Joyce Meng's Blog

Day #9 - Collecting Stories

December 30, 2009

Today, Jia and I woke up much later than usual – by 10 AM, the entire Peace School complex was already bustling with activity. The day was much hotter than usual and the sun and heat felt very suffocating, yet the boys were already hard at work tearing down the cement blocks near the bathroom of the Upper Campus to make space for the temporary sheds. The roofers continued their work, creating a large cacophony. Yet, somehow, I managed to sleep through all the commotion!

After breakfast, to help Passy, I worked with Amina and Sharifah on sorting through all the books that we brought back from Lower Campus and cleaning them. As I went through the books, I was generally surprised by the amount of dust, the fact that many of the books were decades old and near tatters, and that a good percentage of the collection consisted of a disparate assembly of odd material, such as UNICEF brochures, magazines, ancient science textbooks from the US in the 1970s, and random religious pamphlets. The school would certainly benefit from a library, a catalogue system, and a replenished set of books! The school doesn’t throw anything away so I saw the detailed handwritten lesson plans of the teachers, administrative records, student workbooks, and graded monthly reports. In fact, Amina found Josie’s (Joanita’s daughter) old workbook from nearly a decade ago!

[Below is a video of some of the books that we transported from the Lower School Office. I’m thinking of organizing a book drive of sorts so that we can improve the collection of books available. I think building a library is essential for the school’s expansion – right now, there’s no real space to store the books so that teachers and children can easily access them. Given limited resources, so many children have to share a rather tiny and incomplete collection.]

After sorting through the books, we had lunch, consisting of cassava, beans, sweet potato, and papaya. I found the food very tasty and fresh – I finally satiated my curiosity of finding out what cassava tasted like. After lunch, Jia and I set up a work station in one of the classrooms – slowly, the children came in out of curiosity. We filmed the $50 project with the children on the video-camera, and handed out booklets and disposable videocameras for our book project. Overall, we enjoyed a very lighthearted, relaxed afternoon – the children really took pleasure in coloring, dancing, chatting, and singing, so we got a lot of very natural footage.

Notably, we had a very long and meaningful conversation with Bashir and Farook, best friends since elementary school. Bashir has surmounted so many difficulties – he got sick as a young age, resulting in his physical disability and stunting. When his father passed away in 1992, he helped earn income for his household by scrapping by and doing informal resale of electronics and items. His father had owned a rather successful enterprise, but with his death, his mother and brothers soon found themselves battling in court for years for a rightful claim to the estate, which had been taken back by his father’s family.

[Here’s a photo of Bashir and Farook together!]


Farook and Bashir make an odd but complimentary pair – one tall, the other short, one gregarious, the other laconic, one very world weary, the other very innocent, but they nevertheless complement each other wonderfully – two sides of the same coin. Bashir, slightly ostracized from his family, views the Peace School complex as his home and spends nearly all his days with us. Having grown up in a nuclear family of four, I am not accustomed to having so many people around, but I find it really fun – there is such an overwhelming feeling of warmth and community.

As the sky got darker, the games got sillier. Jia and I got the children to dance and sing on camera, which easily devolved into humorous antics. Farook sang and danced to the songs on his cell phone, Isaac did a hilarious rap, Amina showcases her best dance moves, and Dama and Sharifah performed some popular songs. Jia filmed all these droll antics, capturing the children in a very natural manner. The children – even the serious ones like Dama, Sherifah, and Sula – laughed a lot. When we got a sudden power outage, we all shared brain teasers and played shadow puppets. (Jia took some great footage –we’ll be uploading some longer clips for all of you at a later date!)

The most interesting brain teaser I heard was: three people stand on one side of a bridge crossing a ravine – the first seeks, walks, and then crosses the bridge. The second sees, does not walk, yet crosses. The third does not see, does not walk, but crosses. Who are these three people? The answer was: a pregnant woman carrying a child on her back and a child in her womb.

As a 23 year old, I admit that I sometimes feel a bit out of place, given that the 15-18 year old teens seem to think that I’m roughly their age (but in reality, I’m old enough to be their teacher). Regardless, I’m really having a good time – despite the cultural and background differences, we share a lot of the same interests and aspirations. Being here makes me happy because somehow I always feel really welcomed and included, as if I belong. At Oxford, I sometimes feel very polite and old – cordial to my classmates and colleagues, expected to dutifully meet expectations as a Masters student of Financial Economics at the business school. Here, I can relax and be myself – serious with my work and intention to help everyone, but lighthearted in my demeanor.

Joanita and the family takes such good care of us – for the short duration of this trip, I really do feel as if I’m included as part of the family. And as I’ve seen from the children who reside on the campus – some who are related to the Bbaale family, yet many others who are not – the Peace School creates this strong sense of belonging in many of its students. There is no formality between the “institution” and the people (alas, I think of Oxford and its traditions) – rather, the Peace School’s heart and identity is very much embedded in how personal the schooling experience truly is! Not being able to go home for Christmas makes me very homesick, but I’m able to diminish the pangs of longing with the happiness of sharing so many wonderful memories with a large extended family. Each day, I discover something new about each person. For example, Farook likes to joke (though he appears very serious at first), Bashir is gregarious and a great source of information about the town, Sula is very smart and gifted with numbers and math, Dama possesses great intensity and determination, Zamu follows fashion and trends, Sharifah is everyone’s little sister, Josh is very measured and persistent, while Isaac – though shy – is simultaneously rather goofy. Natasha, Shanelle, and Shareen are very much inseparable (imagine the Three Amigos), and Irene is a loving, sweet girl who tends to get along better with the adults and enjoy her own individual games. Similar to Amina, his cousin, Elijah is very serious and never stops thinking philosophically and conceptually about difficult social issues.

I really do hope the $50 campaign and the book project work out. There is very little control that we exercise over the content – fundamentally, what makes the campaign interesting are the ideas and inspirations of the children.

Around 10 PM, we all gathered to eat dinner. I didn’t help with the leveling work today, but we did take a lot of great footage throughout the day and added at least thirty drawings to our portfolio for the $50 campaign. Tomorrow, we go to town to pick up some supplies and continue on our work.

Must be logged in to comment.