Big day this past Monday. Along with volunteers and MOI staff, we began constructing the structures for the coral nurseries. PVC pipes, iron bars, an electric grinder, saw blades, safety goggles, concrete, duct tape, and some canola oil were all in play. All integral components for getting our partnership’s nurseries set for at-sea installation.
Suraj, a research scientist from the MOI, demonstrated how to construct the two separate, locally adapted MOI nursery designs. Working with Suraj were myself, Sebastian and Candace, several of the many local volunteers who are pitching in, and Reddy, a certified Mauritian dive instructor who has been assisting ELI with this project for several months. Having learnt the MOI techniques, ELI Africa and our volunteers will now build the remaining four nurseries.
I’ll let the pictures do the rest of the talking.
This past couple of months at ELI have been quite the adventure. With the dictionary definition of adventure being “an undertaking usually involving danger and unknown risks”, you can somewhat get an idea of what it is we do… Making art out of trash, visiting a castle, opening a new ELI center, finalizing the Science program, Drama…Yes, we’ve done it all and the thing is that it continues!
Being part of an organization that believes in giving an education to under privileged kids through a more ‘hands on’ method is definitely something unique and fun. In the past month or so, we visited the Chateau Labourdonnais which is located in the North of Mauritius and is known as a very historical landmark here on the island. This trip was history related and the kids not only got to increase their general knowledge about the past of their home but they also got a rich education when we had the honor of visiting the Orchard that was set up years ago. The children got to learn about different trees and the fruits they produce. This trip was possible by joint efforts of the Rotary Club of Port Louis, ELI Africa and last but definitely not least the Roche Bois OSTE Center.
Another great experience we had this month was when ‘Waves of Change’ organized a workshop where the children were taught about the environment and what humans were doing to our home. There was a presentation as well as an art exhibition. All the art was made from trash that had been collected from Ile Aux Benitiers (South of Mauritius) It was a great experience for the children; they had fun whilst learning about one of the most talked about problem of this century. At the end of the day the children got to use some trash to make their own little pieces of art! It was great fun!!
Another good thing that came with the month of April was the Easter Holidays! Being a student myself I knew that the last thing the kids would want to do would be to work of English and Grammar so after some talking with Cedric we decided on Drama! Drama is a fun way to get the kids moving whilst teaching them English at the same time. I put the kids into small groups and each chose a book from the shelf. They read through it and made their own scripts. They were able to perform the next lesson! It was an amazing experience.
Something else that I must mention before logging off is the opening of the center at Pamplemousse. We started classes there about 2 weeks ago and I must say that I feel as though we’re off to a great start! With the help of our new ELI Volunteers and ELI Corps, the Pamplemousse branch is excelling!
Looking forward to more kickass (for lack of a better word) experiences with ELI Africa!
Tears were brought to my eyes yesterday. They were tears of joy and tears of gratitude. It was all about moments of love, tenderness and affection and a forgotten part of me had to be brought back to share this wonderful experience.
I hadn’t even realised when life’s rush became so intense and I, so busy, that everything else became secondary. One of the most important extensions of mine, writing, was quite neglected lately. Some might even say it has been forgotten since a while now.
Came along teaching the ELI kids at Roche-Bois a few months back. It has been a decision I finally took as I just could not resist the wonderful charms and smiles of the ELI kids anymore. But keeping up with work, Rotaract duties and lessons at the centre have been sometimes hard. There are days when, unfortunately, life’s priorities take over and we act selfishly, despite us not realising it. And I have also been unfortunately part of that miserable group. In spite of Cedric’s and Sam’s continuous insistence, I have often found it hard to find time to write the feedback reports and blog entries. Writing for my own sake has also been quite rare in the past few months and was making itself quite desirable.
But yesterday night has just been one of those, when, even if a good night’s sleep seemed to be all that I needed, I had to write to express my overwhelming feelings, even though it meant I might sleep on my laptop while drafting and editing this blog post (something that actually ultimately happened- Wonder what else I was expecting after a sleepless night). Moments such as these are so cherished that life’s hustle-bustle with all its hassles become just worth so less and putting them aside without any guilt becomes actually possible and doable.
So, here is for you an intense feeling that could not be shared in any other way. It had to be writing itself. Life’s worth so much more than the daily hassles and rush at the end of the day:
After a sleepless night, with drowsy eyes, I struggled to bring myself to the centre. I had not seen the kids for so many days so I could not keep myself away from them any longer. Half-asleep in my school staffroom, while waiting for the time to pass to get to Roche-Bois, in spite of quite a few asking me to go home and rest a bit, somehow, I managed to get convince them and myself that I have been away for too long. But with my eyes half-close while driving on the way, I started having second thoughts. I struggled to keep my eyes open and even if a cup of coffee was more than welcome, it was not yet enough to keep me wide awake. I kept wondering what I would be able to deliver in this zombie-mode of mine.
