Thinking about the course

I have been thinking deeply about a suggestion that I have received from several students in their individual conferences as well as in the whole group debriefs.  They have felt too torn between their responsibilities with the NGOs and those at Daraja Academy, most saying that they would prefer to devote their time at Daraja Academy.  I have reminded them all that the course is a writing course, one specifically geared towards writing in connection with Kenyan woman and children.  While Daraja offers opportunities to serve as writing mentors to students, it doesn’t, as yet, offer sustained writing projects for teams of college students to develop.  In truth, as a writing course that works alongside NGO partners, we would better serve the projects if we could be housed with them:  at Hope and Homes, Youth Hub, and Simama.  These amazing projects just don’t have the facilities to house such a large group.  Daraja does, though the students are learning lessons about water conservation and rationing, facility maintenance, and using one’s collective resources.    

In addition, the students in this class have, through their collaborations with NGO partners and Daraja Academy, the opportunity to be embedded within a family, develop close relationships with one student at Daraja, and also learn more about the different social realities of Kenyans across age groups and experiences.  They meet youth volunteers; full-time teachers and social workers; coordinators; NGO staff members; parents and siblings; and more.  They are more likely to be exposed to a variety of viewpoints through the variety of experiences.   

There is a richness in this.  Perhaps it is too much, as some students (4 of 13 explicitly) say they feel like they are pulled in multiple directions, though isn’t that life?  The students work in teams with their NGO partners, serve as writing mentors once a week, do chores for two hours a day, eat meals with their families, and generally have a two hour break in the evening and all their time after 7 or 8pm.  It’s a full day, but it is better than a bored day.  It’s a day that is closer to the schedule of Kenyans here who are so hardworking.  The teachers at Daraja, for example, arrive by 8am for the beginning of classes and leave at 6pm, returning home to family responsibilities and continued teaching preparation work.  It’s also very clear that the students have contributed to the communities in which they are embedded.  

I’ve been thinking, though, that I should not give these answers to students; rather, I should turn the question back to them.  Assuming that there is a reason behind my decisions (and there always is) and a positive intent, what might be the rationale for a writing and community engagement course that partners student teams with NGOs and connects them with girls at Daraja Academy?  How might they answer that question?  I’m so curious as to that response that I might change my self-assessment to reflect it.  

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I have thought, too, about what a course would be that could be based solely at Daraja Academy, but it would have to have a different focus.  It would have to be focused on education with students partnered with teachers developing project-based units to complement the curriculum that is already taught her.  While the current group of students comes from across many different majors, a project solely focused on education would most likely appeal to only education-focused students, which is a much smaller group.  I fear that the students would also not experience the diversity of perspectives that come from developing deep relationships across different sectors.  Still, maybe I could establish different tracks within the class that have specifically focused readings within the group:  an education track, a NGO track, an engineering track, an innovation and technology track … or I could refine what I have already developed, which is sound and has had incredible effects already.

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