All of us Peace Corps Volunteers have our main job. Mine is teaching English at the local Madrasah High School. But we also have secondary projects – something that we enjoy doing that helps the community in some way.
Today I took a stab at my secondary project. Well, at least I had a blast and I hope this continues being my secondary project. I went to the little pre-school near my house and asked if I could help by teaching English songs and games. The kids there are 4 and 5 years old.
The headmistress was thrilled. (Thank goodness. When I offered my services at a local orphanage at our training site they were not wanted.) I met with 2 teachers and their classes and the parents who wait in the play area while their kids attend 3-4 hours of pre-school. One mom was very pregnant and giggled and asked if I would touch her belly. First I stroked my nose and touched her belly, then I measured to show that I was tall and stroked her belly, then I said “No white hair.” She laughed and said ‘Yes, white hair.” But I wouldn’t stroke her belly for white hair. The other parents got a kick out of this. I think they all know it’s superstition that if someone beautiful touches your belly, your child will also be beautiful, but they all like the game. People in Indonesia think I’m “beautiful.” I have explained that in America I am just an old lady, but they don’t believe me. When I taught introductions to the High Schoolers, I had them make a list. Oma is a mother, a teacher, a grandmother, 61 years old, from America, etc. and they always want to add the word, “beautiful.” If you want to see yourself through someone else’s eyes – join the Peace Corps! There are some definite benefits!
I was VERY impressed with Indonesia pre-school. My little school is called Sweet Children Indonesia. I think it’s some kind of a franchise. The children all arrived dressed in identical little T shirts and shorts with the school logo. They played on the slide and monkey bars and teeter totter while their parents sat together and chatted.
The headmistress was very happy that I was there and I explained that I would like to come on Wednesdays and Saturdays, if I didn’t have to go to Surabaya or some other commitment. (I teach at the High School on Mon, Tues, Wed and Fri.) I explained that I was from Peace Corps and that I was a volunteer and wasn’t allowed to take any money. She told me that when she saw me at church (It’s the auditorium which is a part of her property.) she wanted me to come, but didn’t want to say anything. I had seen that she had written English” as one of the subjects that was taught on her banner. She really wants me to come as much as I can.
One of the teachers rang the bell and then all the students stood outside their classrooms. (I went in 2, but I think there may be 2 other classrooms.) One little girl was the leader of my class. She had the other kid’s measure so that they were all standing in line a uniform distance from each other. One little 4 yr old was disruptive, so the teacher had him stand in the back of the line. They marched into the classroom, stopping to take the teachers hand and pull it to their face, as a sign of respect and then each child put his back pack away and sat down in his seat. The teacher led them in several Indonesian songs with clapping and a Christian prayer, where they all bowed their heads and did “prayer hands.” Then I had them stand up and we sang “Head, shoulders, knees and toes.” Everything was taught in Indonesian, not Javanese (which is their first language.) with little bits of English sprinkled in. I then went to the 2nd classroom and the teacher was a little more hesitant. When I asked the kids to sing, she didn’t lead them, so they did the gestures, but didn’t really learn the English. Then I did “Ring around the Rosie” but instead of falling down, we all found seats like “Musical chairs.”
I went back to the first classroom, sat on a little 4-5 year old size chair and attended the class with the kids. These pre-schoolers knew all the upper and lower case letters and could read some simple words. The teacher was teaching a lesson on “hard” fruits and “soft” fruits. The banana and apple were clearly identified in the book as “soft” and the pineapple, selak and rambutan (local fruits with tough exteriors) were identified as “hard” The teacher called each child individually and they came to the front of the room and received their work book (with their right hand – one little boy reached with his left and she waited to release the book until he used the right hand.) walked back and sat in their chair, then when she gave the instructions, they all went to their cubbies and took out their pencil cases (with erasers and pencil sharpeners – I was impressed, I finally bought a mechanical pencil because I’m so used to electric ones, I couldn’t get my mechanical pencil sharpener to work right.)
The kids traced letters and drew lines to the right words. Then they brought their workbooks back to the teacher. She then taught a lesson on reading the words: balloon, guitar, racket, ball and doll. (In Indonesian) When the children could read them well from the white board she handed out a different workbook – individually to each child, like a special gift. They got to trace the letters in the words and color the pictures. When she gave permission they went to their cubbies, took out their colored pencil boxes and every single one of them slid the colored pencils half way out of the box so they could see the colors but not all the way so that they would spill on the table. They very carefully stayed in the lines and colored the pictures. When they were finished they brought the page up to her to approve and then put it away in the right spot. The first little girl done asked if she could erase the board and was told yes, she carefully erased the letters one by one, just like she was writing them. All the students were given enough time to finish their coloring and then it was time for recess. She called each child individually, they walked to the front, wrote their name on the board and then went stood in line. When they were all ready, they walked outside together, washed their hands in the little kid sinks and got money from their parents to buy snacks. Mostly they bought little 10 cent packages of chips and semi – sweet things that look like Trix and drinks in plastic bags with straws. They played outside with the parents only mildly supervising for about an hour. One little boy got a bloody nose and came into the canteen – snack selling area and sat on his mom’s lap. The teacher cleaned the blood off his face and then stuck a rolled up leaf in his nose. He sat quietly on his mom’s lap for about half an hour with the green leaf sticking out of his nose!
My pre-school also has a turtle aquarium! One of the parents told me that the three big turtles (each one six inches across) started out as a 1 inch turtle and the kids have watched them grow. They were red eared sliders, like Tilly, the turtle I had in New Mexico.
After recess we went back in the classroom and the teacher had them take out their piggy banks and each child put some money in their individual piggy banks. Then the teacher had them copy some information into their homework assignment books. (These are 4 and 5 year olds!) Date: 24/7/2010 name=…., age=…, home=……, father=….., mother=….. They put their homework assignment books into their back packs, sang a final song and said another prayer and waited till the teacher called each one by name, calling the quietest ones first to come to the front of the class. Each one said goodbye to me and to the teacher shook our hands or pressed our hand to their faces and then went out to where their parents were waiting.
The head mistress gave me some bananas from the tree in the yard. I told her thank you, Ibu (to her), thank you to the tree and thank you to God for the bananas. She was happy. Me too. It’s Kira’s birthday today. This project is helping with my “grandma sadness.”