Yet, I managed to convince myself to get there. As I stopped the car in front of the centre, my only thought was to spend just some time with the kids and get away from there as soon as possible. I peeped in at the main door to check what was happening and the kids were running around, waiting for someone to settle them down. I had barely put in one foot in that one of the girls who noticed me came running to me and hugged me tight, exclaiming how happy she was to see me. As I put the second foot in, without me really understanding what was happening, I was soon hugged by a few of those little angels who just would not let me go. In the background, I could hear the boys exclaiming how happy they were I came.
It was such a magical moment, a moment of sheer bliss. I felt so intensely grateful. A feeling of guilt, for the thought of cancelling the lesson, got over me but that was soon brushed away by the magic of the moment. I felt loved, as if never loved before. I felt blessed, as if never blessed before. Grateful is a word too weak to express my emotions, gratitude and feelings. Being cherished by so many little hearts is such a blessed feeling. And I want all my best and blessed wishes to be theirs.
Thank you, kids, for being the wonderful angelic beings that you are and for the mummy feeling that you bring out of me each time I see you. Thank you for the charm you have which brings back the real ME all the time. Thank you, ELI Africa, for giving me this blessed opportunity. Thank you, Cedric, for bearing with me and still trusting me as much.
Love and kisses to loads, Neha
Well….I guess lief is always so full of activities and works but one should never despair. I have learned this while teaching the students. Those kids are so full of energy and optimism that it increases mine too. I not only teach them academically but we share our opinions and secrets. Their way of thinking has surprised me so much but has also revived the poet in me. It has quite some months i was unable to find inspiration to write anything. Moreover for my own school work i was stuck. Then one Wednesday i went taught them and we started talking generally also. seeing their optimism about situations has really boosted me up and thinking of them gave me inspiration to write this one:
pourquoi regardons nous preske toujours a l’ecterieur
en cherchant en vain el bonheur?
pourquoi pense-t-on ke le bonheure
reside dan la compagnie de nos freres et soeurs?
c’eat vrai ke c bien d’avoir des personnes avek nous
mais nous oublions helas ke le vrai bonheur se trouve a l’interieur
ce bonheur qu’on peut extirper de nos coeur
nous pouvons le faire mem dans la douleur
tout est une question d’optimisme et de point de vue
regardant le ciel etoilee certains verront ke l’espace nue
d’autres de verrons ke la beaute des etoiles scintillants
ce bonheur emanant de l’interieure
reflecte par un sourire sur les levres
Aide a resoudre des situations les plus difficiles
on se concentre sure nos problemees tro souvent
en nous oublions k’il existe des personne souffrant plus gravement
aulieu de toujours nous plaindre de nos maux et peur
regardons autour, apprenons a sourire meme dan nos malheurs
trouvons des solutions plutot ke d’attendre idilement
Acceptons et jouissons la vie avek ses hauts et ses bas
hope you like it
Laughs, soil-covered hands, and newly rooted trees. I will call this one a win for ELI Africa. On February 16th, twenty of our Roche Bois and Pamplemousses students clambered off a bus onto the simmering asphalt of Sookha Road in Plaine des Roches, as did a photographer for L’Express, the biggest newspaper on the island. Greeting them once they all got settled (I drove up ahead on my scooter to make sure everything was properly prepared), I walked them up the road about 50 meters until we reached the backyard of Vedant’s family home. There, everyone gathered around the 500 endemic trees and shrubs we had procured, our own ‘micro-nursery’ waiting to be planted.
With translation assistance from Cedric, Nea, Basanti, Vedant, and Mesh, I gave a roughly 8 or 9 minute interactive overview of what this project was all about, carrying on from my classroom activities in the center the week before. Soon after I started, we welcomed 6 volunteers from the local student-run NGO Roches Noires Eco-Marine, led by our friend Veer. I switched back and forth from describing the lush forests of old Mauritius, teeming with giant tortoises, dodos, and pink pigeons but all gone after centuries of deforestation, to questioning the students if they could guess which of the 14 trees and shrubs they could identify and how many they thought were in front of them. ”VACOAS! EBOOONY!” they shouted. “75…250…100…500??? Monsieur, no! Not possible!” they exclaimed with wide-eyed amazement, all the while as the photographer snapped shots.
