This morning was my first day of teaching at the Ibny School here in Rabat. Ibny is a community center located inside a school and it's for street children, found begging with their parents on the streets. Adults will often take their children to the streets to bring in more money, and some will even drug their children so they look even more needy. I have not seen many beggars so far since being here, but they can bring in significantly more money than minimum wage here, so it's apparently pretty prevalent. I imagine we'll see more later today when we visit the Medina. Ibny (which means "my son") provides food, clothing and education to these children so they can lead a better life.
The two classes I'm teaching with another volunteer, Carrie, are 4 year olds and 5 year olds, mixed boys and girls. And let me just say THEY ARE ADORABLE. It breaks my heart that these kids ever spent any time on the streets begging. There are older children at Ibny, and previous volunteers had reported discipline issues, so those kids are not part of the volunteer assignment. Carrie and I prepared a few things for today's lessons, not really knowing how long we would have with each class or what they would be interested in or what their learning levels are. We read previous volunteers' reports and had some ideas that we would focus on colors and shapes, sing some songs, and perhaps numbers and the ABCs.
We are at an extreme disadvantage language-wise. In school, children are first taught Arabic, and then as they progress to secondary school, the classes switch to being taught in French. By the time students are in high-school and university, they are almost exclusively taught in French. At Ibny, this means the teachers speak French and the children speak Arabic. And, well, Carrie and I speak English. We know a few phrases in Arabic and Carrie and I have both previously studied French, but we are both pretty rusty. I think for me, the biggest issue is when I'm in the moment and need a quick response French or Arabic is the last thing I'm thinking of. I have found myself responding and greeting people in Spanish, of all things.
Our first class was the 4 year olds and there were about 20 kids. They sat at circular tables, and each child wore an apron-like garment over their clothes. Boys' were blue and girls' were pink. We recited colors, pointing to various things in the room the same color we were saying and the children repeated. Then we moved to shapes. The kids all repeated quite well and enjoyed being praised, even if it was in English. Again, in the moment, I just couldn't quite remember to say, "mzyan" or "good job. We handed out construction paper and crayons and would hold up a flashcard with a shape on it and have the kids draw the shape. They would be so proud about their shapes they would run up to one of us and show us. Some needed (or wanted) more personal attention, and would want you to hold their hand and help them draw. When they had used up virtually every spec of space on their papers, we handed out stickers to them. We sang a few songs, such as, "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" and we even tried "Old McDonald" but this was new to them and was difficult to follow. We ended this class by doing the bunny hop around the room, which they seemed to enjoy.
The second class was the 5 year olds and there were 26 kids. They each had their own desks in neat little rows and would greet anyone who came to their classroom by standing up and saying, "Salaamu Alaykum." These kids had the ABC song up on the wall, so we started the class by singing that a couple of times. It's amazing how much difference a year can make. We also did the colors and shapes exercises, had them draw and handed out stickers. Some would turn their papers over and show us that they didn't have a sticker, just so they could get a second one. These kids moved through all the exercises quickly so then we improvised by counting 1-10 and holding up our fingers. A previous volunteer had indicated she hoped the kids would learn numbers beyond 10, so I lead a lesson of say-repeat for 11-15. We also would hold up a number on our fingers in random order and have the kids say the number. They clearly were confused by this, and it's obvious rote learning is the primary method of teaching, using memorization rather than actual concepts. We also sang the same songs, and the children in this class were more familiar with many American children's songs. They sang to us several songs, such as "Thumbkin" and "I Love You (The Barney Song)." They also sang, "Itsy Bitsy Spider" and they would get really loud on the "WASH the spider out" part. It was too cute!!
Overall it was extremely enjoyable and these kids are beautiful. Thinking of the life they had before coming to this school is terribly sad, but the opportunity they are being given is wonderful. I'm looking forward to planning tomorrow's lessons, which will be mostly the same (for repetition purposes) but we'll definitely need more supplies and some variance just to keep their interest and attention.