Me at Lucy's Wedding. The sun does shine in England!

Me at Lucy's Wedding. The sun does shine in England!
Me still in England!

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Never moan about your classroon again!

In the Field
I have just been to visit some schools in Oro.  We drove at break neck speed for some reason, avoiding pot-holes and narrowly missing taxis. I went to deliver the boxes of books I have bought with my VSO grant and also to see how they were getting on with teaching Group Reading. They are doing very well and were thrilled with the books. One teacher was really excited when I touched her arm and was boasting about this to the others! It was great to see the children playing the matching games and the teachers sitting reading with them.
I  went with some of the School State Improvement Team (SSIT). On the way back we stopped at the college to pick up a SSIT member who had been there to take part in the graduation ceremony. The driver went off to find him and eventually returned half an hour later. The SSIT member, Bello, said he had been at the maths ceremony. Me and my big mouth said, ‘Oh I could have come to watch instead of just sitting in the car’. Soooo... On the way out he said ,’Come and meet some of them and give them some advice’. Before I could protest we were both out of the van. He led me to a door and in we walked and I was faced with about 250 students who all started clapping. He introduced me and I had to give out some certificates and then he said I would make a speech!!!! At least I had no time to be nervous! I managed to babble something about what a vital skill maths was and how I hoped they would communicate their love of the subject to children and well done,etc. Not my best but they seemed pleased and they clapped and cheered some more and gave me 5 exercise books and two scotch eggs (eggs inside a doughnut) as a thank you.
On the way home we were stopped by a police man in full gear and armed who demanded paperwork but was very impressed by my Yoruba greeting and we were released quickly!
More schools
Today I visited another school which had had a quite a lot of support before the holiday.  They had really got going with the group reading. However when we arrived, unannounced, group reading was no longer in place. The desks had even been put back in rows. What they were doing instead was basically not much. One class was without a teacher. In another some of the children were writing in exercise books but at least half were doing nothing. Another teacher said she was trying and had written some sentences on the chalkboard. The teacher who had become an expert at group reading had gone on the sandwich courses that the universities, in their wisdom, run at this time of the year. No substitute teachers are ever provided-or the idea of ‘substitute’ ever even considered-so her class was joined with another and doing very little. However, undaunted, we took the box of story books into classes 4 and 6 and, as they say here, ‘put the teachers’ through the lesson. They were very responsive and soon desks were being shifted and card was found to make the flash cards and eventually the SSIT helped them to deliver group reading lessons. They began with silent reading of the story books I had bought. A few of the children could read them but a lot couldn’t even though they were not difficult. They were keen to read to me as they have got to know me and my accent as I have been in the school quite a lot. Even the ones who couldn’t read wanted to try. I asked one of the good readers who had taught her to read and she replied, ’I taught myself’. I think most of the good readers had done this or someone at home had helped them. They then help the other children to read or try to ‘carry them along’ -another Nigerian phrase. I chatted with a great group of children at break time. They were from class 4 and had had the benefit of the lesson plans for a year. Some had clearly benefitted but a lot still struggled with reading. A year of draft version lesson plans is too early to see great changes but they remembered some phonic songs and could read cvc words although they could not say the sounds of individual letters.
As I looked around the dark dismal room I vowed never to complain about the state of my classroom in the UK again. The floor, like most here, is cement but cracked with holes everywhere which I often trip up in. The windows have no glass just metal shutters which don’t fit properly and bang constantly. There were a few very tatty dusty posters on the walls-too high up to see clearly. The desks are very old and falling apart. Children are squashed three to a bench. Some children are several years older than their class mates and look very uncomfortable in the low desks. The desks are not all the same size and often have the backs missing or bits of wood jutting out at odd angles. It is also very hot in the room and there is a busy road right outside the room. The children write with biros in flimsy exercise books and the text books are old and dirty. Yet they try and most of the teachers will try too! A lot of them shout at the children and threaten them with beating but when presented with a different approach will give it a go. By the end of the morning the children had played matching games and had a go at group reading.
Not very inspiring is it? It is also very hot and noisy!

