The Joy of being in the classroom!

Being Fully Prepared!

I want to tell you about my most favourite time of the day in Mufindi this year. It started at 4:00PM each weekday at Luhunga Secondary School. All teaching by foreigners is deemed “somewhat” frivolous and must not interfere with the regular curriculum.  Consequently we were invited to come at the end of the day after most students hurry home for food and then rush back. Anne was preparing a wonderful play with her group. It was based on the novel “The boy who Harnessed the Wind” by William Kamkwamba. I began with my own story, “Paseeka, a little Elephant Brave” with illustrations by Kent Laforme. The story has been translated into Kiswahili by Jeannie Fox and Emmanuel Patuka.

Not one student had ever seen a live elephant! After listening to the English version of the story, I put out all Kent’s illustrations in order of happening. The students came up and poured over them.


Next Felix Mhoka, the gentlest teacher I have ever met, took all six of the school computers(now there are 9) and using the USB Kent prepared, loaded Queenie, a National Geographic film. It is the true story of a matriarch leading an elephant migration for over 100K.

All  the students crowded around the computers and Felix called out moja, mbili, tatu and everyone tried to press the button at the same time. It was a little off but no one seemed to mind. It was a movie!!!! The school has only had electricity for two years. Lion attacks, crocodiles submerged in the rivers, terrifying drought and frantic searches for enormous amounts of food mesmerized the viewers. 

During the next lesson I gave out grid sheet formats for fact collection. 

I had prepared information sheets from elephant calendar photos. Students studied them and began to collect facts that interested them. Some wrote in Swahili but most struggled valiantly in English. 

I had stuffed my suitcases with nonfiction books about elephants too. They ranged from grade one to about grade eight level. These were poured over as well. They read English quite well even though for most it is their third language. 

I had also brought articles about elephant poaching. That was a huge shock. During that discussion I took out Kent’s illustration of Paseeka standing with his little trunk resting on the big skull and stood it on a chair. One student could stand it no longer and went and got the illustration of Mama Paseeka on one side and little Paseeka on the other with all the herd heading down river. He put it on top!...and then he smiled a great big grin.

Next they cut up the grid sheets into individual facts. That was an adventure because it was their first time to hold scissors! Then glue sticks…(to be smelled and in some cases even licked)…students were to organize the facts into categories of interest, for example elephant enemies, what a trunk can do, who can be a matriarch etc.

Towards the end of the study they worked on small 3D settings that show habitat where elephants live in Africa. Using Velcro(that was a fresh wonder, necessitating  showing them how  North American shoes fastened!) students added the stand up characters (animals)they had chosen. The settings became small works of art…and for the majority, pencil crayons were used with delighted appreciation.

Finally the class folded four page booklets and created their own stories. It was a culmination of the entirety and yet allowed for individual interest amidst the diversity of students ranging from 13 to 17.

It is such a privilege to be welcomed here! The students come at 4:00PM after starting the day at 6:30 AM and they stay and stay. Sometimes I have to order them out at 6:00PM. It is the same for Anne!

Confidence in using English is so important for countrywide examinations. The students' confidence grew enormously over the course of the month long study. The length of the study allowed them to overcome their fear of making mistakes and enjoy the process of creating together.