February 2, 2016
Tucker Childs, Professor of Linguistics from Portland State University, travelled to Sierra Leone this past winter break to study several languages. Due to generous help from donors, he was able to fund, 180 Nokero N183 lights to distribute to school children during his trip. Here is heart-warming story.
By: Tucker Childs
Well, the Nokero lights have been delivered to the students of Howard Memorial School, a secondary school in Shenge, Southern Province, Sierra Leone. It’s a beautiful coastal town that depends on the sea for its livelihood. Shenge is up on something of a headland and will be safe, should/when the seas rise, but their brothers and sisters on nearby islands, including Sherbro Island, the namesake of the people and language I am studying, will lose all their land, picturesque as their settlements are. Picturesque houses on stilts courtesy of global warming?
Because the lights were fewer than the students, I left it up to the principal, Mr. Thomas Neale Caulker, to decide how they were to be distributed. He thought the three criteria should be punctuality (who came to school when it opened), performance (based on last year’s standing), and need (not sure how it was calculated).
What was a pleasant surprise to me was that the girls were in the majority. At other schools where I’ve worked in Africa (primary, secondary, and tertiary), girls have always been under-represented, particularly in countries with a Muslim bent, e.g., the University of Kankan in Guinea. In this sub-group at HMS the girls numbered more than half (55%). I had originally asked that the lights be given to at least 50% female students, but as it turned out, using the above criteria, they numbered even more.
The lights were a roaring success. The students were delighted with the gift and will be even more appreciated once they see them in operation. We asked the assembled students if any of them had a light at home to study with at night. Not a person raised their hand. They all have to do their studying during the day. The principal insisted that the students use the lights only for studying, but I am not sure how that will work out. There is an extensive culture of sharing, especially upward. That is, the students might be pressured by their parents or others to give their elders the lights, an eventuality the principal was well aware of, as evidenced in his cautionary remarks. We shall see. I am glad I have no more to share since everyone is coming by asking me for one or more. The Paramount Chief herself has been given half a dozen, a request I couldn’t refuse.