Monday, 19 September 2011


I have just returned from Abuja. How different life is there and what a great time we had. It was so nice to meet up with other VSOs and share experiences. We visited one VSO who was in hospital. She had had quite a bad time and had spent a lot of time in wards with noisy babies before being moved to her own room-which is quite unusual for hospitals here. She had also gone without food for a while as relatives are expected to look after you when you are in hospital. Eventually she realised she could buy food from the hospital. Although it was quite smelly it was clean. She has now gone home to recover-get well soon Sarah.
There are great places to eat in Abuja  and we enjoyed a lovely meal at an Italian restaurant and had delicious meze at another. We even went to the cinema to see ‘Planet of the Apes Prequel’. I am a bit better in taxis now and stick mostly to the coloured ones. It was good having Lea with me this time. I also had a good time with Ayo in our favourite place-the craft village where I bought some lovely jewellery and a sculpture for our flat.
The aim of our visit was an ESSPIN meeting where we discussed such things as replicating the lesson plans in other states, funding and self-evaluation for the SSIT. The most interesting part for me was finding out what other groups are doing in Nigeria to improve education. A group working in Sakota and Bauchi have done research which reveals how very low teaching and learning standards are. Something like only 4% could read simple words, know sounds, comprehend a story and this was not in English but in Hausa, their own language. Even worse teachers don’t see that this is anything to do with them. During their training they are never taught how to teach so it is not surprising really. It is good that ESSPIN is working with such groups and sharing practice. It made me feel much more hopeful and keen to be part of.
It is also good to meet people from other states like Kano, Kaduna, Lagos, Enugu and Jigawa. Umah made me really want to visit Kano which is a really ancient city and Lucy has persuaded me to visit Jigawa in November for the Dharma
It is strange being in Abuja –you could really be anywhere in the world. In the cinema it was just like being back home. Back in Kwara it is quite different-no lights, people shouting ‘white person’, shopping issues-yet I don’t think I would like to live in Abuja. In Kwara I know people and have lots of Nigerian friends. I also love working with the SSIT.

The sculpture I bought at The Craft Village and all my photos on the parlour wall!

Here we go again!-Back to Ilorin

We have been back three weeks now and England seems very far away. I miss everyone very much but have to keep telling myself that they are still there and I am so lucky to have such a wonderful family and friends. I am also grateful-much more so now-to have been born in a first world country with all the benefits of free education, health care, etc.
So it was with very mixed feelings that I returned. Again ESSPIN really looked after us and put us up in a hotel to rest before we flew from Abuja to Ilorin. It was very quiet in Abuja when we arrived-the curfew is in place so no-one is allowed on the streets until 6am. A lot of my friends were concerned for our safety as we were all sad to hear of the bombing in Abuja which killed people in the UN building. The fact that ‘Boko Haram’ who claimed responsibility for it means ‘Western education is sinful’ does worry me but they are a minority group and mustn’t put agencies off. Education is the key to everything. I have always been passionate about reading-highlights of my career have been when I have helped children with ‘special needs’ to read. I always remember two children who had very sad lives-they had been abused, fostered and seen more than any child should. Their behaviour was a cause for concern as their emotional turmoil often manifested itself in violence to other children and members of staff. However, with the help of a wonderful teaching assistant I taught them to read. The girl was eventually sent to a residential home but is an avid reader. Sometimes when she had been sent out of class she was reading in a corner. Reading was a means of escape and a release for these children from their troubles. Reading also opens up new worlds and ideas so I really hope that one day all children in Nigeria will be able to read. In order to do this teachers need to be trained how to teach reading. At the moment all children have in the public schools is a text book. They are made to read sections of it every day, often just chanting it a few words at a time. A few children manage to read with help at home but for most reading is still a mystery. Reading training for teachers must go on! So I am back to play my small part in achieving this goal.

