Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Poutasi Learning Center Update

Ten-year old Poiva always seems to have an impish grin on his coppery-brown face with his dark, mischievous eyes. Last week he was teaching me how to fish with a spool of fishing line, a hook, and some bait. Standing on the beach, you put the bait firmly on the hook, twirl a couple of feet of line over your head with the hook on the end (hence the “firmly”). Then you let it fly and gradually pull it in, winding the fish line on the spool with a stick in the middle. Of course I didn’t catch a thing, but I watched him pull in three pan-size fish. This week I was teaching him how to use a computer.

Poiva’s 12-year old brother, Milana, loves to make flags with the Paint program on the computer. After making flags of several of the Pacific island nations last week, he is now branching out to the rest of the world. Using an atlas in the homework center with four pages with flags of the world, he made Israel and Jamaica yesterday. Then we looked to see where these countries are on the map.

High school senior Pene is learning how to type with the Typing Tutor program. She is a shy, beautiful young girl with her long black hair in braids. Last night she finished a research paper (with some help on the typing from me) on running a small business. To write the paper she interviewed the owner of a small general store.

Siliafai is sixty, pleasantly plump, with a ready smile and a twinkle in her eye. She learned how to type on a typewriter when she was young, but had never used a computer until last Saturday. Now she can turn it on, go to Word, and type a letter to her family in New Zealand.

I’ve been trying to think about how to begin to write about how things are going at the Poutasi Learning Center. I finally realized that the best way is to write about the people, especially the children, because that’s what it’s all about. I facilitated the process of making a storeroom into a computer center, stacked some books and puzzles on the shelves, and have begun to share my meager computer skills. None of those things are very significant, but putting it together with the people has made it into quite an exciting place.

The first day I had over 20 kids show up to use three computers and one laptop. Now we have a schedule – two times each week for boys and two times each week for girls, with separate times for typing and other computer lessons. They still have to take turns of course.

I started with the Paint program. It helps them to learn to use a mouse and how to open and close a program and save a file. I’ve also put educational games on the computers. They can do anything they want for free during the two times each week for boys and girls. There is a small fee for lessons, printing, or copying and that’s been so successful that we have over $100 (Samoan tala) in less than one month. We got our first electric bill of $6, so I’ll save the rest of the money for toner ($400 for one cartridge), paper, and a maintenance fund.

Truthfully, I was really anxious about whether it would work as we envisioned, and if I could teach computers. So I’m relieved and happy to report that I walk to my house after an afternoon at the center with a big smile on my face.