Eventually, we got the kids into separate groups by counting off one, two, three, four, five, one, two… (in English), each led by an ELI Corps or RNE-M volunteer. One by one, they walked up towards me to receive a seedling, which they took carefully in their hands, and then followed the rocky path, through the sugarcane field, up the bluff, and towards the eucalyptus trees, where our endemic forest would begin. After all 32 students and volunteers had a seedling (including me) placed near the freshly-dug holes made by local laborers on the ridgeline, I led them down to the mound of sugarcane scum fertilizer, or bagass as its known in Creole. Continuing on in Teicher-Teacher mode, I picked up a handful of the bagass, explained how the fertilizer would help the trees grow, and told them each to do the same before heading back up to the seedlings. After spreading several handfuls in each of their holes, everyone gathered around one hole, just off the path, for the final demonstration. Giving a good example of how NOT to properly remove the plastic (I didn’t account for the wet soil, which all fell away), I was actually able to show how important it was to make sure the roots be kept in the soil, and if exposed, be carefully placed into the surrounding earth and fertilizer.
Now it was their turn, and 31 eager feet scrambled up the rocks to plant their own tree or shrub. Nearly an hour after arriving in Plaine des Roches, 32 new plants were in the earth. But we weren’t quite done yet. Although we were planting in the rainy season, it is very important to ensure that the forest got enough water, and we can’t always rely on the clouds, I explained to the students. ”The clouds do not look sick, but it will rain, don’t worry,” as Basoo, one of the laborers told me. Grabbing several buckets, we formed a watering conveyor belt, and soon all the plants had gotten their drink. It was almost time to go, but there was one final thing I wanted to show everyone before lunchtime. Plaine des Roches is in a part of Mauritius that is dense with volcanic rock. Snaking and weaving their way through these sharp black rocks are a network of caves. Although to small for a person to explore, one such cave entrance lies just up the path from where we had been planting. But it was not actually the wondrous cave that I really wanted to show our kids: it was the mound of broken glass and plastic bottles that neighboring residents had dumped over the years. Improperly managed waste and litter is a huge problem on the island, and ELI Africa will be installing trash and recycling bins along the forest path, as well as notices about this problem on our informational signs. This waste not only mars a beautiful landscape, but it poses a public health and safety threat, as well as seriously harms marine ecosystems when it ends up in rivers and washed out to sea, including to coral reefs. This final visit served as a good image for the students, as our environmental classes will soon begin addressing waste management. But our final memory of the new forest was the newly planted trees and shrubs, as each kid and volunteer got to marvel at their handiwork as we walked back down towards the bus.
After snacking on the bus, our gang headed to the nearby forest reserve of Bras d’Eau. One of the few remaining endemic forests in the North (only 2% of the entire country has endemic forests now), our brief visit was a nice shady interlude, allowing everyone the chance to digest, while experiencing a premonition of what we sincerely hope the ELI Forest may look like. We even got to see the remains of some old railway tracks, which actually played a significant role in the country’s deforestation, carrying ebony and other trees from the highlands down to the ports, to be shipped off but never replaced.
Indeed, it was the coast that was our final destination for the day. After such a exciting but tiring day, we decided that the best way to reward the kids was a trip to Poste Lafayette beach. I must say that it is one of my favorite spots in Mauritius. On the northeast of the island, visitors are treated to a spectacular display of greens and blues. A small inlet drags the grassy beach of Poste Lafayette in from the regular coastline. The beach, buffeted in the rear by slender, wind-bent trees, is occasionally dotted with mangroves, which all cover several tiny islands in the bay. And in the distance to the south, green mountain peaks greet the wandering eye. Splashing around with the kids, tossing them in the water or letting them flip off of my shoulders and arms, it was a quite nice place to end a simply magnificent day.
(Since the field trip, over 350 trees and shrubs have been planted, with many more to come. The ELI Forest has taken root. And now, it grows).
Where to even start…I found out a couple days ago that Eli Africa was planning to take the kids who attend the Roche Bois and Pamplemousse centers out on a little excursion, I was hyped but it wasn’t until the day itself that I realized that there’s nothing better than being part of this Eli Family!
