Greetings from Diego, everyone!
A few logistical updates: I've just returned from the November YAGM retreat in Antananarivo and Andasibe and will be in Diego until shortly after Christmas when I will leave for Manakara, a city in the South East, for New Year's Eve. Retreat highlights include cooking a full Thanksgiving dinner together, complete with mashed potatoes, rolls, green beans, stuffing, pumpkin and strawberry pies and of course, two turkeys that we thankfully did not have to slaughter or pluck ourselves, seeing seven species of lemurs at Andasibe-Mantadia National Park, and having a sing-along to the movie Mamma Mia before leaving for our host sites again.
Now that I'm back home, I wanted to share with you one of my favorite parts of serving in Madagascar so far. On Tuesday and Thursday mornings I teach at Sefama, the Lutheran School for the Deaf in a neighborhood outside of Diego called Ambalavola. Sefama is a boarding school that serves kids from all around the northern half of the island with about 30 students between 6 and 22. Thursday mornings I teach grammatical English to the staff and on Tuesdays I teach five of the students various vocabulary sets. I will write the vocab words on the board and draw a picture of what the word is, then the students will show me the sign for that word, so they are teaching me Malagasy sign while I teach them English.
I arrive at Sefama around 8 o'clock, usually catching the last few minutes of the morning Bible story that is signed with the help of a felt board for visuals. The kids love this part of the morning and get very excited to answer questions about what happened in the story. The day then begins with prayer and the students go off to their classes. The kids are grouped together by ages: lower elementary and upper elementary, middle school and then high school ages. Students learn basic school subjects like reading, writing, social studies, math and science until upper middle school when they switch to trade-based learning. The boys work in the carpentry shop and the girls work on making handicrafts with an emphasis on embroidery. My class has five students who are in upper elementary school. After about 1.5 to 2 hours of class, the students get a mid-morning break where they'll play games or just hang out and talk, then after about 30 minutes they return to classes until lunch at noon. I eat lunch at Sefama with the students most Tuesdays and Thursdays, and it's always an experience that can only be described as a marathon of eating. I'm constantly amazed by the ways the kids can shovel in plateful after plateful of rice (especially the teenage boys). I'm always reminded that I never eat enough there, but now they've started letting me control my own portions, which is a big change from the beginning when I would have to basically eat myself sick to finish a full plate of rice.
Working with these kids has been nothing short of incredible, wonderful and beautiful, all rolled into one. It's an exceptionally talented, bright, creative, fun and energetic bunch that I love so dearly. They love drawing and dancing, and are ridiculously good, not just for their age. On Thursday, I brought my camera and took these pictures, and holy cow, do they love having their pictures taken. We had fun running around, doing an impromptu photoshoot next everything and everything, and I got these beautiful portraits which I'm going to cherish forever.
There's a constant fun and silliness that surrounds Sefama, and it truly makes my week making the trek out there and just having fun with the students. On days when the everything feels like it's closing in and our world is falling apart, these kids give me hope that the next generation will be the most kind, caring, selfless, radically-loving, game changers that Madagascar AND our planet have ever seen. When I think about the Holy Spirit and God's presence on earth, it's stunningly visible in these kids. God is here in Madagascar, working at Sefama in ways we could never imagine. I can assure you, Sefama is teaching me more than I could ever teach them.