mothers of Niandouba have expressed interest in increased early childhood education, and so the elementary school director Mussa Coly Balde and I, along with fellow villagers will be creating and maintaining an educational program for the youth of Niandouba aged 3-5.
Funding is needed for furniture such as mats, benches, a teachers desk and chair. Also needed is paint and painting tools, as well as locks for the doors. Finally, funding is needed to purchase children’s books and toys, and learning tools such as pencils, pens, crayons, markers, paint, chalk, rulers, notebooks, chalkboard tablets, paper.
The curriculum will match the current Case des Tout Petite programs, but Director Balde and I will be modifying it to include environmental education, nutrition, and hygiene.
Much like a Case des Tout Petits, there are several components to the SC:
This component includes socialization and awareness activities that develop the psycho-motor and social-emotional skills which will enable children to better deal with the formal educational structure that awaits them. In the SC several activities are offered to young children: language activities, mathematical activities, as well as activities such as art and perceptual motor activities. The children will also have ample time to play with each other, developing their social and emotional skills.
The volunteers working within the SC will be monitoring the weight and overall health of each child. Health workers involved will provide screenings of certain deficiencies and diseases.
This component consists of the preparation of nutritional meals by mothers and assistants, as well as the growing of vegetables and Moringa in the elementary school garden. Children attending the SC will receive a nutritious porridge every day they attend.. Maternal assistants will ensure a balanced diet and take care to prevent nutritional deficiencies in toddlers..
Capacity building for parents, families and communities
The SC will provide a forum for information, training and awareness for parents on aspects of the development of early childhood (health, nutrition, education, protection), which allows them to provide better monitoring of young children in the family. Through causeries and murals, parents and adults will learn about myriad health issues ranging from nutrition to diarrhea and ORS preparation, to malaria prevention.
This grant request is a work in progress. In fact, this whole idea is a work in progress. The day after tomorrow the Assistant Program Director for my sector (health) will be visiting my village. I'll be presenting the idea to him as well, and he will ultimately determine if I receive the grant money I'm requesting. He will also help me to develop this idea; he will tell me how to correct those parts that won't work.
In the end, this project may not come out looking anything like what I and my counterparts imagine. Especially if the villagers say that they don't want to pay the tuition. But I'm one-hundred percent sure that however it comes out, it will be helpful to my fellow villagers.
See everyone at Christmas!