We started off the day at 9am at the Roche Bois center (yes it was hard to wake up early on a saturday morning if you were wondering but it was totally worth it!). As soon as I reached the center there was an inhumanly amount of energy flying around the room and not to mention the insane amount of smiles that were spread across these children’s faces as they were impatiently awaiting for the bus to arrive, every five minutes I would get the same question “Miss!!!! cot bus la???” (Miss, where’s the bus??) Finally the bus arrived and in less then two minutes the kids all got themselves onto the bus along with all the drink and food boxes…a record I must say! Once the engine was started so was the launching of what was to be an incredible day! Our first destination was the Eli Forest to plant some endemic trees! The children were explained the importance of endemic trees and how to plant them by Sam and soon enough we were each given a plant and headed out with the leadership of both Sam and Vedant to the planting locations. We spent an hour planting our little trees through a “follow the steps” method which you will find below:
1) Put the Bagass
2) Take off the Plastic
3) Make sure to not break the roots
4)Put in the soil and make sure the plant stands up straight
5) Put water!
When all of this was done we went back to the bus where everyone got a sandwich and there was a brief moment of silence on the bus as everybody was enjoying the food and re-hydrating themselves! Next was destination No.2 = Bras D’Eau. Bras D’eau is an absolutely stunning area which is mainly made up of forest. The kids were able to see the ‘adult’ version of some endemic trees and learnt some history about Mauritius!
Last and the most exciting destination was the beach! We headed for Post Lafayette, where we quickly got changed and were in the water in no time! Sam headed the “Backward Flips” station and I was in charge of launching the swimming races! We learnt the hard way that the animal shells sometimes left on the rocks are sharp! But there is always place for new experiences whether good or bad!
The day was concluded by the singing and playing of sega songs on the bus to once again heighten the atmosphere! Sometimes its as simple as planting a tree and being with children who appreciate the education that they are given at Eli Africa that changes one’s feelings and aims in life! What a great experience and I have a feeling that this memory will stay at the forefront of my experiences as my life continues to go on.
Thanks Eli Africa! For Everything…
The old, mangy mutt walked up from the beach. Pausing a few feet in front of my bench, he looked up at me with a watery gazed look as he eyed the slice of pizza in my hand. Turning away, he dug at the ground with a few strokes of his paw, uncovering the cool sand beneath the shaded surface. Then, with the powerful yet still graceful motion of a dancer, he slumped down upon his chest, resting his speckled face on his outstretched paw. Oreo-colored spots on a white body. I took another bite and, while chewing, tore off the end of my slice and tossed it before his chin. It was a bit too far away, so he pulled himself over to satisfy his intrigue, but surprisingly, failed to satisfy the hunger I was sure that he had. After a few sniffs, he resigned his tired head back onto his paw; his only movements for the rest of my lunch were to dig up new cool patches to rest his haunches. Some kind of a beach bum.
It’s not too often that I’m waking up at 3:30 AM to watch the Super Bowl with Vedant, the US Embassy Political and Technology Officers and nuclear waste specialists, but it was certainly an exciting way to watch one helluva entertaining game in Mauritius, and one that for once actually had two teams I like competing. What a comeback! A 28-6 Ravens lead melts away in a matter of post-stadium blackout minutes, and 49ers nearly pulled together the best pressure-time comeback I’ve seen in a long time. Usain Bolt-speed kick returns, clutch passes and even more clutch defensive stops, and suddenly a one possession game with the chance for the 49ers to clinch it? And to then see fall short by inches against Ray Lewis’s last ever goal line stand? It wasn’t the best football I’ve ever seen. But the finish? Classic.
Other highlights from the week: the local laborers began digging holes for our trees, and we’ve already got over 45 holes ready after one day! Two hibiscus plants are now rooted in the earth. And my phone is dead after I was unexpectedly pushed into a pool with all the essentials still in my pocket.
The big day is nearly here. After over three months of site surveys, fundraising meetings, and marching my boots through fertilizer, we finally secured the initial 500 seedlings for the ELI Forest and brought them to Plaine des Roches. If all goes as planned, planting the forest will start next week.
Yesterday, Cedric and I were picked up by Mr. Dinoo and his son in a lorry (British English has begun infiltrating my vocabulary) that looked like it had put in enough kilometers to have picked up any golf clubs left on the moon and brought them back. Despite my almost complete deficit of Creole, Mr. Dinoo insisted I sit up front in the cab with him as his son and Cedric clambered onto the flatbed for the ride. I’ve gotta say, I would have much preferred standing with the wind rushing past me than enduring the awkward moments as Mr. Dinoo asked me for directions and all I could do was point, shrug, or repeated “je ne parles pas Creole” (I don’t speak Creole). Eventually, I managed to get Cedric’s attention after halfway clambering out of my window, and soon everything was sorted out.
