Tuesday, September 11, 2007

School's In Session

School here at the mission officially started yesterday. The year is off to an inauspicious start. Half of our other schools that Lifeline sponsors did not open on time...(one had a funeral for the director's sister-in-law, one director apparently had better things to do this week, and one just decided next week would be better)...they've received encouraging letters from me as of today, pointing out that in order to continue supporting their schools........................they should probably open the school. It is normal here for the school year to have a slow start; many families don't have enough money for the books and uniforms required until a month, sometimes two months after the year has started - and sadly sometimes not at all, so they wait for the next year to see if they can scrounge enough. That isn't the case here locally, but that's because Lifeline provides all the books and the uniforms and other needs are subsidized.

No matter how hard you try - you cannot overcome cultural differences. Case in point - my 'home' culture has expectations of planning ahead and being prepared in advance of forseeable events. This culture has no such notion. Yesterday, the day school opened, the director of our on-site school reported that there are some textbooks he doesn't have yet, and he's not sure who is teaching second grade. Hello? Excuse me?

I was in Port au Prince with this man two times last week getting books...last year we had similar issues so I've been on him for A YEAR now to get more organized and prepared...during a third trip to Port by myself I called him to verify we were all set and there wasn't anything else needed for Monday's opening...ten minutes into the schoolyear he had a list a page long of other things we need. And when the needs list is handed to the white man with the money tree growing out back, everything is an emergency. I was nice, as I now understand how things work here, but once back in the office I gave a silent scream and shook my fists in the air for a minute.

As a director of a school, I assume one of the most important jobs would be to "direct" the school. Part of "directing", in my mind, would be making sure that each class actually has a teacher. I'm no expert, but that's my line of thinking on the matter. Apparently I am wrong. I knew we had made some changes to the staff for this year, I gave my suggestions, oversaw the contract procedures, and signed off on the whole deal. I was feeling pretty good having all of this taken care of a week before school started. Shortly after, however, the teacher assigned to the second grade went AWOL and another new teacher was chosen to replace him. What the director failed to mention to me is that then that replacement decided not to teach, and therefore we started school one body short in the teaching position. Oh well, no one else seemed nearly as stressed about that as I was, and by the end of the day it was all worked out. This fourth-string teacher actually seems better than the first three options...and he's actually showed up for the first two days now, so that's good.

A flood of parents have come in recent weeks seeking help with money for uniforms, shoes, schoolbags, bikes, books, you name it. I've done what I could to find those who were truly needy and used up what resources we had available to help. I thought that was done. Wrong-O, Mr. Missionary. Did I mention that planning ahead wasn't necessarily a strong suit around here? For the last two days there has been a constant stream of people coming - to sign kids up for school a month after registration ended, to request a change in our school's uniforms, to ask for money for other back to school items, etc. Again, we're doing what we can. Most of them have been able to get help, fortunately, but as you can probably tell by now - it's wearing me out a little teeny bit.

The cooks and the food issues are a whole other story, just more of the same...for instance - after telling them that school would start Monday, and then finding out that some schools weren't starting, everyone was on a different page as far as how much food to cook and where to send it and it took ALL DAY to straighten it out. You would have thought that the sky was falling over La Digue's canteen. I eventually solved the problem to everyone's liking when I assured the cooks and reminded them that even if we did send food to a school that wasn't open yet - there would still be hungry kids around to eat it. Sure enough, all the buckets came back empty at the end of the day.

The final fitting act of the sorry first school day - the piece de resistance - happened when the director left on his motorcycle carrying two of our teachers on their way home. At the end of the driveway, they lost control and wiped out - all three and their bookbags sprawled all over across the dirt road. Fortunately, no one was badly injured. I seriously considered closing the school and trying again next week like the others.

Today was a little better...but only because there weren't any motor-vehicle accidents. Otherwise, it was pretty much the same. Give us a week or two, and we'll get it all ironed out....and I guarantee I'm the only one around here who will be stressed out until it is.