Saturday, March 2, 2013

Meet Collège MLK

So the main reason for the trip I've been on for the past month is to help out with a school garden project for Collège MLK, a private middle school in Ziniare, Burkina Faso. So here is a little bit about the school. I want to try and share with you the feeling and character of the place. 

Collège MLK students walking around campus. College MLK is named for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for commitment to justice, non-violence, and spiritual leadership.
College MLK is marked by a sort of relaxed discipline, and an extremely warm and welcoming courtesy. Each morning, students line up in the courtyard for a brief visit and a prayer. The school is  Christian: Protestant- like it's founder, Jean-Daniel Glauser- but students make up a blend of Muslim, Catholic, Protestant, and probably others. Everyone seems to be cool with the protestant prayers, which I think is neat, just sharing some spiritual commonalities and not fussing over the technicalities.

Uniforms are a cheerful and relaxed sky blue shirt, which is sometimes a T-shirt, a polo, or a button down, and navy blue pants, plus the girls have the option of a slim, longish navy blue skirt (which most do opt for.) There is also a very sharp special occasions uniform- which involves a beautiful top for the girls with a rounded blazer collar and navy waist belt (very Pan Am) which I got to see at a special soiree we had. Each day when I arrived, most students took a few extra steps to come and greet me in a way that was respectful, sweet, and welcoming. There are internes- students whose families are far away, who sleep at school in the dortoir and eat in the refectoire (For the boys, the girls dortoir is nearby in town, and they go back and forth with the school's van) and les externes- who are local to Ziniare and go home at midday and each evening, to return in the morning for studies during the week. 
A sea of bicycles whisks les externes off to lunch

A game of Clue at the girl's dorms

In the classroom, first off, when you walk in, everyone stands to greet you. I hear this is an old-school thing that used to be done in French and British schools (I'll have to ask my folks or grand-folks if it was custom in the States.) Then as class returned to normal, I got to see a taste of normal coursework. Teacher asks question. Seven or ten hands fly up, snapping, pointing the first finger, and saying "me madame" in french or "I, Sir" in the english class. School is competitive. Each time graded work is returned, the teacher starts on one side of the room and hands back each one (the graded papers are impressively perfectly in order) and announces the grade for all the other kids to hear. Someone is first in each class in each subject. Someone is second. I was thinking this must be a French thing, but my friend is telling me now that it happens in Nigeria too, and maybe Ghana (I know Ghana at least has the class ranking, because a lady who was collecting our money for some pottery and ecotourism in Sirigu told us she was second in her class in Maths.) So we are wondering if it isn't a West African thing. If anyone knows, do chime in. This competitive spirit doesn't seem psychologically traumatic or anything, it's designed to bring out the best in each student, and, at least at College MLK, it seems to do just that.

While academically rigorous and challenging, all the seriousness at College MLK is balanced by fun and friendliness. I heard the sixth grade dissolve into giggles while in English class. They were shouting "Elbow! Hand! Arm! Leg!" and one student would have to be the one to name all this difficult and probably silly-sounding stuff (remember that the French was already a second language, now English is third or fourth) and the speed would increase fervently until the class ended up in boisterous laughter. Also boisterously laughing is me at my desk.

School grounds includes plenty of room for future expansion. 

A high school building is envisioned for this space, meeting the current middle school building. Far left is the site for the founder's home for someday when he moves onsite. You can also see that yes, it's quite dry here.

I also was lucky enough to join the students in a little festival of storytelling. College MLK invited L'Ecole Francaise, from Ouagadougou, to come out and participate and listen, and a professional Mossi storytelling to keynote. We shared a fabulous meal (almost everything eaten in Burkina is locally sourced) and then gathered in the courtyard into chairs in a semi-circle for stories, dancing, and ending with a djembe accompanied story from the professional story-teller. While not officially a contest, there was an obvious desire to shine in comparison with the french school. While I can't claim complete objectivity and lack of bias, I will say that College MLK impressed me wholly and unsurpassedly. Memorable moments were a fabulous group story segment, traditional dancing with grass skirts (the warba is a wonderful dance that is mostly booty shaking- sort of a rapid one-hip-at-a-time swivel forward, it's not immodest booty shaking- luckily I got to learn it many times) What really stole the show was a choreographed dance to a popular song, it was exhilarating and lovely. I only wish the lighting had been better so I could share video of that night with you. However, here is a behind the scenes shot from practice beforehand: 

Some of the CMLK students (mostly young ladies with one gentleman) are truly talented dancers, and all of the dances were very nicely choreographed by Dorothea, the girl's surveillant, who supervises and mentors the girls after school and in their dorms. Dorothea is a young woman about my age who really impressed me with her ability to both connect and communicate with the girls, and strictly but kindly enforce rules and authority…and with her dance moves. 
The three surveillants manage to walk the line between friendship and authority with students,
as well as bust some sick dance moves.
Stayed tuned for more from this group of bright young Burkinabes.

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