I received my own first set of Uganda beads a few years ago from a dear friend. She was in law school at the time and as part of an international law project, she was able to go to Uganda to meet the women and children in the internally displaced people camps outside of Kampala. Several non-for-profit organizations work within these camps and teach the women how to make beads and sell them fair trade. While meeting these women, my friend was able to buy my beads direct from the artisans who made them.
If you can’t go to Uganda yourself, Beads for Life provides a great opportunity to get your own Uganda beads. Beads for Life is one of the organizations that work with the Ugandan women to sell their beads at fair trade prices. To share their goods, they’ve started a Bead Party program. To host your own Bead Party, you register with Beads for Life and they send you a full supply of Ugandan bead necklaces, bracelets, and earrings. With reasonable prices and beautiful jewelry, the Bead Party is a perfect event to socialize with friends while helping a great cause. I went to a Bead Party a few years ago and it was a great event. Not only did I get most of my Christmas shopping done but it was also a perfect way to talk about what is going on in the world amongst friends.
And if you’re real brave, you can also try out the Ugandan-style bead making yourself with just a little wrapping paper and glue. Here is a great tutorial if you want to try your hand at your own Uganda beads. After attempting making my own beads, I think I’ve decided it may be better to just host a party. 🙂
I recently have started helping a young man from Iraq with algebra. Thankfully I’ve been studying for the GRE and I’m not too rusty. But after two and half hours and only 30 math problems into the 50 problem homework, I felt disenfranchised with American education and walked away heartbroken for this young man.
This 15-year-old boy came to the US having been out of school for over 5 years due to the war in Iraq. Knowing no English, he was still placed in a public high school only to fail his first year. Now having been here for a few years, his English is pretty incredible and his accent is almost non-existent. But when it comes to knowing words like denominator, quotient, or divisible, those are not in his repertoire. As one of many students in his class, the likelihood of getting individual help is pretty slim for him, and the chance that he’ll ever catch up on the five years of education he missed is grim at best.
I’m far from saying that I know the best solution for this boy, but I feel he is being done an injustice. I am ever so grateful that my country has become a safe harbor for him and his family. But while he is protected from the bombings and shells, the effects from the war are still ever-present in his life as struggles to do 9th grade math with a 4th grade education.
Say a prayer for me, dear friends, that I will remember the rules for graphing a line, solving for x, and completing the quadratic equation. And most of all that I will have the ability to explain them in a way he can understand.
I have to say that working with the children in the refugee community has been quite a learning experience. It’s funny what comes from their mouths and just how innocent they are.
Before I started volunteering, I did my research on Burmese and Iraqi customs. Don’t touch their heads. Don’t point with my feet. Don’t give the thumbs up sign. I was reminded this week that just as I am learning their cultures, these kids are learning ours.
As I was playing with a group of children at the playground this week, an interesting topic came up. The middle finger. All the sudden one of the little girls runs up to me and says, “I can’t use my middle finger, right?” Before I could even answer, several of the little girls are pointing their middle fingers in the air and saying, “You can’t do this, but you can do this.” And then they quickly switch to their pointer finger. From there a whole conversation ensued about why we don’t use the middle finger in America. Thinking back on the conversation, I’m sure it became a topic of our discussion because one of these little ones unknowingly gave “the bird”. I can imagine one of these little girls raising their own middle finger to read a book or scratch their face, and being met with discomfort, discipline, or distraught behavior by their fellow American peers or teachers. If I were in their shoes, I’m sure I would make the same mistakes. If I went to Iraq, could I stop giving a thumbs up? If I was in Myanmar, could I ensure that I never touch a child’s head? I highly doubt I could. I just hope and pray that I can give the patience and guidance to these little ones, just as I would need if I were learning the customs of their home countries.
The sheep had taught him something even more important: that there was a language in the world that everyone understood, a language the boy had used throughout the time he was trying to improve things at the shop. It was the language of enthusiasm, of things accomplished with love and purpose, and as part of a search for something believed in and desired.
~ The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
Sitting at the top of the slide, his five-year old body was slumped and his face was marked with a scowl that was almost impenetrable. I called his name several times but he didn’t budge. I asked what was wrong, but there was no answer. He pulled his knees up to support his chin, which supported his protruding, pouting lower lip.
Finally, not knowing if he understood my words, I substituted them with funny faces. It is my honest belief that almost any child can be redirected if I try hard enough. I did moose ears, the pucker-faced fish, but it was the blown-up monkey cheeks that did him in. His lower lip slightly retreated and he lifted his flip-flopped foot up to show me a small scrape on his ankle.
