Stifling independent thinking

The end of my trip is approaching quickly which means I actually have to decide what to do with some of the things that have accumulated in my bedroom and on various surfaces throughout the guesthouse. I spent some morning time, as they say in the attention deficit world, “chunking” this effort. Essentially, my brain can’t handle all the minute decisions required to organize the miscellaneous multitudinous plumbing, electrical, hardware, etc. pieces for storage in either the guesthouse, warehouse, or my suitcase for heading back home so I’m doing it in small manageable time segments to avoid decision-making overload. I’ve gotten most of the guesthouse cleared with my bedroom remaining. This room also entails repacking clothing that I leave in Liberia to minimize luggage weight each trip…which means anticipating 1-2 days turnaround time beforehand for my laundry to get washed and sun dried. Overall I’m feeling like a good dent has been made and I shouldn’t be overwhelmed on Saturday.

I was awake very early in the middle of the night last night so I decided to take a mid-morning snooze. Amelia told me later in the day this made her uncomfortable because, “Mr. Rossman you never sleep in the day so I was worried you had fallen sick.” My rest was interrupted by a visit from Lyn Gray of Liberia Reads. She and I met with Sumo to get an update on our summer training program. Apparently there is a training session in Monrovia and one originally scheduled to start a week later in Bong County (near us). However, they will only do the training in Bong County if there is more than one school entering the program. GLTC is one school and the second one just pulled out due to financial constraints…they can’t come up with $600 needed for training materials. If anyone is interested in underwriting that school’s $600 let me know (jonrossman@gbarngamission.org) because if this other school does not participate, our staff of four will need to spend over two weeks in Monrovia for training instead of 10 minutes away near Gbarnga. This will cost us more in transportation and housing. Plus, we won’t have another newly-trained school to network with as we each begin implementing the program in September.

The other concern I have is the training dates. Our new first grade teacher, Trokon, is moving to the Gbarnga area and isn’t scheduled to arrive until around July 5th, the day training begins in Monrovia. Our original Gbarnga training date was one week later and I felt with Liberian time she could comfortably commit to attend starting July 12th. I’m worried she’ll miss part of the new earlier date. Lyn is still searching for a replacement school in Bong County but isn’t hopeful since July is fast approaching and funds are tight everywhere.

I tagged along with John 2 on errands in Gbarnga to get the supplies needed to finish off lighting in chicken pen #2. With a little help from Sampson and Joe, the wiring and light sockets were completed.

After lunch I tried to finish taking student photos but some were still absent. This is partly a result of administration’s effort to exert pressure on families to pay school fees by refusing to let the children attend until school fee payments are up to date. I dislike using children as collateral because I feel they end up as collateral damage. Yet, families don’t take other measures seriously and year-end is approaching.

I asked teacher Kebbeh if I could share some video questions from children in our Mt Calvary Sunday school. I played the video on my laptop of about nine students asking things like: How old is Liberia as a country? Does it snow in Liberia?… I recorded our Liberian students answering these questions. What struck me during this process was how much control the teacher and other curious adults (who gathered to see the videos also) have over the children’s responses. I tried to get the children to talk one-on-one with me in a conversational manner. But after coaching, they ended up sounding robotic and their eyes darted from adult to adult looking for approval of what and how they were responding on video. It was difficult to stop the adults from imposing their sentence wording/structure on the children’s responses. One girl, Cynthia, was answering the question “What games do you play?” And she said “I like to play rock game” (the jacks-like game). A perfect answer for her, especially since I see the girls play this nearly every recess. The adults wanted her to add hide-and-seek (which I’ve never witnessed at recess) and some other game but you could see in Cynthia’s stumbling recitation of that response that she didn’t “own” that answer. Perhaps they may be concerned with how the children sound to their American counterparts as it reflects on them. We value independent thinking and expression so much in the US that the contrast is pretty evident when the goal is to comply and provide a “correct” answer.

Volleyball continues to be a hit among students and workers alike. Each recess children play it and each evening workers play after dropping off their tools and leftover supplies in the warehouse. Now that they’re getting more confidence with hitting, I attempted to introduce serving rotations and scoring with the adults. Yesterday I acted as ref for a three-game “tournament” that they really got into.

My day ended with a visit from Rotary Club of Gbarnga members who came to see the work they’re sponsoring, get their photo ops, and provide some reimbursement checks I’ve been patiently awaiting. They seemed impressed overall. The solar on the chicken house generated the most questions, perhaps because it was something of a scale many were interested in trying at their own homes.

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