Friday, June 24, 2011

Peace Corps in Up-country Sierra Leone

Here we were with university educations just under our belt, and off to a small West African country to do in-country training for two months and then begin two years of teaching.  I had had friends who had worked in Nigeria but no other connections to West Africa. And I knew very little about the country, Sierra Leone, where I was going. In the late 1960's there had been some political trouble with several coups upsetting the political balance. But the country, in those days, was at peace, and although from time to time, an undercurrent of trouble was apparent, for the most part, the minimal trouble that we witnessed was never directed at us (foreigners). The two major actors were the political parties SLPP and the APC. In the area of Kenema was a hotbed for the SLPP. When I listened to talk and poltics there was always grumbling about the APC (the party in power when we were there - a party led by Prime Minister Siaka Stevens). Our job was secondary school education and as an off-shoot of this teacher's training at the Kenema TTC which in those days stood on the same campus as HRSS-Kenema. We were assigned to the HRSS-Kenema as the Peace Corps saw to it that requests for teachers were matched. My assignment was to teach science and math (they called it maths), and the sister principal assigned me to also teach a sport I knew nothing about - a sport called netball. Luckily, in this regard, I had students from the schools (HRSS and the TTC) who knew the game. I read a sports book about the rules. I became head netball coach the day we arrived.
HRSS-Kenema was in those days a new Catholic Mission school for the education of young women. For the most part in those days the students came from either the Kenema Area or at least nearby Kenema. Some boarded in town although their homes might be several hours away by public transport. In those first years none of the HRSS students boarded at school, the only boarders being the last few classes of the TTC - a school that was being fazed out. I remember the first year having very small numbers of student - perhaps 35 or so. I taught general science, ran a small school garden, ran the physical education program and coached, and taught math. My students were great fun to teach. Hard workers, limited somewhat by language. When there were times that I used Krio or Mende (or even Temne expressions) they would laugh (the principal would frown). These students were 13 and 14 years old, well dressed in their maroon and gold uniforms, and although at times frustrated by the rigors of starting a new school, they enjoyed being at secondary school. School fees were severe for most - yet somehow these young women's families came up with the fees for both their education and their uniforms.

No comments: