Sunday, February 16, 2014

Completed Bridge

As I looked back through my old blog posts, I realized I never posted a picture of the finished bridge! This photo was taken at the end of May 2013 with some of the school children posing on the bridge. The bridge has been a blessing not only to our school children, but to the entire community.

In July 2013 a great mass of water twisted and wrenched the steps on the other side away. Even though we haven't fixed it yet, the bridge is still usable; now it just requires some fancy footwork to get up or down on the other side.

A big thank you to those who helped to make this bridge a reality. The families of these children are very grateful.

Study to Show Thyself Approved

About 10 days prior to our conference, Mr. David Onotu, Foundations Academy staff member, showed me some samples of children performing Spoken Word poetry from the internet. He was planning to introduce this art form to our students. I was very impressed with a South African girl who performed a powerful Spoken Word poem about Nelson Mandela. An idea dropped into my mind: "David, I want to you write a poem and perform it at our Teachers' Conference. I want it to be about education and about reading in particular."

And this is what he came up with:

Study to Show Thyself Approved

Some say
the map of Africa is a gun,
Nigeria is the trigger
and terrorism is the future...

I say
the map of Africa is a question mark,
Nigeria is the answer
and at Foundations Academy
we are bursting forth with solutions.

My older brother
grew up in a house where everything
he ever learnt, he learnt sitting in front of a TV screen.
Nollywood, Bollywood, Hollywood
atheism, pornography, violence.
And boastfully he would say he is on his way to become
king of street disciples, thieves, murderers, and outlaws.
I presume not a single book to turn a new page in his darkened heart.

I, on the other hand, grew up
surrounded with shelves holding more books than I could possibly read
or even flip through; through seven lifetimes:
Long Walk to Freedom--Nelson Mandela
My Experiment with Truth--Mahatma Gandhi
Life and Times of Martin Luther King Jr.
The Burden of Memory, The Muse of Forgiveness--Wole Soyinka
Things Fall Apart--Chinua Achebe
Americanah--Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Get a Life--Nadine Gordimer

Names like
Langston Hughes, Benjamin Franklin, Abraham Lincoln,
Haile Salasie, Ojukwu, Gowon, Kwameh Nkrumah,
CheGuevera, Chairman Mao, Barrack Obama, Plato, Aristotle
and every other name here listed in the registry
rushing through my mind like a whirlpool
my heart panting, fingers scribbling, feet racing
replying those who insist that there is no God.
The new age crusaders, those who would steal
the tongue from our children before they even learn to speak.
Father, mother, each one, teach one, for a wise man once said:
A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops. (Henry Brook Adams)
Whatever the cost of libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation. (Walter Cronkite)
Every student can learn, just not on the same day or in the same way. (George Evans)
The beautiful thing about learning is that no one can take it away from you. (B.B. King)
Education is a better safeguard of liberty than a standing army. (Edward Everett)
Live as if you will die tomorrow; learn as if you were to live forever. Mahatma Gandhi
You can never be overdressed or overeducated. (Oscar Wilde)
The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page. Augustine of Hippo
When you know better, you do better. Maya Angelou
It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it. (Aristotle)
The things I want to know are in books. My best friend is the man who will get me a book I ain't read. (Abraham Lincoln)
The root of education is bitter but the fruit is sweet. (Aristotle)
He who opens a school door closes a prison. (Victor Hugo)

Let me leave you with a little piece from Mrs. Juliet and Dr. Korb, plus or minus Anna Ovonlen equal to Dr. Danny McCain:

In bringing stories to life all summed up in this question
a pupil once asked me. He said,
"Teacher, if I read books 24 hours of every day for 30 days = 12 months
Give or take summed up as 365 days
How great will I become?"

Greatness will come, and if greatness in itself is the endpoint
then indeed greater things than these shall we do.
Thus I urge you
read a book, read a book, read a book.
For in the world of books and much reading
we may pave righteous futures
for our children and their children yet to come.
Again I urge you
Study to show thyself approved.

David Onotu
1 February 2014
Foundations Academy Teachers' Conference

I read David's poem a day before the conference and liked it, but when I saw the live performance, it gave me goosebumps. As David called out the educational quotes, one of our students at the back of the hall shouted out the name of the person who said it. David coached the same student to slowly walk from the back of the hall, directly towards him, while earnestly asking the question, "Teacher, if I read books 24 hours of every day for 30 days = 12 months give or take summed up as 365 days, how great will I become?" And then David answered him. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised at the delivery considering that David has a degree in Theatre Arts. Well done, David!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

"Inspiring Teachers; Impacting Students"

 Our school, Foundations Academy, hosted a teachers' conference for 300 teachers from the Jos area on Saturday, February 1. What a great day it was! We originally planned for 250, but due to intense pleading, we had to find a way to squeeze 50 more seats into our hall!


We kicked off the morning with a powerful keynote address by Mrs. Juliet Okafor on "Read Aloud." She exhorted us to read aloud to our children--both those at home and those in our classrooms. This is a fairly new concept to many people. In fact one man wrote in his evaluation: "I consider myself an educated man, but I have never sat down to read to my children for even 15 minutes."

Mr. David Onotu, Foundations Academy teacher, rendered a powerful Spoken Word original poem on the value of education and reading. (Check tomorrow for the text of his poem.) I had read his poem before the conference (and I thought it was great), but the dramatized reading gave me chills and brought tears to a few eyes. A number of conference participants said David's poem was one of the best parts of the entire day. 

Dr. Danny McCain, professor at the University of Jos, delivered a fine keynote address entitled "For the Love of Learning." He challenged us as educators to help students to learn just for the love of discovering something new. He made one of his points based on Proverbs 25:2--
It is the glory of God to conceal a matter;
to search out a matter is the glory of kings.

God knows everything. It brings him delight to see his children discovering what he has hidden, and we in turn are delighted as we discover his hidden secrets.

We are grateful to Dr. McCain for his powerful challenge to us as teachers.

After a brief snack time, we delved into our workshop sessions. We had enough resource people on hand from Foundations Academy as well as other schools, that we were able to offer 25 different workshops! The worst part for our participants was the agony of choosing just 4! We had to offer that many workshops because our rooms are quite small and we needed enough space for everyone to spread out. It was hard to predict which workshops would attract the most people; consequently, we often had scenes like this:

Miss Happy Jonah even gave her workshop under a canopy because we ran out of classrooms!

Math is Fun was a popular workshop. Miss Jess explained ways that learning math can actually be fun and exciting.
 Mrs. Ann Williams of Westwood Park School taught the teachers about different learning styles of students.

Mr. Palai Ubanmutane, Foundations Academy Primary 2 teacher and principal, demonstrated how to use charts and drill methods to help children learn their basic math facts.

I led a workshop called "Teacher Training." I shared my strong conviction that every school needs to develop their own teacher training program. Yes, most of our teachers have degrees, but teacher training still needs to be ongoing. With our Foundations Academy teachers, I train in teaching methodology as well as content areas twice a week.  A number of principals said they are renewing their commitment to really work on training their teachers. As we invest in our teachers, our students will reap the benefits.

Our principal of Foundations Academy, Mrs. Titilayo Adetula, gave a workshop on how we are handling older students who can't read or do basic math. We have created a special class for them called "Foundations." After they are able to read and handle basic math, we put them into a regular class. 

Mr. Beka of Foundations Academy led a workshop on how to incorporate games when learning some math concepts.

Mrs. Mary Onuminya led a very popular workshop called "Better English." The participants just loved it!
Mrs. Rosie Egena presented a workshop on teaching methods for nursery/preschool aged children. During our final closing session a few people were given the opportunity to share what they had gained from the conference. One woman rose from her seat, took the microphone, and said she was astounded to learn that play can be considered a teaching method for young children. (This is why events like this conference are so important.)

Mr. Hosea Danjuma of Firm Foundations is absolutely passionate about using phonics to teach reading. In fact, he almost radiates when he starts speaking about phonics. He and Mrs. Marlene Wiebe have developed a phonics manual which they are field testing now.  Many schools teach reading with a 'see-and-say' method--not phonics.

Mrs. Rachel Harley demonstrated how to bring Bible stories to life in the classroom. She is a bundle of energy--I saw heads nearly exploding as people tried to explain all the ideas she imparted.

Miss Anna Ovonlen of Foundations Academy gave a workshop on teaching methods for the upper level math classes.
 Mrs. Blessing Phillips, Bezer Home houseparent (foreground) cooked a wonderful rice meal for more than 300 people that day. She had a lot of helping hands, but she was the mastermind behind it all.

We are so proud of our prefects (older students in the school who have been given responsibility). They worked very hard that day and really made us proud. 

 Bayo was there too. He was trying to get the media to come and cover the event. He was successful!

A committee of nine Foundations Academy teachers worked hard to make the conference a success. We have discovered there is a sense of excitement and encouragement whenever we host a conference. We love seeing teachers develop a passion for teaching. We will do what we can to further the cause of education in Nigeria. 

Friday, February 8, 2013


Our good friends invited us to go along to the orphanage to pick up their new daughter last week. We felt very privileged to be asked to join them on such a momentous occasion for their family.