We had such a warm welcome when we arrived. ESSPIN drivers are great. I feel well looked after and safe when I am out with them. Tajudin (or Baba as he is called) loves Don Williams and has a liitle baby son. Samuel likes Celine Dione and always takes time to answer my questions about Nigeria. Gabriel is also very patient with us-he has a little boy called Emmanuel. Wahid sometimes drives us too and went out of his way yesterday to show us the Basin area of Ilorin as I said I had never been there. Tunde Alatise is the SSIT driver and the one I have the most. He is well known here and we are greeted a lot. He introduced me to a great place that sells moin moin. I was shocked to hear how many hours some of them work. I was talking to one of the drivers in Abuja. He cannot afford to live near the ESSPIN office and has to leave his home at 5am because the traffic is so bad. He doesn’t get home until 8pm and sometimes midnight. They also have to work at the weekends picking people up from the airport yet they are always very helpful and cheerful.
So after a great welcome from Samuel we went into our flat. Julie had done a good job of looking after it. There were a few dead cockroaches but that was all. I soon got to work with the lavender oil which my research leads me to believe will keep furry creatures away as they cannot stand the smell. I also installed the sonic deterrent which is supposed to emit a noise only they can hear which they hate. The flat reeks of lavender but it is quite soothing. Emma sent round some bread, moin moin, eggs and water which was great as I didn’t feel up to shopping at 5pm. Julie came round for a last drink with us as she had decided to return home. I felt very sad as she was a good friend and ally. It is very unsettling when someone leaves but hopefully we can still stay in touch.
Our neighbours were delighted to have us back. Uzar. from upstairs liked the clothes we had brought  for her family from the sales in Tesco and Asda. It was her birthday yesterday and she liked the Body Shop stuff and the chocolate cake with her name on-finally learnt how to spell it properly. The kids liked the sticker books too. I also gave the motor oil woman’s children sticker books. When I saw them again they showed me the books but didn’t know what to do with them. They go to the laocal public school and have never seen sticker books and very few books at all. On my way home I spotted children playing  ‘table tennis’. They called me over to play with them. They had made ‘bats’ out of stiff card and constructed a ‘net’  out of a piece of wood and two blocks of cement! Such a far cry from the materialism in the UK and how wonderfully creative!
The next day we walked into work. It took us ages as everyone wanted to greet us and ask us about Katie’s wedding. We were literally dragged into the Bush Restaurant to have a drink. We were also taken inside to witness the yam being pounded by three women which involved a lot of sweat, flour and laughter! We made a new friend who said he worked for immigration. He said he could help us get our residents permit which we are still waiting for despite being told it would be ready after four months! We also met our friend Elizabeth who said she was very proud that we were still here-she used to be a nurse in London a long time ago but has now fallen on hard times.
It was good to see everyone in the ESSPIN office. More story books have arrived for the Challenge fund schools and the Big Books I brought back from England will also be used.
Later that week I went to the SSIT office and had another warm welcome. They were all keen to hear about the wedding. Bola’s daughter had also got married so we shared photos! Here the engagement is on the first day, followed by meeting the relatives the next day and then the wedding takes place on the third day. At the engagement party the couple wear clothes made from the same fabric and the man wears a special pointy Yoruba hat. The groom has to prostrate himself before the bride’s parents and beg for her hand. He should give presents such as a goat, yams and a chest of clothes. Hundreds come to the wedding ceremony and they were surprised that all the seats in the church were not full at Katie’s wedding. The two mothers also have the same cloth for their outfits which I quite like the idea of. I think I will have to wait a long time for my goat from James though! At the weekend there was a wedding party in our compound. It was amazing how many tables, chairs and gazebos they could cram in such a small space! We greatly benefitted from the three day supply of Neppa that ensued as a result. At every event the singing and music has to be as loud as possible and involves microphones and speakers so NEPPA is vital. Wonder how much ‘dash’ it involved?
The fourth in line to the mallam.
Sitting with the men.