We arrived at the Forestry Service’s Seed Center in Saint Croix, outside the capital Port Louis, just after eleven in the morning. As Mr. Dinoo reversed his lorry down the road towards the nursery, Cedric and I walked into the main office and introduced ourselves to Mr. Vengatareddy, the manager of the Seed Center who had been graciously assisting us to prep for this day. I would have been gracious too if I was on the verge of receiving a stack of 50,000 rupees (about $1650) out of someone else’s wallet- but he was truly a pleasant and helpful guy.
After giving me a tour of the fourteen species of trees and shrubs set aside for us, Mr. Vengatareddy gave the all-clear sign to load up the truck. It was a solid 35-40 minute workout, all the while making sure that I bent from the knees, not the back (although this wasn’t quiiite hang-clean lift level of intensity).
After gently securing the 500th tree in our rented motor transportation vehicle, we thanked Mr. Vengatareddy and his team, inviting them to visit the forest in a couple months, and took off (minus Cedric, who had to stay and wait for their payment office to come back from lunch). We briefly stopped back over at the office to pick up the five big trash bins which will be installed along the forest path to promote waste and recycling awareness. I then hopped on the Hog (my 125 CC scooter) to get to Plaine des Roches in advance of the truck to make sure everything was ready for unloading. Upon arrival, I took Vedant’s dogs Mama Luce and Baloo for a quick run through the sugarcane field, and after about 25 minutes, the tree truck had arrived. To use a quote from the Yale Athletics: teamwork makes the dream work. The three of us unloaded 500 seedlings in a neat 15 minutes tops, and now these seedlings sit, ready to root themselves and grow from the rocky yet rich soil of Plaine des Roches.
Before signing off, I have to share two moments that I can only interpret as good omens for the future of the ELI Forest. The first came when I called the Tree Center last Friday, January 25th, to officially confirm we would be picking up the seedlings on Wednesday the 30th. As I hung up the phone, I smiled and was able to appreciate that our dream of the ELI Forest was finally becoming a reality. And why did I take this as a sign, you may ask? Without knowing it at the time, I made that phone call on the eve of Tu B’Shvat, the one day each year Judaism sets aside specifically for our natural world. It is known as informally as New Year’s for the Trees, a holiday that has been celebrated since the days of the ancient Israelites, and is the equivalent of Earth Day for Jews around the world, many of whom plant trees on this day. What better day to confirm we were actually obtaining the seedlings? The second moment came yesterday, right at the end of the day. Our team of three had just removed the last seedling out of the lorry and placed it next to the others. As I went to shake hands with Mr Dinoo and his son, I slowly began to feel drops of rain hitting my head. For the entire day, thick grey clouds had loomed overhead, but it was not until literal seconds after we finished work that the sky opened up. And what better way to welcome our pioneering plants to Plaine des Roches then with nourishing water from the heavens?
If you have a taste for overcoming challenges, you should climb aboard the ELI Africa Family. ELI Africa is a superlative archetype of mastering your skills and knowledge to communicate amid the students. Once you team up with ELI Africa, you will discern that it is an electrifying experience! I accepted the challenge of being part of the outstanding ELI Corps cohort. What makes ELI Corps members so zealous? So far, during my adventure at the Centre in Roche-Bois, I perceived that education was being acquired at a whole new level. In fact, it requires explaining in both creative and fun ways. Can you imagine playing football as well as singing your favourite song, in order to learn new English nouns and verbs? Indeed, learning would become much more entertaining!
As ELI Corps members, we are challenged to think outside of the box. As a team, we need to come up with unorthodox procedures to help the students learn. Therefore, the challenge is to find a correct method to teach to the students, while making sure that each one of them fully understands the topic. However, most of the time, this method requires altering the style to a more friendly, amusing and intelligible way, so as to suit the students’ academic digestive process. The name itself “ELI” stands for Experiential Learning Initiative, which means learning by engaging in practical activities. As long as our friends will learn through effective and innovative experiential learning, ELI Africa will be a sure-fire way to improve the students’ knowledge and expand their creativity.
At first, I was very scared to face this challenge. What if the students did not understand me? Do not get discouraged! ELI Africa helps its ELI Corps team, by providing them with excellent class schemes. These lesson plans are designed and polished by the ELI Volunteers. As a result, the topics are easier to explain and the lesson plans act effectively as a backup when the students cannot comprehend my examples. Nevertheless, when I help at the Centre in Roche-Bois, I never really faced this difficulty because my mentees are brilliant, proficient and committed (True story)! When these fast learners at the Centre understand what you teach to them, you get an amazing sense of accomplishment! However, most of the times, I am the one who is learning from these hilarious geniuses!
On this bombshell, it is time to end my blog post. Thank you for reading.