I have supported work with schools in African countries during the past several years, but when I was invited by the Sierra Leone Health Partners to join a team of educators and work with teachers of United Methodist Church-related primary schools (kindergarten-grade 6) in Sierra Leone, I felt the Lord’s strong nudge. For 40 years I was an educator working in elementary schools in several countries around the world.

When I retired in 2000 after 40 years working in education (half of which was in overseas schools), I was convinced a solid education for young children is essential for them to successfully join the technically mature work force in today’s society.

This is especially true in Sierra Leone, West Africa, which was involved in rebel warfare for some ten years covering the 1990s and beyond. When I heard that the UMC secondary school students were having difficulty succeeding in the government-required exams needed for entering higher education opportunities, I immediately was convinced that efforts must be made to improve primary school achievement, if the secondary students are to succeed.

Unfortunately, the war years left a generation of children without schooling due to the disruption in families and society. The country’s infrastructure was destroyed, children were employed in the war units by the rebels, and families were scattered as they fled to survive. Few schools survived. Since 2003, communities and United Methodist churches have valiantly struggled to restore schools and educational opportunities for their children. In a country about two-thirds the size of Indiana and some six million residents, about the same population as Indiana, there are now nearly 330 primary schools (K-6).

As exciting as that is, the schools have few resources. Most classrooms have as many as 50 students, no textbooks, a few notebooks and pencils, a chalkboard and benches with writing board attached. In January and February of 2011, a group of former educators spent two to four weeks in Sierra Leone establishing small libraries in the Urban Centre and Taiama Primary Schools with books collected by schools, United Methodist Women’s units, Sunday schools and other groups in Indiana and Maine then shipped in an Operation Classroom shipping container.

Teachers in those schools and others who came in from neighboring schools participated several days in workshops on using storybooks for instruction, dictionaries in the classroom, creative writing, improving language arts instruction and creating a positive classroom environment.

The nearly 50 teachers spread their enthusiasm and excitement with those in their schools and beyond resulting in our being invited by Leonard Gbloh, Sierra Leone Secretary of UMC Primary Schools, to return in January, and February of 2012, when we, as six former educators established libraries in the Bright Street and Njagboima Primary Schools using books collected by our friends and shipped. As a result there are nearly 100 teachers and countless children benefiting from our small efforts.

The six educators who were part of the team are: Amy Zent (contact person) of Rosedale Hills UMC in Indianapolis; Marilyn Griffith and Marti Hunsucker, St. Luke’s UMC of Indianapolis; Juanita Schmitt of Trinity UMC in New Albany; Jane Hite of North Manchester UMC and Pat Macdonald of Belfast UMC in Maine and Mt. Tabor UMC.

The excitement of the children and teachers as they sang and praised God was thrilling. But the challenge of the thousands who yearn to hold books in their hands has stretched our imaginations as we picture what could be!

I invite you to join us in becoming part of a team that collects children’s books and/or travels to Sierra Leone, West Africa, in 2013 or 2014.

Photo courtesy of Amy Zent.

Volunteer in Mission Pat Macdonald meets with a group of Sierra Leonean teachers in an educational workshop from the Bo area.

Become part of the solution to provide Sierra Leone children with a good education

The Sierra Leone Partners are looking for education team members to participate on teams conducting workshops for UMC primary schools (grades K-6) in Sierra Leone in the winter and summer of 2013 and 2014. The team establishes school libraries and provides teacher training in the use of the libraries as well as in academic areas such as language arts, math, use of dictionaries, creative writing, etc. For more information, contact Amy Zent at amyzent@yahoo.com. Contributions of children’s books and monetary gifts also are needed. Thank you.