Written on 25 March 2010
That’s how I feel about living next to my site’s EPP (primary school) – like I’m living next to my own personal genie. All I have to do is rub the lamp, say what I want and it magically appears.
The education system in Madagascar is very different from the American system in a lot of ways. One major difference is that the teacher is always right. Students never question the teacher and have to do exactly what the teacher says. If a teacher says to erase the board, the students erase the board. If the teacher says to go get chalk, the students go and get chalk. If the teacher says to go get firewood, the students go get firewood. There’s never any questioning of the teacher. No “why” or “what for.” There’s no parents demanding explanations for what goes on at school. The teacher makes a request and the students do it – even if it’s completely irrelevant to their studies. As a result, teachers (at least at my EPP) end up asking kids to do a lot of household chores for them.
I happen to live right next to the EPP in Morarano and my closest neighbor is a teacher there, so I began reaping the benefits of the free labor right away. It all started during my first month at site when my neighbor, the teacher, asked me where I got my water. I pointed over to the little pond right by our houses. He looked aghast and we had the following exchange:
“Katie, that water is so dirty! Why are you getting your water there?” he scolded
“I know it’s dirty. But that’s where everyone gets their water,” I said matter-of-factly.
“There’s cleaner water that way. You should get your water there.”
“But I don’t know the way.”
“I’ll have the students fetch it for you! Is tomorrow ok?”
“I guess so. But is that ok? Is it far away? Is there time? Do I have to pay them?”
“It’s not a problem! They always get my water from there. That’s the advantage of being a teacher!” [N.B. I have taught these kids formally exactly one time since my arrival]
And that’s how it all started. The American in me was pretty uncomfortable taking advantage of elementary-aged kids. It felt like using child labor. I guess I shouldn’t have been. That’s the way they do things here. A lot of people around here seem to have kids just so they can have someone around to help out with all the work. So now whenever I’m getting low on water, I go over to one of the teachers and ask them to send a few kids over. Every once in awhile one of the teachers will stop by my house and make a comment about my yard looking overgrown. The next thing I know there’s an army of kids in school uniforms at my house weeding my yard. There seems to be no limit to what you can ask the students to do. I’m starting a gardening project at the school and told the teachers that the first thing we needed was a fence around the area to keep out the animals. For some reason I expected them to have a couple of men from the village spend a day building the fence. Of course that’s not what happened. The students have been showing up every day at school for the last few weeks carrying bundles of sticks twice their height and building the fence during their recreation time. Then the other day, I asked my neighbor, the teacher, if there was any lemongrass nearby because I wanted to plant some in my yard. I told him specifically that I only needed a little and could go get it myself if someone showed me where it was. He completely ignored that suggestion and started asking every student that left his classroom to bring lemongrass to school for me. So the next morning about 20 students trickled into my yard toting massive bundles of lemongrass. I ended up with way more than I needed but it provided a perfect opportunity for me to teach them and my neighbors about the benefits of planting lemongrass near your house.
Friday Video: Island of Lemurs
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