“Hey, Warden Burger,” Neal’s voice called across the school yard.
Chelsi’s ears twitched at the designation. It didn’t feel in poor taste given her general mood and the state of things, but is just sounds so unbecoming beside the fact that I’m running an environmental education camp for children. “What?” she yelled back, feeling that mood of her flaring up.
“Good morning,” he replied cheekily. She closed the distance between them, approaching the porch of the school block. “Do we get two eggs today?” Neal asked, as Oliver Twist might have, but with all the sass of one in false hardship.
Minding the reality of their situation, her temper cooled and she played of his jest, “I have asked the cook to prepare a double ration of porridge for all, and two eggs today.” Neal help dismount the large pot of oatmeal from her head and placed it on the stoop. “I think Lauren and Ken are coming with the other pot and the eggs.” Her head now free, Chelsi looked around the school yard. At 7 am it was still earlier for her, but her Zambian campers, probably rose at 5:30, and now they were running about the school yard playing a pick-up game of hand ball. They looked happy and content. The remaining volunteers, and the more reserved children, were sitting on the stoop of the school block playing Euchre. It wasn’t the best form for them to be sitting around playing cards, but it was the end of a long week, and they had earned some space. “Alright, if I can have everybody’s attention for a moment.” She went to the stoop and sat down with the group. “Ken and Lauren are being over the rest of breakfast. But first of all, happy final day of camp! You’ve all been working really hard and have dealt well with the few challenges we’ve had.”
“You mean like not having water?” Neal interjected.
“Like with the shortage of water filters; thank you Neal for putting a spigot on that bucket. I just wanted announce some changes to the schedule today. Marmar is going to go back into town today and bring Newton his things.” Newton, Maddy and Chaz’s counterpart who had suffered a seizure halfway through the week and had to be admitted to the hospital was going to be released that morning to the care of a nearby relative. “So I will be taking over her session on ecosystems this morning. But I still need time to write it, so instead of going first hour, I’m going to go third. So I need Adam and Amanda to do the Crafts with Trash session first, then if Neal can you do the fruit dryer. My session should be done by then. Then after lunch, Maddy and Chaz with do Climate Change and Mike and I will finish up camp sessions with Chongololo Club and how to be a leader. How does that sound?” There was a general nodding of heads that Chelsi took for understanding. “Don’t forget to be drinking plenty of water, it’s going to be another hot day today. And if we can just power through everyone will be able to relax tomorrow.”
Ken and Lauren, having just arrived, and sat the remaining breakfast pots on the school block porch. “Great thank you,” Chelsi said standing up. “Also, there’s two eggs for everyone and two pots of oatmeal, so be free.” Chelsi plucked a hard boil egg from the top of the pot and pealing it tossed it to Daisy.
“RED EKLANDS!” Lauren called out to the kids in the school yard to come be served breakfast. “If you have a red name tag and you’re an ekland it’s time to get your food!”
Breakfast was served and eaten. The campers came back for seconds and thirds until the porridge pots with scraped clean. Neal liked teased her with talk of rations, seeing how the pots were scraped clean at every meal but Chelsi had been pleased so far with the way her food planning had turned out. Nshima, the staple of ground maize, boiled until stiff, which must be had in a Zambian’s mind in order for food to be considered a meal, even if nothing else was offered, and many volunteers considered a large factor of malnutrition of children, had only been served once, the evening camp started. As far as Chelsi knew, she had been the only one in history of Peace Corps Zambia to deny Zambians nshima for so long. But everyone is better off for it. The campers get some variety in their diet, the volunteers aren’t complaining of being bloated on nshima, and the counterparts get a lesson in adaptability. Long in advance, Chelsi had made it clear, that if at any point people were unhappy with the food they could leave. She heard only one comment and crushed it immediately.
After everything was cleaned up from the meal, at about 8 o’clock, and the first hour session commenced, Chelsi sat down on the ground of the school alcove and began to write her session.
Talking points, session topics and take-a-ways from the week bounced around Chelsi head. Monday had been Water day, with sessions and games focusing on the water cycle, water quality and fisheries dynamics. Tuesday, Soil & Fire day, which help answer simple questions like ‘what is soil? What are village friendly solutions for improving soil fertility? And, how do fire affect soil and the landscape? Air & Atmosphere day followed, when, after learning about oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, and other air and atmosphere molecules, the campers made terrarium biomes glass jars to help hammer home the point that, like in the jar, everything on earth is finite, contained inside the atmosphere. Thursday was Plant & Animal day, where sessions touched on biodiversity and food webs. And all of this culminated to today – Ecosystems and Climate change day. But have they been putting it all together? Chelsi wondered. She flipped to a clean page of flip chart paper, pulled a set of water colors from the crafts bag, set up a cup of water and began to paint.
“Hey Chelsi?” Adam approached her from behind.
“Yeah?” Chelsi glance briefly over her shoulder at him to let him know he had her attention.
“Neal is just finishing up with the fruit dying session, are you ready for your session? It’s next, right? Is there anything you need me to do?”
