When Catholic Relief Services brought up the idea of a community-based preschool, it was the first time anyone in my village had ever heard of such a thing. After years of their children struggling in elementary school and not a lot of free time for their mothers, they knew that they needed to do something for pre-school aged children. Within three months of the idea being discussed, the chief of the village donated a permanent hangar and two roomed granary to be classrooms and storage space. The community fixed the hangar with money they collected from the community (a dollar from each man and 50 cents for each woman). Three community members offered to teach at the school.The grant helped fix the two roomed granary that became a classroom and a storage room. It also went to building two latrines for the students and teachers to use, a kitchen hangar for preparing food for the students, painting the classrooms, and securing the storage room. This has helped meet the infrastructural needs of the preschool that would have been out of reach with only community contribution. Classes started the first of November with 153 children between the ages of three and six. The class days consist of outdoor games, singing, dancing, puzzles, playing on the playground, and eating lunch. The teachers have done a great job trying to make classes interesting and fun. It took a little bit of time for them to work in sync with one another, but once they did, there was no stopping them. Little Inoussa (age four) was the only kid from his neighborhood to sign up for preschool. The neighborhood is located over four kilometers from the preschool. He did not know any of the other kids and felt very uncomfortable in class the first few weeks. There were a lot of activities he was unwilling to play and spent the first hour of the day crying that he wanted to go home. Within a month, Inoussa had found a group of friends at preschool was the first to get involved in a game and was the loudest singer in the class. Five year old Abséta was the star of the class. She not only learned the songs and learned to count, but she would help younger children learn the games, songs, and lessons. She helped lead activities and was the biggest cheerleader when a little kid did something the first time. Next year, she will be starting elementary school and I am sure she will be top of her class again!
The school year has just come to a close. The main source of income, farming, starts up with the rains and the kids will play in the fields while their parents work. The kids and teachers were sad for the school to close for the summer, but they are excited for next year. I had one mom come up to a teacher and me saying, “My daughter is still waking up each morning packing up her stuff and trying to go to preschool even though the vacation has already started. She loves the activities and cannot wait until you start up again next year.”