Friday, March 09, 2007

Literacy Schools in Ivory Coast

After a break of almost four and a half years we have at last been able to spend a few days, and nights, in Loron territory in northeast Ivory Coast. Up until now we have made only day trips to the village, leaving our home in Burkina at dawn, and returning again before nightfall.

The main purpose of this trip was to see how the new literacy schools were functioning in 5 Loron villages. We were very encouraged with what we found.

Saturday, March 3, 2007
We left Gaoua shortly after 10am and as usual we enjoyed the scenery along 40 miles of hard top road surface down to the Burkina /Ivory Coast border. We registered at the last Gendarmerie and Police posts in Burkina before leaving the hardtop and going unto the dirt roads of Ivory Coast. The officer at the Gendarmes checkpoint was reading a book in English by Michael Crichton, the creator of the ER series. We got into an interesting conversation about English and he asked for an English Bible and other books in English that we could give him. We are constantly amazed at the opportunities the Lord gives to bring the word of God to people here in Burkina.

After lurching around for about an hour on rutted and sandy roads, and crossing over some very precarious looking bridges, we arrived in the town of Doropo just shortly after noon. We went to the Freewill Baptist hospital, where we stayed during our trip. The hospital is now being run by Ivorians. There are no doctors, but there are a few nurses. In its heyday, in the mid 90’s, there were three ex-pat doctors and any number of nurses.

We stayed in a house once occupied by an American doctor and his family. Dr Kenneth Eagleton and his Brazilian wife, Hejane, spent many years serving the population of northeast Ivory Coast. In 1999, Dr. Eagleton came to Gogo and held a week-long seminar on basic medical issues. From the transcripts of the seminar we developed a series of health manuals which have been very helpful to the Loron people ever since.

We brought our mobile phones with us to Ivory Coast because we had been told that, in Doropo, in certain places, and at certain times, it was possible to get coverage from Burkina for our cell phone. After asking around we discovered that if we went to a particular mango tree, preferably after dark, we would be able to get a good signal.

So, 30 minutes after the sun had gone down, we got our torches (flashlights) and made our way to a strategically placed concrete block about half way between a gate and the mango tree. Once we arrived at the block, the indicator on the phone showed 3 bars, not the best reception, but, as it proved, quite adequate for the task. We successfully transmitted a couple of text messages to let folks in Gaoua and Northern Ireland know that we had arrived safely in Doropo.

About 50 yards from the house we are staying in, there are two headstones. One is the grave of a Freewill Baptist nurse, Glennda Kay Leatherbury, who died in 1994; the other, the grave of a little girl called Stephanie whose parents were missionaries. Stephanie died in 1977, just four months old.

We were awake bright and early on Sunday morning after a so-so night’s sleep. A flock (?) of noisy turkeys wandering around outside ensured that we didn’t get any sleep from dawn. We left Doropo around 9am and travelled 15 miles to Gogo for church. It took about an hour. After speaking from James 4 at the morning service, we went around the village and greeted a few folks, and then at noon we went to see how things were progressing in the literacy classes.

At present there are 34 students in Gogo and Gogo 2, who are learning how to read and write. There are also quite a number of younger ones anxiously waiting until the first group of older students finishes the course. The ages of the current group of students range from 18 to 40. Marina was able to give the teachers, Joel and Joseph, some useful tips on how to teach more effectively, and she was very encouraged that the teachers have been sticking closely to the lesson plans and are doing a good job in their teaching.

While Marina was helping in the literacy classes, I took a walk around the other two missionary houses to survey the effects of four and a half years of neglect. It was sad to see the condition of the houses. One had most of the screening ripped off the windows and front porch. With exterior doors missing, and the straw ceiling hanging down in many places, it had basically been taken over by the village goats and a colony of bats. The other house was missing quite a number of plywood sheets from the ceiling, and some interior doors, but was still quite secure.

When classes finished we went to Joel’s house for rice and okra sauce, and some strong sweet tea, and then made our way back to Doropo.

Today we went to a Loron village located along a little creek a few miles northwest of Gogo. We left our pickup truck in Gogo and made our way out to the village on a motorcycle. It had been over four years since we last visited there, so we didn’t have any idea how the road would be. As it turned out we could have taken our vehicle right in to the village because the dirt track was wide enough almost everywhere to get through without any problem.

The church here is thriving. Many of the folks have already learned how to read, but there is an obvious weakness in writing skills. Only four children are currently going through the literacy course, but there are others who are showing some interest.

After a good night’s sleep (which we really needed) we left Doropo, and again passed through Gogo on our way to the next two Loron villages that we needed to visit. The teacher in the first village had struggled quite a bit at the literacy seminar we held last year, but he seems to be developing into quite an effective teacher. His procedures and techniques were good, but he was unsure about what to do with some half-hearted students who were obviously holding the rest of the class back. Marina helped him divide the class up so that the more enthusiastic and capable students could move ahead.

The next village was way out in the sticks! After leaving the main dirt road, we drove on the motorcycle along a deeply rutted track for 40 minutes or so. We had to carefully negotiate our way up and down the sides of two large gorges, which fill with water during rainy season, making them impassable.

We took a wrong fork in the track at one point, but quickly discovered our mistake and got going again in the right direction, and finally arrived at our destination. The smaller children had never seen white people before, so they were keeping their distance, but we got a warm welcome from the rest of the villagers. We had never been to this particular village before, so it was a delight to visit these folks.

The literacy class here is going very well, and after eight weeks they are already up to lesson 30. (There are 115 lessons altogether in the literacy course.) Donald and Michel are doing an excellent job in team-teaching. There are five students rapidly moving through the course. All of these young men have had some exposure to reading and writing and they are keen to complete the course. When they are finished there are another 38 new students waiting to start. Hopefully, some of these original five students will become student teachers. There is a pressing need for us to develop another complete set of materials for these folks, as well as help them get some adequate tables and a good blackboard.

Today’s was the most exhausting trip so far. Two hours bouncing over bumpy roads in the pickup, about two hours on the motorcycle avoiding ruts and exposed to the sun, four hours working with the literacy teachers and students, and an hour or so greeting folks in the different villages all take their toll. But it was well worth the effort!

We are really encouraged with the progress being made in all of the villages. There are currently 54 students taking the literacy course in these five villages, with between 60 and 70 people waiting their turn to start. In a couple of weeks we hope to visit a sixth Loron village in a different area where literacy has also started.