New Avenues–Part 2

thumb_IMG_20160426_104524233_HDR_1024Just as my time has been affected these past months in that I am not teaching at HAU this semester, due to lower students numbers and needs, so too have many others been affected. These two dear sisters from our church are presently not working either. One is an architect, the other a project manager for community development programs. But that has given us a new opportunity to meet to help each other improve in English/French language use.

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When Elina went back to visit her family in Moscow she visited a church that was studying Rick Warren’s book The Purpose Driven Life. She returned and suggested we study it also. So twice a week we meet at my house-chez Bond. They prepare the lesson in English and I prepare it in French. We take turns giving a synopsis of the chapter and discussing the question at the chapter’s end in the language each one is working to improve. I have to say their English is far better than my French and they both have improved tremendously, but what a joy to meet together!   It has been such a pleasure to get to know them better and to share our life experiences which are very different in the details of place, time and culture but very similar in the spiritual truths and growth we’ve learned in our faith walks.

These new avenues are “the springs in the desert” as we walk through this protracted time of uncertainty and diminished options for work. Inasmuch as both of these ladies need to be working, we are all very thankful for the opportunity to use this unexpected “free” time to improving our language understanding and more importantly, to become friends.

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New Avenues–Part 1

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Groups working in English class at HAU 2015.

For the past two years that we’ve been living in Bujumbura I’ve had the pleasure of teaching English as a foreign language at Hope Africa University. Since it’s enrollment was over 5,000 students there was always a need for teachers, especially native English speakers. Unfortunately, the student body population has dropped dramatically.

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HAU graduation in February of 2016. Over 1200 graduated!

In February about 1200 students graduated from HAU; a fantastic accomplishment in the face of the political crisis that ensued last April. But now there are only about 1800 students, or less, most are in their final semesters seeking to finish their degree programs. Three hundred of these are medical school students who are deeply invested with time and money. This seems to be the result of both the location of the school (in one of the “hot” neighborhoods of last year’s protests) and the rapidly falling economy, due to the political crisis. With fewer students, particularly new students, many professors have been laid off. And while I cost the University nothing, I have not been teaching at HAU this semester since there are so few new students who need the EFL courses.

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Instead, there have been some new avenues I’ve been able to participate in. One of these has been the pleasure of working with some teachers at a private Burundian school called Discovery School. It started in 2008, under the Community of Emmanuel Churches Of Burundi by missionaries, Joy and Jesse Johnson. On the campus of the Emmanuel Church mission there is also a clinic, a school for the deaf and other church ministries. The school has grown over the years. It now has about 800 Burundian students from age two (preschool) up to grade six with about 45 Burundian teachers.   They use American curriculums, teach mostly in English and try to keep class size 20-30. It is truly impressive!

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Hearing I was a teacher and not presently teaching at HAU, Joy asked me if I’d like to give a seminar to the teachers at Discovery School, specifically in how to teach writing to students using a Writer’s Workshop approach. I was happy to have the opportunity to be engaged in teaching again but especially as I toured the school for the first time and saw how the teachers were engaging their students as learners.

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Discovery School teachers discussing during writing seminar.

So over the last two months I’ve lead a seminar for the teachers of 4th-6th grade levels, observed them teaching using the new strategies, debriefed with them and taught a class for each so they could observe another teacher using this approach.

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Observing teachers integrating workshop strategies.

I have thoroughly enjoyed working with the teachers as they are eager to learn, engaged, thoughtful and seek to integrate new teaching strategies into their repertoires, which are completely foreign to how they were taught in school. It is exciting to be a part of introducing something new that they can adapt and integrate into their own culture and teaching styles in ways that will enhance the students learning. It’s also been wonderful to be with children who are eager to learn and full of enthusiasm. They are Burundi’s future hope for sustainable growth, development and advancement. I am thankful for this new avenue and what it might hold in the time ahead.

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“New Avenues–Part 2” upcoming!

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Living With An Enigma

The dictional defines an enigma as “a person or thing that is mysterious, puzzling or difficult to understand.”  Synonyms are: conundrum, paradox, quandary, puzzle, riddle.  Sometimes I feel like this word describes my life experience all too well.  But this sense is heightened living cross-culturally where I continually feel thrown off balance.  Recently we took a trip with a friend to see some waterfalls in the interior of the country. Although our experience did not entail encountering a flash flood, as some from our sister team experienced on another waterfall excursion, it has given me some visual images to juxtapose to some very familiar words I’ve been reading this week.  Thus allowing me to  create a depiction of how I so often feel; both in cross-cultural living and also in my walk of faith in which I’m constantly surprised by the greatest Enigma of all time, Jesus.  I hope you can appreciate the humor and join me in laughing and marveling at life’s ironies.

Psalm 23

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“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

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He makes me lie down in green pastures,

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he leads me beside quiet waters,

he refreshes my soul.

 

He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.

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Even though I walk through the darkest valley,

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I fear no evil, for you are with me;

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your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies

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You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

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Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,

and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

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So thankful for the opportunity to experience the beauty of the countryside of Burundi and for the privilege of walking each day with the Shepherd who understands and loves it’s people and me, inviting us to trust the enigma that He is and enjoy the wonder of life He’s given.

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Graduation at Hope Africa University

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On Friday, February 12, more than 1200 students graduated from HAU.  Postponed from last December, the day went off with much fanfare and celebration.  There were graduates,

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graduates,

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graduates,

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and more graduates.  All sporting their departmental colors for business, liberal arts, theology, social work, nursing, medicine–along with many others.  These are some of the eleven graduates for the medical school in their green collars.  They are part of the third class of medical students to graduate from the seven year medical program.

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For George as “Chef de Pedagogue”  it meant signing each of those degrees!

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For the four of us who were present, professors in medicine, English and business, it meant donning the robes and participating in the ceremony.  A great honor for us!

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Smiling faces and well-earned pride were the order of the day.  The end of a long road of classes, training, tuition and stages.  A day to commemorate as one journey ends and a new one begins; from student to practitioner, from potential to actualization.  All caught on photos, a moment in time to acknowledge, celebrate and give thanks for.

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Most ceremonies are opened with the traditional drummers, this day was no exception.  They both opened and closed the ceremony and added their praise throughout the proceedings.

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The challenge for these new grads will be finding jobs, putting their new skills and education to use, particularly as the economics of Burundi are very difficult just now and the political climate continues to be tense.  But for this day it was celebration with family, friends and loved ones.  A joyful day to be a part of and witness the fulfillment of many prayers, hopes, sacrifices and much hard work.  Congratulations graduates of HAU!!! May you change and impact the world for good with your education as you are the hope for the future.

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Scenes From My Upcountry Visit

 

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Hilly countryside of Burundi

There are two teams from Serge working in Burundi; ours in Bujumbura (now just us) and our sister team working about three hours away at Kibuye Hope Hospital.  One part of my role here is to assist their team with regards to school as there are many young children on their team and I have an early childhood education degree.  It’s always a pleasure to visit them because they are all so much fun and make everyone feel welcome!  But I was particularly excited to be able to do it because often the logistics of getting there are difficult along with carving out time from my own teaching at HAU in Buj.

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Kibuye Hope Hospital from Kibuye Rock

Going into the interior of Burundi from Bujumbura on the lake is often referred to as “upcountry”, operative word being “up” because although the lake is at 2500 feet the rest of the country is mountainous.  Once you leave the lake you are always going up, up, up.  Kibuye is over 5,000 feet.  Bicycles “hitch” a ride whenever they can.

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Red truck with “bike hikers”.

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Passing the “bike hikers”. They ride side saddle so they can jump off should they need to!

This time I was fortunate enough to get a ride up and back with John (rather than taking a bus which is often how we go).  When he stopped briefly to buy some fruit he acquired a few bicyclists but they quickly let go as we left their town.

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Two “bike hikers” hanging onto our truck.

It is always striking as well that there are so many more people and bikes on the road going to markets, churches or homes.  I’m sure they outnumber the amount of cars that pass by in a day.

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People on the move!

Although I visited Kibuye just two months ago their continued growth and progress are staggering, especially as so many things in Bujumbura have slowed with the political difficulties since April.  Fortunately, that is not the case in Kibuye.  They are making the community their home, settling in and putting down roots with houses, relationships, involvement in the primary school, local church and the growth of the hospital and its services.  Within the next year the number of missionary children will double, both by new families and younger children reaching school age, so a school house is being built which will free up the little two-room house where they hold school now.  This will also provide another house to be used for others to live in.  The children are so excited to see their school be built from the ground up!

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Construction of the new school.

For three days I had the pleasure of observing the creativity and devotion of the children’s teacher, Shay, and the parent-teachers that add their expertise to round out a full curriculum.  These kids not only do the basics of reading, writing, math and science but they also have french and kirundi lessons, art, music and gym.  With a wide age range and learning styles it was exciting to see how the curriculums they’ve chosen and the skill of their teachers has fostered an environment that is very conducive to enhancing the children natural curiosities and desire for learning.  They really love going to school!

 

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Reading of the “constitution”–application from a recent history unit.

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Jess reviewing the week’s Kirundi lesson.

An added bonus was being able to visit Jess’s English class with the primary school teachers who teach at the local primary school and Shay’s English class of middle-school Burundian students.  Both groups were very welcoming to me as a visitor and it was a delight to see these teachers in action modeling interactive teaching methods (something not commonly found in the Burundian school system).

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English class with Burundian primary school teachers.

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Kibuye primary school for Burundian children, located next to the hospital.

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Shay’s English class of middle-schoolers acting out a skit in English.

Before returning to Bujumbura I was able to spend one day and night with other dear missionary friends who teach at a Free Methodist Bible School close to Kibuye.  They were the first to welcome us to Burundi in 2012 when we came for an investigative visit.  It was really wonderful to visit one of their English classes and be so warmly greeted.

 

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Students at the Bible School singing as class starts.

In all the places I visited I observed so many good things happening–people working together helping one another, children learning and growing with so much life and curiosity in and around them, joy and love abounding even as people face the inevitable obstacles of life.  I went to encourage others and found it was I who returned encouraged and energized.  Not sure why that still surprises me because it is so often the “beauty and wonder” of service in the Kingdom of God, but I am extremely thankful it is.

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Well watered rice fields near Kibuye.

 

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Providing A Place

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Our deepest sadness upon returning to Burundi in January was giving up our teammates, the Watts, to our sister Serge team in Kibuye. The instability and continued frequent nighttime gunfire in Bujumbura made it an environment non-conducive and non-viable for children. Nearly all NGO’s have pulled their non-essential personnel and family members out due to the ongoing insecurity and unrest. So after much council, discussion and prayer the best option was for them to relocate upcountry where they could still be with working with HAU at the Kibuye Hope Hospital and living with our sister team here in Burundi.

Though we know it to be the right decision our hearts deeply grieve this loss. It is one of those things we must accept with much sorrow. In the big picture the pluses certainly outweighed the minuses. But one big negative for the children was they couldn’t take the dog they had inherited with the rental house in Bujumbura to Kibuye so they had to find a new home for him. And that’s how we have come to own a dog.

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His name is Glo. Perhaps due to his golden, glowing color? He looks like a golden retriever although he’s most likely a mix. There are very few dogs here in Burundi and many of the ones we’ve seen look similar to this one, only often smaller. We are the third or fourth ex-pat family to take care of him.

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As dogs go he’s a very nice dog, friendly, good disposition and fairly obedient. He doesn’t bark too much but howls or whines when he’s lonely. That may be related to how much he misses the Watts children. He is an outside dog, which is easy in a place where it’s warm, but he is always trying to come inside, as he wants to be wherever people are. He just fits through the guardrails around the front door giving him access to the coolest place to sleep and be close to the front gate.

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Most Burundian’s are afraid of dogs so we were not sure how our workers would respond to this new acquisition but they have all come to accept Glo and engage positively with him. Gilbert has gladly taken on preparing his food and feeding him. The night guard was a bit hesitant at first but I’ve heard him talking to Glo, which tells me he has also welcomed his company. Having a dog does provide one more deterrent to those looking for easy access to steal or cause harm, which the night guard certainly appreciates.

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While we would much rather have the Watts as teammates instead of their dog we are thankful for how God has provided a new home for them even as we have provided a new home for Glo.

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Stateside for the Holidays

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Perhaps because I’ve been involved in some form of the education system most of my life, either as a student, teacher or parent, there is nothing out of the ordinary about being “off” for Christmas.   Not only is it a particular blessing that we have been able to have the whole month of December back in the U.S. for the Christmas season, but many others are “off” so we could be with family and friends during a season of celebration.

We left Burundi together on Dec. 1st but separated in Amsterdam to different sides of the continent, each taking care of some different aspects of our lives and visiting some family and friends.

 

 

Highlights for me:  Being able to visit my closest friend and partake in a long time tradition—the annual December Bizarre Bazar in Richmond. IMG_20151204_171758906

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Visiting my 94 year-old, step-mom, who has the vitality and mental state of a much younger woman. Together we visited my 85 year-old aunt. Always a treasured time! We went over to San Francisco to see all the Christmas lights in Union Square and wander around in a 4-story fabric store that she remembers from her younger years. It was so much fun to do together and it really put us in the holiday mood.

Spending Christmas with our family in Seattle. Randy and I met up again Dec. 18th for ten days to celebrate the Advent season with our kids, extended family and our son’s in-law family, who graciously have included us in their Christmas celebrations for the past two years. It was truly wonderful to be with so many people we love!

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An added highlight was spending a special decade marker birthday with this marvelous group of family and in-laws. I was delighted to host them for a dinner of all my favorite things. They brought all the silly revelries to really make it a fun party.

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Our last stop was Cincinnati to visit our home church where we saw many of you who faithfully support us with your prayers and encouragements in so many ways. It’s hard having all the lovely people in your life crammed into a month long visit but we “suffered” and enjoyed every minute. To those of you we were able to see—thank you for caring for us!!! It was such a pleasure to be with you. For those we were unable to see, hopefully the next time. For now, we are back in Burundi! Where the flowers are blooming and the weather is warm, refreshed to continue working here!

 

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