Enough said. No. Well, yes, there should be a little more to that. School is, in fact, out for the summer. The education system in Sierra Leone operates on a three term system. The third term was scheduled to begin on May 3rd, though students often take a week or more to return, and officially end on July 15th. Unfortunately, school was not fully opened until close to May 12th. Being the last term, it held a huge significance for the Junior Secondary School 3 (JSS3) students; as they are required to take the Basic Education Certificate Examination. Better known as the BECE (beck-eh), this exam helps to determine a student’s entry into Senior Secondary School (SSS).
As the school system here does not function as smoothly as it does in other parts of the world - and even in parts of Sierra Leone - the semester was cut incredibly short. June 26th marked the beginning of final exams. For a week and a half students took their final exams and were given a short, “mid-term break.” Although the break was well deserved for the students, it made the already short term even shorter. Following this initial break was the taking of the BECE for JSS3 students. Larger schools in Sierra Leone serve as testing centers for the BECE exam and other national exams. Because of this, the schools that are utilized are shut down for the time of the BECE examinations. At this time most schools decide to close their doors as principles and other staff is invited to invigilate for the exams – making a small profit for their help. The schools then take a total of two and a half weeks of school off, opening only on July 15th for the handing out of report cards, or papers as they are called here.
It is a system that takes some adjusting to. To change this order of operations is a task left for the government and its education staff. For an outsider the best is to grin and bear it. To take the additional time to work with students is a solution, though to simply relax and reap in the glory of year one as a teacher being complete is one for mental health. In a sense, I have been on holiday since the 26th of June, yet there are tasks that keep the work going.
In April my counterpart and I were awarded a grant through the Ambassador’s Self-Help Fund to furnish the new, government funded school with desks and chairs for students and staff. Mondays are head-hunting days, where I visit each of the two carpenters to inspect the work, collect receipts and pro-formas. The project is simple. It will keep the next month and a half filled with the mentioned task of head hunting and requesting of funding. The completion of the project should coincide with the reopening of the school for the 2011/2012 academic year. When the project has been complete I will discuss more of what it means for the community, students, and staff.
As rainy season holiday is on the wane, I have occupied my time to help train the new volunteers; which will be sworn-in in little more than two weeks. They are a wonderful group of kind people, excited to begin work as new volunteers. Aside from the training of volunteers, I’ve found a new niche here in Bureh Town. Bureh is on the far end of the Freetown Peninsula. Five hundred, quiet and wonderful fishing families reside here. In one way it has become a second home. Not in the sense that I visit there too frequently, but how comfortable the peoples of this village make a stranger feel. To camp on the beach is never a worry of safety. A Rasta dude by the name of Levi opens his house to us for 20,000Le a night and provides mattresses, blankets, and pillows for us to sleep on his veranda with. In the evening hours, when rain is prone, he has his little Rasta dudes roll down the tarps on the veranda to keep the rain out and sets up the room for the night. There is a little break at the mouth of a river where the oystermen have dug out to create a new bed for the farming of oysters. Several local boys come out and surf with us and kill it. Jabez is in his late twenties. He arranges everything for us. We call, request dinner, tell how many and he sets up shop. Always a smile on his face, and word or two that usually says something like, “you missed the good waves this morning,” Jabez keeps things moving.
I’ve found multiple pockets of paradise here. To think in a year’s time I will be shipping out is strange. To leave a world of compassion and sincerity only to enter one of a frenetic pace and eyes-on-the-sidewalk is not enticing. This is home now. I go into this year not with the excitement of almost being through this beautiful lifestyle, but with a desire to suck the marrow of each moment and to do well by these considerate Sierra Leonean people. This is home. And I am content.