Seyi's baby
We were invited to another loud but enjoyable event-the naming ceremony for Seyi’s new baby, Alexandria. This was a Redeeming church which involves  a service in the church as a thanksgiving, then 40 days after the birth the pastor visits the home at 5am to name the baby and then later in the day there is a party. We went to the party! It was good to chat to our colleagues and friends and cuddle the baby! 
Since coming back I have also been to a Muslim Funeral which was very interesting and not sad. Muslims have to bury the dead within 48 hours so the burial had already taken place. This ceremony was to thank Allah for his death.  The deceased was the father of a Bello, an SSIT member. As we were white and part of the SSIT we were allowed to sit with the men at the front. This is very unusual. We also received a special welcome in English. There were a lot of Mallams (Arabic teachers) there. A very important Mallam arrived who is fourth in line to the Emir. We were not only allowed to take photos of him but also taken to greet him. Everyone else was falling on their knees in front of him but as I was worried I might not be able to get up again I did a sort of courtesy which seemed to be okay. I was told he is a professor at a university so I could speak freely to him! We just thanked him! As usual there were microphones and speakers which we were privileged to sit next to! We were also given food and I felt privileged to be so welcomed.
New Challenges:
As there has been further burglaries in our area the landlords got together and now employ vigilantes. This is good and should make us feel safer but in fact it is quite scary to be woken at 11.30 and again at 3am by gun shots or screaming-tactics they employ to scare rogues!  Sometimes they blow whistles and this is okay but the screaming is horrible and sets the dogs off barking. There was also trouble one night when there was a fight with the vigilante and a policeman which resulted in a gun being broken in half and a nose broken!
The weather is slightly cooler and we have had some great storms as it is still the rainy season. Despite this our neighbour still has his generator on all night!
The other problem is there is very little fresh fruit and vegetables available. The price of potatoes and pineapples has doubled and the quality of the bananas is very poor. Yesterday I got a grapefruit which, although surrounded by thick skin was very good. I was amazed to find a lettuce too but it was quite bitter and I think I will have to cook it like cabbage. The trader said both these things had come from Zaria.
Generally prices seem to have gone up and everywhere feel a bit tense. There was a taxi strike too. I don’t think the atmosphere is to do with terrorism just that people are finding it hard to manage.

To  finish on a happy note. Lea, an ardent Liverpool supporter, made the ultimate sacrifice and decorated a cake for Sue with the Everton badge!

Friday, 16 September 2011


In Mallam enjoying the British weather!
Janet's Fosse. We enjoyed an amazing thunder storm!
On the beach where I live with the kids-Heaven!
Orla has grown so much!
Pwelhi digging in the sand!
At the Spotty Teapot cafe!
The boys!
The wonderful wedding.
Lea in his suit!
My lovely mum nearly 95!
Carrie made a special cake!
The bride and groom!