Although I've heard of the orphanage for years, I've never been there before. Somehow I knew that my emotions probably couldn't handle it. Places like that just bring out raw emotion. I also knew that it wouldn't take much for me to fall in love. One little girl just captured my heart that day.

Oh, for all the children of the world to have loving homes.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

It Can Be Cold in Africa!

When I first came to Nigeria, I thought it was always going to be hot. I didn't even bring a sweater or socks. Big mistake!

Since Jos is located on a plateau with an elevation of 4000 ft, it does get fairly chilly here at certain times of the year.  We can have a cold period anytime December thru February. About a week ago we experienced a cold snap with temps reaching about 55 F in the night. Here's a picture of our 2nd grade teacher, dressed for work, during the cold period.

We generally have temperatures in the 70s during the heavy rains in July and August. My parents spent last July with us and reveled in the perfect weather while their friends sweltered in the Midwest.

Most of the rest of the year is fairly hot, but not unbearably so--probably about 80 F.

When colleagues complain about how cold it is in Jos, I enjoy telling a few Minnesota stories. I think I'll share this photo with them. Now that's cold!

This is how cold it was in Ely the other morning...Layne Kennedy ( took this photo of hot water tossed into the air and turning into instant ice crystals. He's calling it "Cold Remedy."

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Educational Foundations

I last saw Frank* as a young child of about 10. His mother sent him to the village to complete his primary school. Later when she heard that we had a school, she brought him back to Jos. He is now 15 years old.

Although Frank has finished 6th grade, I tested him in math and reading in order to determine his grade level. I've learned not to simply place children in the next grade level.

Unfortunately, he was low in both reading and math, terribly low. Truly, he didn't even qualify for 5th grade, but I didn't have the heart to put a 15-year-old lower than that.

I gently broke the news to him, "I'm sorry that I won't be able to put you in secondary school. You will need to enter 5th grade." I saw the muscle flinch across his jaw as his eyes looked away. "Go home and tell your mother what I said. I hope to see you back here tomorrow."

To his credit, he came back the next day and humbled himself to enter the 5th grade.

About a week later, he met the principal and me, and said, "I want you to put me in the 3rd grade." We were speechless and asked why. He said, "These other students have passed me." We still encouraged him to press on in the 5th grade.

He tried, but a few days later, he was back with the same request. We compromised and put him in 4th grade.

Frank is making progress through a lot of intensive work in math drilling on basic facts and learning to read through phonics.

Today as I sat with Frank and other older students who are working on their foundations, I asked him: "Do you want to go to the university one day?" With a far-off gleam in his eye, Frank said, "Yes."

*name has been changed for privacy

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Bridge Progress

Work has continued on one rampart of the bridge as the water level has continued to go down. We are waiting for the water to dry up completely so the final casting can be done around the base. We still have three more months of dry season so it will definitely dry up. Once the casting is finished, the main bridge platform will be laid across the supports.

We are thrilled that the new bridge will be in place by the time the next rainy season starts in April. The community is very grateful for this bridge. Thank you to those who have donated to make this bridge a reality. Many lives will be saved as a result.

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Bridge

A few months ago we decided that we really must build a bridge across the stream that borders the Mashiah Foundation property. During the past school year, many of our students fell in while trying to get to school. Adults have had to pluck children out of the water before they are swept further downstream. There are even some small waterfalls further down. At times some parents kept their small children home because of the raging waters.
Sadly, every year children die in this stream. Bayo has heard of 4 or 5 children from the community who have died this year alone. In one case, a younger brother fell in and the older one entered to pull him out, but tragically both died.
The stream is most dangerous during July and August when the rains are the heaviest; in August, it's common for it to rain nearly every day. This year the heavy rains extended throughout most of September. Just a few days ago the weather became drier. We may still experience a couple more rains before the full dry season will be upon us. During the driest part of the year, this stream will dry up completely.

On Saturday the builders cast the pillars on both sides of the stream. This was the second time they did the same work. The first time, a heavy rain came just after they had finished and washed everything away. This time they found a better way to 'tie' the rebar into the rock, and they will be casting it twice in order to strengthen it.

The builders will still be doing more casting on both sides before the final step of laying the trailer bed across the stream.

This past week a man enrolled his three children in our school. I asked where they are living--it's on the other side of the river. I mentioned to him that we are in the process of building a bridge so the children will be safe. He looked me full in the eye and with a bit of surprise said, "So it's you people who are building that bridge? Thank you. Thank you. May God bless you."
As we were leaving, a group of children across the river waved and shouted "Thank you!" That
 thank-you goes out to all who have supported this project. The community is very, very grateful.