Welcome to WISER (Emma Zhao)

Susan, Purity and Esther during lunch break

Beryl, Purity and Esther during lunch break

Our first week at WISER has been amazing. To quote Madelaine’s words, I have never met a more empowered group of girls. They are so full of energy and excited about school every day, and smile all the time. So far they have probably inspired me way more than I’ve inspired them.

On Saturday, girls from each of the four forms (grades) welcomed us to WISER by composing, singing and dancing to their own songs. I am now convinced I haven’t heard real singing before that moment. Their voices are amazing, and most of them can yodel and play drums (which basically makes every song ten times more beautiful). At the end of each song the girls pulled us up from our chairs to join them, and the ceremony turned into a big dance party. That night, we traded dance moves (the dougie, Macarena and salsa from our side). The moves they showed us were so flawless, I thought they were set and memorized for specific songs. Later I learned they made all of them up on the spot, and my admiration for them skyrocketed. DukeEngage goal #1: learn how to move my hips like Shakira.

Dancing is just one part of WISER that has brought out a different side of all of us. The lifestyle here is just so different. Every morning I roll up my mosquito net, swallow an anti-malarial, and hop onto the back of a piki (the local word for a moped) for the 30 minute dirt path drive to Ibencho primary school. After teaching two 7th and 8th grade periods (plus whatever the teachers happen to miss), I make lesson plans, hang out with WISER girls and share teaching ideas with other DukeEngagers. Even the smallest things – like washing our own underwear and showering in the dark – are different. My priorities have completely shifted. Now just making my class or a WISER girls laugh, or biting into a nice piece of pineapple is enough to make me completely happy. Unlike scheduling meetings and answering the flood of college emails, these are things I actually care about, and my life revolves around them. And I like it that way.

In DukeEngage, eight of us teach for WiserBridge (a partnership with WISER to support local primary schools), three of us are studying clean water, and in two weeks we will also start research on dietary intake. From now through the end of DukeEngage, we will post at least one update from each project a week. There are so many more things to talk about – the WISER girls themselves, what it’s like to teach in a local primary school, and the exciting progress of clean water usage in Muhuru Bay, but don’t worry – we’ll be sure to cover those in later posts. We’re excited about the weeks ahead, and hope you’ll follow us for updates. We’ll keep you posted!

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