Friday, May 7, 2010

Waqaa Cangacit From Stony River

Back from a wonderful couple of days in Stony River, so time to catch up on my last day in Kalskag. This will be a fairly brief post as I am absolutely shattered.

On Wednesday I got up and walked all of 5 yards to work with the High Schoolers in Lower Kalskag. The High Schoolers out here are probably the most challenging but also the most rewarding to work with. Today I was in Melanie's Class and the students rotated around to me. With one class, I had them for two periods so we got to do loads of stuff and I got to know them a bit.

As ever, they surprised me with the openness, honesty and willingness to talk about really tough things, as well as with their humour and good nature.

When I started this blog two and a half years ago, before my first trip, I said that I wasn't just going to talk about the good things, but I was going to try and give a full picture of life here. But, while I am happy to talk at length about the happy things, and the great stories that some of the students did for me, and tell you exactly who they are, there's a lot of things where I won't give the students' names and a lot that I find out that I wouldn't mention on here. Some of it's really sad and makes my heart ache for these students.

There are a lot of things which make life so difficult for them out here - alcohol problems in the families, physical and sexual abuse, fetal alcohol syndrome, self-harm, suicide. It's not just the adults who drink, sometimes the students do too. One I spoke to has just come out of a rehab programme. And it's not just the high-schoolers. There's a drug called 'punk' which basically sounds like magic mushrooms. They add it to the chewing tobacco. And it's on sale at the village store.

One of the exercises I do is where I get the students to make up a character and get to know them by answering questions about that character - what they look like, what their favourite things are, what their bad habits and best personality traits are, what they are most afraid of, what they want out of life and what their biggest secret is. The results of this exercise have really surprised me - a lot of the students, instead of making up a character, have used it to talk about something close to them. One student in one of the villages made me cry because, while I was talking to her about the character, and telling her how powerful and painful some of the things she had written were, she told me that it was actually her. The experiences were something that an adult should never have to suffer, let alone a small child. Sometimes it's hard not to cry. Sometimes I just cry. I want to take them home and keep them safe. All I can do is hug them, what good is that to them?

And then there are the students who write me brilliantly funny stories or descriptive or inventive stories. And they do it with great enthusiasm. A couple of students who didn't finish their stories in the class have since e-mailed me their finished stories with an "I hope you like it." There is some real talent here - one sixteen-year old, Martin, showed me a film he had made. I told him he should enter one of his films for a competition - he's really good.

While I was in between lessons one of the students brought me in a note from her cousin - little Catherine who I had met the day before. "I will never forget you. Call me." She gave me her number again. So, as I had an hour or so after school and before the plane came to pick me up to go up to Stony River, I called her and she and her friends came over to hang out. This is us, with a tiny little puppy. I don't know how you spell his name but it's pronounced something like 'Slaqtaaq' and it means 'Little dog who wanders around the village'. Before I left Karen gave me a beaded pen holder, made in Kalskag, and a card signed by every one of the kindergarten and elementary students. Yes, I cried.

And then it was off to Stony River which is about an hour and a half upstream. Part of the flight was with Steve, part was with Matt. As I didn't get to fly it meant I could watch the scenery and take loads of pictures.

We flew through the mountains - practically into the mountains. I could almost reach out and touch this peak. I'd never been to Stony before so was really excited. It's a beautiful little island of about 3 and a half acres. The scenery pictures in this post are from Stony. There are only about 50 people who live in the village. This is the petrol station. One of the teachers, Rick, took us for a walk around half of the island and then Cheryl and I settled down in the school overnight. I've never slept in a school before (well, only at my desk when I wasn't supposed to).

We then had two days of an Arts Festival to which the other small schools upriver flew their students into. More of that in the next post, along with making S'mores, learning bad words in Yup'ik, an overflowing toilet, and a hair-raising flight over the mountains. It was a lot of fun.


Anonymous said...

"All I can do is hug them, what good is that to them?"

What good can it do them to know that no matter how horrible it is where they live, there's a smart, funny lady who loved them enough to cry over them, and told them they were bright and worthwhile people?

All the good in the world, Donna. You can't save them, but you can help give them strength to save themselves.

They'll remember you always, you know. Perhaps they'll remember you in the dark times as well as the bright sunshine.

PS. Now you've made me cry. Look at that!


Donna said...

Lymaree - thank you for your lovely words. Really :o)

Michael Malone said...

I've got to echo everything that Lymaree just said. Poor kids. And well done you. Not many people get to make a real difference.

Bobbie said...

And I echo what Lymaree and Michael said, their words, and your words, say it all. You really are making a true difference, Donna.

Watermelon man said...

I totally agree with all the other posters. And maybe you're a kind of release valve for them. Maybe they feel they can unburden themselves to you in a way they wouldn't normally to their other teachers, because you're a 'stranger' and will take those secrets safely away with you.
I'm sure you're helping them, Donna. X

Rachel Ward said...

I echo all these comments. These children will always remember you, your kindness, the fact that you listened and responded warmly - and, yes, they'll remember the hug.

Anonymous said...

Others have said the truth about a hug from someone they don't even know who takes an interest in the well being of a child. That child will always remember you and that you cared enough to offer comfort where there is usually only ill intents behind hugs.

I hadn't read this blog entry yet so I didn't get to tell you how important your visits are to the villages. I hope you get to do it again and often. I hope you take a picture of your plaque so you can share that here. It was an awesome thing those children did to show you their appreciation.


Donna said...

Michael, Bobbie and Rachel - thank you so much.

Ewan - maybe you're right about taking their secrets safely away. I just wish I could physically take them away too.

Sly - it was really great to see you, I'm just sorry it wasn't for longer.

Rose said...

I agree with Lymaree and Michael. We are moving up there soon and hope to be a good light to them! We are very excited!!

Donna said...

Rose - how exciting! Where are you moving to and what will you be doing?