Friday, November 20, 2009

Good News, Bad News, and No News: The Bridges Pen Pal Project

Katie and several of her PCV friends relaxing the morning after the concert
These two little ones made me feel very welcome in their home

In America, we drive on the right;
In the UK, they drive on the left;
In Africa, they drive on both sides

Katie and "Little Zara, the Charmer"

I've been home from Africa now for just over two weeks. The entire trip was a sensory tickling experience that will take me months and even years to process. Twelve scheduled flights; one canceled flight; one missed flight; nerve wracking, sardine style bus rides; many miles on the backs of motorcycles; death defying taxi rides in Senegal; a spectacular bicycle ride in Cameroon; four incredible days with our daughter Katie; and approximately 30,000 miles later I arrived home the proverbial "day late and a dollar short (because of airline fees)," but I'm very happy to be home with Ann Marie again. I traveled far enough to go completely around the earth. (Note: The Space Shuttle orbits the earth once every 91 minutes.)

I have delayed making this entry about the Pen Pal Project because I was hoping to be able to tell everyone who sent letters with me definitive news about who their new pen pals are and when they would be hearing from them. I'm pleased that for the vast majority of teachers the news is very exciting. I have had several emails from Africa this week about the project. For some of you though the news will be disappointing. Here goes...

The good news is that most the letters that were sent with me were distributed to teachers from at least twelve different countries in Africa. We now have new "Bridges" teachers and classrooms in the following countries;

Cameroon, Cote D’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Lesotho, Kenya, The Gambia, Mauritania, Mozambique, Nigeria, Qatar, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Swaziland, Tanzania, and Zambia.

Further good news is that many of these teachers have been in contact with their partners here in the USA and Canada, and some have already sent return letters. More good news is that this group of international teachers includes wonderful educators, many of whom are involved in community service projects within the countries where they live and teach. These "Bridges" to vulnerable, at risk students and schools will offer us many learning experiences and opportunities to make a positive difference in these places. Please be patient. These connections take time to develop.

The bad news is that some of the packages of letters that I took with me ended up either disappearing or being taken by teachers who did not remember to come to me to register their contact information as I had asked. I conducted twelve assembly programs and workshop sessions in Africa and at the conclusion of some of the sessions the transitions were awkward and hurried. I asked all teachers who took letters to please come to me with their names, schools, locations, grade levels, and contact information. Most did, some did not.
I took letters from more than 50 classrooms with me when I left for Africa. I am uncertain what happened to letters from 7 teachers in the USA. I'm very disappointed that this happened and I apologize for not having a better system in place to manage this. Because I travel alone and have many details to attend to I underestimated the potential confusion in keeping track of the letters. Thanks to Mary Jain and Darlene's generosity I went with a well thought out system of cataloguing the packages I had with me. The difficulty came at the end of sessions when as many as 7 to 10 teachers wanted to talk with me at the same time and time was constrained.

I've learned that managing pen pal projects is not easy and the ventures are uncertain at best. In spite of this I continue to believe it is a magnificent opportunity to connect with peers and friends we would never know otherwise. In this time of "tweeting" "social networking," "instant this," and "virtual that," there is something very comforting about taking pen and paper and engaging in an act of faith and hope that may or may not yield the results we wish for. I "hope" those of you who are disappointed will forgive me. I hope those of you whose penpal seeds bring back fruit will keep in touch with Mary Jain and myself so we can share some of your stories with others.
We will be sending individual emails in the next week to everyone that sent letters. Included in the email will be the status of the letters you sent, including contact information. Wishes for a peaceful and healthy Thanksgiving to all! (Thursday, November 26 in the USA)

Katie Farrell with some of her Cameroonian friends and neighbors

No comments:

Post a Comment