Essence of Learning: Stories from the Field

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Beatrice Rutishauser-Ramm

EoL training in a Cambodian anti-trafficking programme – what are the effects?

In March 2018, I visited an anti-trafficking programme in Cambodia. The children had recently returned from Thailand to where they had been sold and sexually abused. The children had never consistently attended school, and due to their traumatic experiences, are not able to be easily re-integrated into a normal school.

How the children experience “normal” learning

The children have difficulties to focus on what is usually expected. One boy said to me: “What needs to be in my head is not staying there”. I am familiar with this problem and tell him that he will learn with his hands in order that this knowledge will later stick in his head. “Learning with my hands? This is unusual”, he replies. I agree, but I assure him, that it will be very effective – as I have made this experience in many similar situations.

How EoL works

The children repeat the “learning flow” - in mixed age groups of different level of knowledge. Their learning gaps vary, as the time they have missed school varies as well. The knowledge about the “learning pathway” as well as the “learning flow” represents an instrument to the educators, that makes it possible that children can repeat and learn together – each of them at its own speed. The introduction to the “weekly topic” can be done age appropriate, even though the tasks will later be the same for all. The educators who attended the training were very confident that they can apply the approach. But we will see, what it looks like in a few months’ time.

Update from Cambodia

A few months after my return, I received the following feedback: “Just wanted to share some impressions from Poipet. The bottle caps are already a bit dirty, because the children use them frequently” 

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Tension in the air – the situation in Gaza

After Cambodia, I travelled to Gaza to check on our programme there. When I landed in Jerusalem, my colleague and I had a first call to touch base with the EoL project manager in Gaza. The easiest form of communication these days is simply by using whatsapp. Communication is extremely hard with the Gaza team, as their area has frequent electricity outages. When the call finally came in, the news was not good. “There is a lot of tension in the air”, the project manager said. "Everything is uncertain and nobody knows what will happen next". Working in these hard conditions is their daily life, but somehow the teachers find a space to encourage the children to keep learning.

The programme manager proceeded to tell us about their daily life and how it has been affected in many aspects. Besides the fear, the lack of food is an elementary problem. Even a basic supply for the children can often not be ensured. Electricity, fuel and gas are either too expensive or unavailable – a warm meal is regarded as a luxury! Cooking on open fireplaces is increasingly becoming the norm again. As educators we understand the importance of structure and routine. The children who are in enrolled in the centres come as early as possible and after the programme has ended they don't want to leave. “There is a strong will to learn”, the teachers notice and as soon as the children are busy with creative activity in order to reach their learning goals, they seem to forget everything around them – they are in heaven. These moments are like a medication against their rough surroundings, now more than ever, the teachers report.

During the programme the children experience structure and routine, which implies somehow “normality”. Children in general – and especially the younger ones – need these guardrails particularly when their lives are marked by uncertainty. School is no longer regular, and soon vacation time will begin and parents are busy organizing elementary things under these challenging circumstances. The the daily routine and structure is completely disrupted.

Self-activity act as a shield for Children in these emergency settings. They have learned to keep themselves busy and are becoming self-active in a positive manner – either alone or together with their mates. The teachers are well prepared for upcoming deteriorations, and the children as well. “We just keep on going to do our tasks, to make sure that the children get stability. With the support of the “learning helpers” they can at least work on easy learning tasks”. It's also noticeable that children's ability to concentrate is lower than a month ago. In case they can't play on the streets any more or the way to school is getting too dangerous, the children's “emergency boxes” will help to keep them busy (self-occupied). By the means of storytelling the children furthermore have been prepared age appropriately to interpret and cope with this special “tension in the air”, which is noticeable for everyone.

When the call ended, my colleague and I just silently looked at each other. There are often no words to describe the hardships the teachers endure, and underlies the importance of psychosocial support programmes such as EoL