Thursday, August 20, 2009


News from StarShine Academy in Africa

News from StarShine Academy in Africa

HUB Members Field Report:

HUB members Trish McCarty, Amber Halvorson and Jan Stoop from Star Shine Academy in Phoenix, Az, are spearheading the largest teacher training in the history of Liberia organized by HUB and Youth Action International. This is their report from activities they have been witnessing.

There’s a saying in Africa that you learn within your first 24-36 hours here. Well, if you’re lucky, you learn it within 24-36 hours, because once you know it, you will be much more ready to deal with how things happen in Africa. The system and process of how things happen here is as unique as the individuals that occupy this country.

The saying is ‘D.I.A.’ meaning “Dis Is Africa.” …translation: we’re on Africa time and Africa ways….and as I can tell you from just my little experience here so far, Africa time and Africa ways are unlike any other ways I’ve ever been around. Example being, our training was scheduled to start here today Wednesday August 19, 2009 at 10:00am Local Time. The letter that Kimmie Weeks and his staff sent out stated the training started at 9:00am, taking into consideration D.I.A. This is why your ‘On the Ground’ Team is critically important.

Additionally, Kimmie and his team handled themselves like pros today. They had to deal with 400 teachers confirmed and well over 700 (we think, possibly more) actually showed up. It was a lot to deal with and they worked very hard under Kimmie’s guidance.

At one point I dove into the registration process to help. The ground versus on the stage offered an even hotter experience as the temperature must have exceeded well over 100 degrees on the floor. My clothes sticking to me and my hair wet all around my face, I looked up to see an absolute sea of people all clamoring to get in and registered. Not one to panic quickly, even I was taken aback a few times at the realization of how many people we were faced with and the look on their faces desperate to get in.

There’s an energy to a large crowd, and you can feel it. The temperature rising the closer it gets to the edge. Very close to boiling, this was as close to a crowd on the edge as I’ve ever seen or been near to.

It’s not because this is a group that’s impatient or unkind. It’s because life here is hard. It’s very difficult and, like I saw hope in the eyes of the press yesterday, I saw desperation today in the eyes of the very large crowd standing before me trying to get in to a training they so very much needed and wanted.

Finally, in a large hall that is not air-conditioned, with people packed aisle to aisle and literally to the rafters, we commenced our first day of teacher training for over 600 teachers.

For as many people that were there, I have never seen a crowd so still and attentive. Ever.

After a welcome from each of our partners, Kimmie with Youth Action International and Spryte with HUB, Trish opened with an overview of StarShine, trauma and the brain, and what we would be covering over the next three days. Jan followed with an explanation of a StarShine Opening. With over 600 people on one foot breathing in and out, Jan explained why it’s important that every student start their day in a positive space and how to prepare their brains to learn by doing the StarShine Opening every day. I followed with the equally important StarShine Closing, detailing the importance of students staying in a positive space, sharing the best part of their day and stating their goal for the next day, thus keeping them excited about school until their return the following day.

All three of us were certain to detail the importance of the StarShine community, and how they can build a community both in their classroom and in the school as a whole. A large focus was also placed on the brain and what the audience could do immediately to engage their classrooms more with specific classroom techniques.

The afternoon continued with the character traits, executive protocol, goal setting, and when the door opens, to “run through it!”

The audience’s participation, respect and attentiveness was unlike anything any of us had ever seen. At times it was so moving it took everything we could to maintain our composure on stage.

Jan and Trish Teaching

We talk a lot about the pent up demand of an educational system that meets the demands of the world we live in. Those of us that have this conversation frequently readily admit it takes a kind, caring, passionate human populace that will be the carriers of such a system. Without a shadow of a doubt there were 600+ such individuals in that hot hall today. Our message as we explained it was reflected in an understanding written across everyone’s faces, and the passion for both what we know, and their deep commitment to understand it, was palpable.

In any speech or concert there is a two way message happening – one in which the presenter sends out, and one in which the crowd sends back in response to the message. By the end of the day, our presentation notes and outlines were thrown to the side and the crowd guided our content and its delivery. Today was far beyond a presentation. Today was a dialogue, and we learned as much from them as we brought to teach.

We are all better together and at no time has this been more apparent – from the partnership between Kimmie Weeks, HUB and StarShine, to our interaction with the crowd today. It took the work of many people to make this happen. Trish, Jan and I may have been physically on the stage today, but there were many, many others standing behind us.

To the StarShine family back home: your endless support to make this trip happen and your strength and ability to maintain everything while we’ve been gone has been paramount to this entire process; you were on the stage with us today.

To all of the spouses, friends and families of StarShine: we wouldn’t be where we are on this project without you. You were with us on the stage today.

To everyone else that’s done their part to help keep the StarShine project moving and keep all of the people within it smiling; you were with us on the stage today.

The world is watching and the events of today will have effects that will continue on long, long after we leave next Monday. We are working on the system that will continue to support and educate this community. Making everyone in the auditorium promise to share what they learned today with at least two other teachers empowers everyone to go out and do their part.

We’re all in this together, and our combined efforts are having a profound effect.

Thank you to you all,

Trish, Jan and Amber