Chelsi glanced at her watch, ten minutes to 11, not bad. “yeah, I’m just about done. Let the campers have a ten minute break to fill their water bottle if they need, and if you can make sure lunch is being finished up on time, that Ba Gladys has everything she needs.”
“Sure,” he turned to go and Chelsi finished up her last learning aid. She had drawn up five microsystems, each on its own flip chart page, that when arranged together created the big picture of the ecosystem. There was a stirring in the school yard of the camper stretching, filling their bottles and grumbling about the heat. Just a few minutes, and we’ll be ready to start.
“Remember, during session, we; listen with our ears,” Chelsi wiggled her ears, “and watch with our eyes,” she fluttered her lashes, “and if we have something to say we…” she closed her lips and raised her hand. The students quieted their chuckles and prepared their notebooks.
Chelsi began her lesson with a brief review of all they had talked about over the last week before venturing into the idea that an ecosystem is how water, soil, fire, air, plants and animals operate together. She was pleased with how engaged many of the students were offer tidbit they had learned throughout the week. After the opener, Chelsi asked the campers to get in their teams, and passed each of the five teams one of the pictures she had painted. “Now what I want you to do in your groups is answer these questions: In our picture, Where is the water? Where is it being stored how is it being used? What is the soil quality like? Describe its condition using evidence from the picture. Where is the air? How do you know it’s there? What plants and animals to you see? How are they interacting? Is there human activity? How can you know? Is the activity good or bad for the environment? Why is this activity being done? What could have been done instead? When you’re finished you’re going to present you picture to the rest of the group.”
As the campers chatted in their groups Chelsi walk around listening like a dutiful teacher. Generally, she liked teaching sessions, she liked commanding the attention of the room and coming up with activities, and teaching styles that help keep her students engaged. But, because she’d been tending to the other duties of Camp director, or warden as Neal like to call her, she hadn’t much committed to teaching any sessions at the start, and then barely found the time to sit-in on the sessions of others for more than a few minutes. She was only teach ECO ECHO now, and a session on fire earlier in the week, because it had fallen into her lap. Though the conditions under which this had happened weren’t great, she was happy to receive this session in particular. She thought it would be the best measure to see what the campers had learned in the last week. After all Environmental Education was the whole point of planning this year Camp TREE, Teaching Respect for Everyone’s Environment. If they hadn’t learned anything, all the stress, anxiety, and hard work to make it happen would have been for not.
When the chatter had died down and it sounded like each group had come to a consensus on their pictures, Chelsi invited the groups up one by one to explain their pictures to the group. The first group to go had a picture of some birds sitting in the tree tops. They talked about water transevaporting through the trees, and wind blowing the leaves. In the background they identified were trees had been cut and piled for conventional charcoal making. ‘Instead,’ the group identified, ‘they should be using the maize cob method we learned Tuesday and Wednesday.’ When the next group stood up, Chelsi pasted their picture just under the tree tops. Here was a picture of the forest floor under the canopy. On one side the group recognized that the earth was scorched by a bush fire. ‘Likely one set by a hunter’ they added after identifying a prominent game rodent in the picture. ‘Instead, the hunter should have brought a dog to help find the Fuko, because now the soil has been destroyed and young trees burnt.’ After they finished, the next group stood, pasting their picture of a small maize field in the forefront of the forest floor. “The soil here is good” the group decided, because the maize had grown tall. They pointed out the small group of goats being managed in the field. “The goats here can be eating the farm waste and dropping manure on the field, but here they are still burning some of the compost, which is polluting the air and could have been tilled into the soil.” Just in the corner of the picture of the maize field was a blue stream; which in the following picture connected to the rest of the stream. This was the picture most different from the rest. It was a cross-section of the stream, featuring a few fish and frog, a couple aquatic plants and garden beds planted just on the banks. In the background and abandoned fishing net could be seen stretched from bank to bank. “And the air in this picture?” Chelsi prompted after the group talked about the fishing gear, fish habitat and how stream banks shouldn’t be used for gardens. ‘Why, the air most be going in to the water. Otherwise the fish wouldn’t be able to live.’ Excellent, how excellent, Chelsi thought. The final picture portrayed the other side of the stream. A tall grass wetland was being cleared with fire. The mice and snakes were racing towards some homes in the background, not having anywhere else to go. The final group hit on every point in an appropriate way.
When the final group had finished the summery of their picture, refocused everyone’s attention and asked them all to take a step back. “In front of us, we have a very familiar seen. The bush, with birds and fuko, alongside our maize fields and animals, near streams for watering gardens, not too far from our homes, where we live. After having looked at the pictures individually, we can easily see, now that they are fit together, aspects of an ecosystem, like the water cycle. And how a human’s decision to do something like light a bush fire affect can affect the whole picture. Is everyone together with this?” There was a vigorous nodding of heads. “Because this afternoon Ba Maddy and Ba Chaz are going to talk about what happens when humans make too many decision that are bad for an ecosystem.” Chelsi glanced quickly at her watch; just after noon, right on time. “Thank you all for your attention. I’m really, really pleased to say that I can tell you all have learned a lot this week. It’s certainly made all the planning worth it” She added quietly to herself, turning to remove her learning aides. “There’s a half an hour of quiet time before lunch. So go enjoy!”