“Ouch,” I said. “Let me blow your boo boo a kiss.” I put my hand to my mouth and made a kissing noise as I pulled it away. He then followed suit and kissed his hand and put it on his ankle. Miraculously healed, he came down the slide and raced me to the merry-go-round, laughing as he ran. In that moment, I understood Paulo Coelho’s idea of the language of the world. This little boy from Malaysia could not understand my words, but in the end he understood my message.
Did you ever see the movie the Little Princess? If not, I’ll give you a brief synopsis. The movie centers on an English girl who is being brought up in India when her single father is called to war. He brings her back to the UK and puts her in a boarding school with no expenses spared. But when the British army believes him dead, everything is taken away from the girl and she is forced to become a maid in the school. Despite all that happens, she believes in her dreams and her father’s words that she is princess.
Every Thursday afternoon I’ve been volunteering with Spero Project and helping with the children in our local refugee community. Thursdays seem to be the day where they don’t have much homework so in general, we just play. Yesterday I put out a stack of paper, crayons, tape, and ribbon and just let the kids create what they wanted. There was everything from t-shirts, to paper finger claws, to purses. But what struck me the most were the crowns. With little girls from Malaysia, Turkey, and Myanmar, every single one of them wanted to make a crown to wear. Every one of them wanted to be a princess. As I watched them play, it reminded me of the movie. It doesn’t matter where you come from or what language you speak, all girls are princesses.
Yesterday was my first day tutoring through Spero Project. Each day varies so I didn’t know exactly what to expect. In the end we had over 25 kids from at least 6 different countries and I definitely learned a lot on the job! Here are my lessons learned so far:
1. Not being able to speak the language is really tough when you just want the grown-up to help you make Power Ranger cuffs.
2. A roll of tape, markers, and a stack of paper can keep kids occupied for a minimum of three hours.
3. Explaining how to do mathematical estimation is not easy, but when you see the spark in the child’s eye because she gets it, it is definitely worth all the effort.
4. Every kid is obsessed with using the computers.
5. To little ones, attention and love and much more important than language barriers and cultural differences.
6. It’s hard to work in an apartment complex at dinner time with all the delicious smells from around the world and not get hungry.
7. All of the hand games I played as a kid are still popular.
8. And finally, I’m pretty lucky to be able to hang out with such a great group of kids through an incredible organization.
When we moved to OKC, I knew I had to get involved. I’m too social of a person to sit at home all day. Don’t get me wrong, I love reading a good book and writing this blog, but a whole day without talking to someone is a long day for me. Taking the advice of my friend who did a guest post for me on volunteering with the refugee community, I started researching different organizations in Oklahoma City that assist refugees. And that’s when I found Spero Project. The Spero Project is a local non-profit organization that partners with local churches to serve under-resources communities. Their programming extends to single mothers, children in the foster care system, and families who are refugees in OKC.
I will be serving in their Learning Center where children from the refugee community can come and get help with homework, English, and just play. Adults can also come work on English and study for the TOEFL, their GED, or the citizenship exam. I had my first training on Tuesday and will have my first hours in the Learning Center this evening. Most of the children that I’ll be working with come from either Iraq or Myanmar. While I feel ready to help with fractions, I realized that I am not very familiar with the Iraqi or Burmese cultures. I know I will learn a lot while I’m with the kids, but I thought it might be good to know some basic etiquette to get me started.
Burmese Basic Etiquette:
- As a female, a smile or nod is the most appropriate ways to greet men.
- Never touch a person’s hair, head or cheek, even if you consider it as a friendly gesture.
- The upper part is considered sacred while lower part is considered inferior to the upper part, even considered dirty. Never mix the things you use for your upper part with that of the lower part.
- Do not use your feet to point at anything or anyone.
- Don’t cough, sneeze or blow your nose in the dining table.
- Present gifts (even a business card) with both hands.
Iraqi Basic Etiquette:
- The most common greeting is the handshake coupled with eye contact and a smile.
- Use your right hand to make contact with others and to eat.
- Do not point with a finger but rather with the entire hand.
- Always keep your word. Do not make a promise or guarantee unless you can keep it. If you want to show a commitment to something but do not want to make caste iron assurances then employ terms such as “I will do my best,” or “We will see.”
- Do not make the thumbs up or “ok” sign. They are considered obscene.
- Present gifts (even a business card) with both hands.