Monday, 12 September 2011

Looking Back

We are back in Nigeria after a wonderful summer in the UK. So many good things happened and it was so nice to be with my wonderful family and friends again. The journey home was much better this time and we were well looked after by ESSPIN who allowed us to stay in their guest house in Abuja while we waited for our flight connection to the UK. We had a good look around the craft market and I bought some lovely souvenirs for friends, including a beautiful carved table for ourselves. It was good to be on a BA flight and on familiar territory again-vegetarian food, English films. Best of all was getting back to Bebington and seeing my lovely girls and their families. Carrie had really grown and Orla is no longer a baby but a toddler speaking in proper sentences. She was unsure of us at first and I felt sad that I had missed out on this stage of her growing up but she soon got used to again and by the end of the holiday was happy to be left with us.
We had a lovely little break with our friends in Mallam in Yorkshire. It was so good to be out walking in the hills again. I even enjoyed the thunderstorm we got caught up in! I have had so little exercise since I have been in Nigeria so it was a relief to find that I could still go on hikes-although I was a bit stiff after. The waterfall at Janet’s Foss was a beautiful sight and I felt refreshed looking at it after months of being confined to a dusty city. Best of all was relaxing and laughing with friends. We had a fantastic room with a four poster bed and a power shower. I loved that shower! Living here has made me really appreciated simple things a lot more.
We are so lucky in the UK. Food is wonderful-so much choice. I could enjoy cauliflowers, broccoli, lettuce, mushrooms.... again. I could also go and have my injections in a sterile setting, have my eyes tested and my teeth examined and know I was getting the best treatment.
A big thank you to St Mary’s church in Eastham who allowed me to go and give a talk at the church. What a lovely group of people! I donned my Nigerian outfit and talked to them about the orphanage. Lea was my time-keeper but once I got going with my power point I went way over but they didn’t mind. They enjoyed listening to the video interview with the founder of the orphanage and showed a lot of interest. I also enjoyed joining in their fellowship and prayer. They had a collection and gave me £170 for the orphans which was excellent. I was asked lots of questions and was made to feel really welcome. Since returning I have discovered that the Central Bank of Nigeria has given Mrs Omolehin the money for the bus so I am going to speak to her about using the money I have raised to set up a proper playroom for the children. I brought back with me some lego bricks, toy cars, pop-up play house, tunnels and books to get started. I raised £300 altogether so hope to buy more toys and have a bookcase, small tables and chairs, large cushions  made here. If Mrs Omolehin likes the idea I will spend time training the care-givers how to play with the children. Funmi is keen on this idea so we hope to go out and speak to her soon.
The best day of the holiday was when my Katie got married. What a perfect day that was. She looked so beautiful and happy. The sun shone and we just wanted the day to never end! I felt very emotional when Katie walked down the aisle with Lea. Katie- her best friend,  Emily,  Lucy and Carrie were bridesmaids. They held the hands of Jake and Adam who were page boys and Aimee, the flower girl. Orla had to forgo her flower girl duties as she was too excited and wanted to run around the church! The minister directed her into the sound proof toy room! I was so proud seeing them-my family!
Katie had made sure everyone had a good time and had a chest of toys and a pop-up fire-engine for the children. She had also organised a caricaturist which was good fun. Orla was in heaven as there were jars of sweets everywhere! She had more sweet that day than in her life so far and of course was sick on the way home! Carrie had made her own special cake which was delicious. She also made a power point of pictures of the nine years Katie and James have been together which was so lovely to see. Katie had decorated the room beautifully and labelled the tables after a significant place she and James had visited. We were on the top table-Paris where James proposed. The food was good and Lea’s speech was excellent. James and Neil made interesting and funny speeches too. I am so pleased to have James in the family. Lucy and Emily are both pregnant so our family is really growing. I love them all so much. It broke my heart to leave them and I still feel emotional now thinking of them. They mean more to me than anything else I have done in my life so coming back was very difficult. I still have things to do here so felt I had to come back. I also brought a lot of big books back for schools so really did have to return.
It was also great being with the grandchildren. We were able to take Jake, Adam and Aimee to the beach and had a great day having a picnic and looking for feathers. Another day I took Orla to the park where she loved the swings. We took Carrie to Abersoch and I was so proud of her as she went horse riding on quite a windy day. Later on I finally got back on a horse myself-after four years. The jodphurs were a bit tight but I could still canter! It was good to know that she still enjoys hot chocolate with all the trimmings and a chocolate muffin!
My lovely friend Gil let us stay with her for a few days and we managed to have a barbeque. I also met up with other friends and had lots of coffees and cakes.
The last day was special as I went with my daughters and grandchildren to a cafe for children where we had a lovely time.
It all seems so far away now. I must try to keep them in my heart and know that they will be waiting for me when I finally return.
Well I have been trying to post photos all day with no success! Maybe better luck when I get to Abuja tomorrow.