Thursday, May 22, 2014

Mission Gone South, Part 7 (Missionaries in Training)

Not long after we arrived at Siparuta Mission Academy, Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence, and the girl from the village they claimed was their adopted daughter, left on a two week trip to Bethany Medical Missionary College, also known as the GAMAS resort (their nickname, not ours). They told us that when they returned they would be returning with some missionaries to do some work on SMA’s campus. When they came back we learned that these missionaries were part of a program called the Missionary In Training, or MIT, program. Later on, we learned that Granny’s son, Mr. McDaniels, who is the GAMAS board member in charge of education, just had an idea to find a use for all the former Kimbia Mission Academy students who were sitting around with nothing to do. While that is not a bad idea in and of itself, it was not executed in the best way. The program had no definite structure. It seemed like an off-the-cuff idea that Mr. McDaniels ran with. When the MITs arrived in Siparuta, the bulk of their time was spent renovating Granny’s house down in the village, doing MIT laundry (the young women) and cooking meals (the young women) for everyone living at SMA (MITs and SMA staff and on campus students). What they did do on campus was to build a septic tank for the house where we were living, which we were most grateful for, as it allowed us to have a toilet in our house, making our son’s potty training less harrowing.

When we spoke with Pastor W. James a month or so ago, we found out a few things. W. James had been made known to us as the Vice President of the Guyana Conference of SDAs; President R. James of the Guyana Conference of SDAs informed us that he was not the VP, but the Wills and Trust Director. We found out that W. James was the president of GAMAS. He did not know about that MIT program at all. He also was not aware that persons without CXC (Caribbean Examination Council) subjects were allowed to attend Bethany. Not surprisingly, he also claimed to be unaware of what we had gone through, stating that he was only informed that the two families—meaning ours and the Lawrence couple—could not get along. He told us he knew nothing of Pastor Ash’s trip to Siparuta to mediate, nor of the letter Pastor Ash wrote (see the end of Part 5) on behalf of the GAMAS board, on which W. James was carbon copied.

Back to the two-year MIT program that the GAMAS president knew nothing about. This had become a point of discussion between us and the SMA administrator and principal. They had stated repeatedly that the villagers did not want their children being trained to be missionaries. Yet all of a sudden, they wanted to stream all the fifth-formers into this new idea that Mr. McDaniels had come up with. So we asked them to clarify what the mandate of the school was: to prepare these students for CXC exams and beyond, or to get them to agree to join this MIT program. My husband pointed out to them that the school needed to have a primary focus, so he knew when he had met his objectives with his students. They kept vacillating between the two. We pointed out that they could not change the mandate of the school without informing the parents and allowing them to make a decision about whether they wanted to keep their children at the school. Doing this was deception. They got parents to enroll their children with promises of giving them a solid education and getting them four to six CXC subjects. They were not fulfilling that mandate, and now they wanted to change it without the knowledge of the parents.

But that was not surprising, considering how they tended to handle things generally. Parent-teacher meetings were more about Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence and Granny telling the parents things than actual dialogs between parents and teachers. This was not only a concern for us; multiple parents expressed that they found that when they interacted with the Lawrences, they did not listen to them. Similarly, staff meetings turned out to be sessions to tell the staff what they were to do rather than have meaningful discussions about issues on campus.

Following the departure of most of the MITs, a vocational training program was suddenly implemented. This was approached with little forethought, as was also evident with the MIT program. Both were suddenly implemented without any planning into what skills and knowledge they wanted participants to accomplish, how training would occur or how trainers would ensure that trainees had gained the skills intended. In fact, letters went out to the parents on Friday, November 8 about the vocational program that was to start Monday, November 11. It stated that the students would be trained in Construction, Mechanics, Electronics, and Agriculture. The first set of classes began that Monday with no previous staff meeting and staff members and students were assigned to Grounds, Agriculture, Construction, and Food Preparation. Despite the fact that I expressed concerns that they were simply modifying the work program from the primarily dorm school that was Kimbia and calling it a vocational program for the primarily day school that was SMA, class titles were merely adjusted one or two times, but the approach didn’t change. The basic approach was to use the students to accomplish tasks on campus without ensuring that the students were learning the theory and gaining the practical skills, or even ensuring that the tasks were completed properly. In fact, the entire program was flawed because most of the teachers themselves did not understand how to do what they were teaching the students to do. Beyond this vocational training program, class times and teachers were shifted around quite a few times—again without informing parents or seeking their input.

In the midst of me writing Part 5, we found out about the plans for the current fifth-formers at SMA. Next month, they will all be enrolled in this MIT program. When Jermaine called W. James to find out what was happening with the MIT program, he informed him that it was now an approved program with forms that needed to be signed by parents and the local pastor. Note: the local pastor has somewhere between seven and nine churches in his district covering over 100 miles and doesn’t get around to Siparuta very often. He depends on Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence for reports about the youngsters in Siparuta. Mr. McDaniels will come for all six young women and carry them to Kimbia Mission Academy where they will spend six months. After that they will be taken to Bethany for another six months. Then they will be placed at one of the GAMAS projects as teachers/staff. This reduces the amount of missionaries GAMAS will need from outside, and gives them ultimate control over their projects. They are also guaranteed a regular volunteer work force.

We are very worried about what will happen to these young women. But how do we stop this? The young women do need a viable option post-graduation. However, the GAMAS/SMA system has already failed them. In January of this year, Jermaine had to use primary school books to teach the fifth-formers how to do fractions and decimals, since, over the years, the school had failed to lay a foundation for further Mathematical knowledge to be gained. Multiple pleas were made to the SMA Administration to extend the time in classes before allowing the fifth-formers to sit CXCs but this was sternly refused. To make it worst, little to no extra classes were done. Also in April, over the Easter break of three weeks instead of doing rigorous revision/preparation, the entire SMA staff left the school and journeyed to the other end of Guyana on a “mission” trip, leaving the girls to prepare themselves for exam and returning just a few days before their first exam. Though we and many others are praying for the girls’ success in their exams, the poor preparation they have received gives them a low chance of success. This has indeed been the case for many years and the village council and those at Amerindian Affairs have expressed concerns that a lot of students leaving SMA have a primary level education and have to go back to learning things from the basics. By placing these girls in this MIT program, that offers them no tangible future beyond GAMAS, not only would these girls have lost the value of their high school years, but also two or more years beyond. Also, let us consider what will happen when these girls and others like them are placed in classrooms to teach other students. How can they impart what they have never gained? Lest you think this could never happen, consider this. One of the current teachers at SMA has no CXC subjects. He like these six girls has the potential to accomplish much with their lives for God, but those in the system have failed them. What are we going to do to stop this cycle?

One way to help is to pray with us that God will intervene by overhauling GAMAS or providing a better option for these students. If you would like to help in any other way feel free to contact us.