A visit to IGBS starts with a lot of planning: Skype calls to Head Teacher Vicky to arrange dates and plans for the visit, flights to book, visas to collect, resources to identify, and endless lists. The generous 46-kilo luggage allowance on Ethiopian Airlines allows us to take resources out to the school – this year reading scheme books, laptop computers, photocopier cartridges and other resources unavailable in South Sudan. We arrive at the newly opened Juba International Airport with four large boxes of equipment as well as our personal belongings and a mountain of paperwork to clear us and our luggage through customs and security. An overnight stay in Juba allows us to collect travel permits and alien registration documents and next day we take the ninety-minute flight with Mission Aviation Fellowship from Juba to Ibba.
The pilot agrees to fly low over the school to alert them to our arrival and by the time we have touched down on the airstrip at Ibba, the school vehicle with Vicky, Yoane and Anna-Joyce are there to greet us. We feel like old friends arriving back home; this is our fifth visit. After some interrogation by local officials about our luggage we are finally able to drive to the school, to be greeted by 220 girls lined up and singing the school song followed by ‘Do, a deer, a female deer’, which Paul taught them the previous year.
There is no time to waste. After lunch, we sit down with senior staff to plan our stay, having already decided with Vicky the priorities for the visit: continued work on lesson planning and delivery, shoulder-to-shoulder work with individual teachers in the classroom, work with the newly-formed Senior Team on their leadership and management roles, as well as providing opportunities for teachers from local schools in the Ibba area to work alongside staff from IGBS on teaching and learning for the IGBS support staff team to develop their practical skills. This is of course in addition to giving as much time as we can to working with the students both in lesson time and during the evenings and weekends. Finally, it is important just be part of the team and take part in the everyday life of the school.
On Saturday, six teachers from Ibba town join the nine IGBS teachers for our first training session. Staff are happy to give up their Saturday for training. The challenge for us is to find development activities appropriate for teachers both with the smaller class sizes and greater resources available at IGBS alongside other Ibba teachers with classes of up to 80 students and few resources. IGBS teachers are more familiar with lesson planning, brainstorming and flipcharts, but all join in enthusiastically with the language activities including spelling words backwards and whispered messages.
Paul’s session with the IGBS teachers on ‘What Makes a Brilliant Lesson’, is particularly well received and the level of discussion generated is truly impressive. Teachers are clearly moving on in their understanding of teaching and learning.
We are delighted to be joined by the Director of Education for Maridi State, Charles Taban, for our Leadership and Management session. Charles insists that the sea charts are rescued from the sinking ship in our team-building activity whilst other staff argue for the fresh water and the rope! The Leadership Team identifies their development needs as a group and how they can achieve these in the future.
We decide which teachers to work with in the classroom. Anthony, the new science and IT teacher, is a great addition to the staff. He wastes no time unpacking the new laptop computers and preparing the Senior 1 girls for their first ever practical IT exam. We also catch him relaxing with the latest copy of New Scientist. Eunice asks for support to develop activities in her English lessons, and together we plan group work on adjectives and adverbs. Primary 4 teacher Drania and I train Primary 7 girls to work on paired reading activities with the Primary 4 girls, and Fabiano and I disturb the whole school with his science lesson on sound.
At the weekend, Paul is in the school hall leading country dancing and I am busy with art and sewing purses, forty girls at a time. We join in volleyball and badminton games but draw the line at football – far too energetic and dangerous! Paul gets the electric drill working again and I service the five sewing machines, replace the needles and remind the matrons and senior girls how to sew the much-needed sanitary kits. The senior girls have grown in confidence and come over to chat with us and ask for help with their revision.
We relax with the staff over our meals, introducing them to marmite and tabasco sauce (not together!) whilst they try to persuade us to sample bush rat and dried fish. We eat beans and rice every day and sometimes millet porridge, cassava leaves, groundnut sauce and chapattis. We discuss the introduction of the new South Sudan National Curriculum and how it can be taught without textbooks; we compare our cultural differences, their hopes for the future and the possibility that peace and calm may well be returning to the country.
Two weeks have past and once again Walter, our MAF pilot, dips the little Cessna aircraft over the school, and we say our goodbyes and promise to be back next year. By the time we get to the airstrip the ‘plane has landed and we are ready for final hugs and waves as we return to Juba and the UK.
Julia Sanders, FIGS Trustee and Volunteer, 22nd September 2019
Author's footnote: The visit is part of an on-going programme offered by FIGS volunteers to support the development of teaching and learning at the school. We are very aware that we are visitors to the school, that we are working in a different culture with a very different approach to education, and that our role is to offer support and suggest approaches not to dictate how the school should fulfil its educational purpose.