A few days back, several PTA members came to introduce themselves to us. They wanted to officially welcome us to the school and say thank you for coming. While that meeting was pleasant, nothing more came of it than seeing each board member’s face for the first time.
On the other hand, today was our first official PTA meeting and we actually got down to business.
We opened with a prayer and thanksgiving to God for our safe arrival. Everyone introduced themselves yet again. The board is made up mostly of men which I find a bit disappointing. There is one woman, an elder, on the PTA board, but she was not present due to illness. In my experience, in the US, mothers tend to take a bigger role in their children’s education. Perhaps I should ask some of the teachers why there are no women.
Besides the PTA members, there were a few other attendees: Ellen. Helen. Me. Bre. (Ha!) Bright, the JHS representative. Christine, the primary representative. Stephen, the headmaster.
During the meeting, we discussed several concerns:
Electricity. The school has been trying, unsuccessfully, to get electricity in Airfield’s building. This project has been in the making for a very long time. Everyone has had a part to play in the process. When Pagus built the school in 2010, the government promised to bring in electricity. After more than two years, they put up the electrical transformer (that gave access to electricity for any people in the villages who can afford to hook their houses) and did a portion of the wiring, but the work stopped at various points while the contractor waited to be paid. The community was supposed to push this agenda item and make sure everyone did their part. Currently, the whole building is outfitted with lights, fans, and a transformer but the electricity is not officially connected to the building. After several meetings with government officials and community leaders, and many promises of ‘tomorrow’, Ellen and the Chief learned who was holding up the progress. After all was said and done, the Mayor’s office agreed to release the last bit of money so we should have electricity very soon.
However, simply having electricity doesn’t solve all the unanswered questions. Ellen voiced a very good concern during the meeting when she asked, “Who is going to pay for the electricity once it is hooked up?” At today’s meeting, the PTA said they would??
Junior High Building. Airfield’s junior high is currently housed in a temporary structure. There are no walls around the classrooms and only bamboo separates one classroom from the next. This can make it difficult to hear when other teachers speak and students answer questions. Once again, bureaucratic red tape has slowed things the promises the government made to the school. Elections took place at the start of the year, but now candidates are contesting the results. For this reason, the government is saying the process will be slow. The PTA and Pagus discussed a plan of action so that when the money finally does come through, (they have been waiting for about 2 years now), they can begin building immediately. There are many questions that must be considered before the school can be built. Will the contractor put a road in? Is the ground too soft to build in the desired spot? What will happen to the temporary structure?
School Maintenance. This is an issue that is near and dear to my heart. The school has a lot of little problems that just need simple fixes: broken furniture, new dusters (aka erasers!), broken buckets, dirty walls, wet path. Some of these problems, old shutters and busted gutters, were discussed at the meeting. Pagus has pledged to donate money if the school works on some of its maintenance issues. The problem is that the PTA doesn’t have any money to work on those issues… Cue PTA Dues.
PTA Dues. A lot of time was devoted to the problem of PTA dues. All the parents of the school are supposed to help support the school by paying dues to the PTA. This money would go to a variety of projects including maintenance. However, some parents just don’t want to, or can’t, pay. The PTA says that it is because they do not value education as they should. If that is the case, then the question becomes what can we do to make them care about the school and education? Cue the plan.
The Plan. In order to combat the value-education and PTA dues problem, we have devised a plan for the next week! After many questions and long responses, the team has decided that we (Pagus, the PTA, and various elders) will travel from village to village talking to the parents about school and urging them to invest in Airfield. Ellen had me take lots of pictures of the students in the classroom and we hope to present these to parents so they can get excited about seeing their children learning. Many of them don’t ever come to the school. Likewise, I have photographed many of the broken items around the school.
Ellen is going to devote a lot of time to this endeavor because she realizes in order for these programs to be sustainable, the community has to care about it, too. We have the village elders on board but we need to work on getting the parents to value the program enough to actually pay for it in some small way. For now, we are proceeding with the idea that around 7 a.m. on Friday morning, the group will begin their campaign.
We ended the meeting with fresh coconuts from Eric, the Chief’s rep. It was very sweet of him to bring them!