our mission:

To restore life, health and peace to indigenous farmers and nomadic pastoralists in nigeria through the settlement of pastoralists onto protected, ecologically sound grazing reserves with healthcare and schools provided for their families.

Reading Workshops in Nigeria – A is NOT for APPLE!  

Reading Workshops in Nigeria – A is NOT for APPLE!  

A is for Apple, Always and Able!  

Phonemic awareness - The first step in learning to read!  

Are YOU aware of the importance of SOUND in your child’s learning to read and write?  In Nigeria, it’s been the tradition to teach children how to read by first having them memorize the NAMES of the letters in the alphabet, ‘A is for Apple, B is for Boy’ etc., then having them memorize long, long lists of spelling words.  The SOUNDS of the letters are not addressed. The problem in the system is, the child can only recognize the words he or she has memorized and has no way, no tool to help him read unfamiliar words.

Phonemic awareness is the system of teaching the SOUNDS made by single letters and combinations of letters.   The learner memorizes the sounds of the letters and thus, when faced with any word, sees the letter or letter combinations, (called phonograms,) immediately knows their sounds and can read the word, no matter how long or short it may be.  

This is the method our instructors, Jan Novak, Judy Hildebrant and Carol Barrett, three retired teachers and friends of Schools for Africa, are presenting at the three workshops we are holding this February and March in Nigeria.  Teachers attending the workshops come from Bright Hope Academy and NewPointe Community Primary School, from Mogodi Camp School, from twenty schools on the Kachia Grazing Reserve and three schools on the Bobi Grazing Reserve. Imagine the hundreds of children whose reading will be fast forwarded because of the efforts of our instructors and the dedication of these teachers!  We are so thankful for each and every one!

Workshop #1 - Emiworo, Kogi State

Working together with Principal Roseline, Vice Principle Mark, Head teacher Gambo and all the primary teachers at Bright Hope Christian Academy was truly a blessing.  We met every day in the Secondary School hall and had the joy of visiting with these teachers and many, many local Fulani friends and students at the school, renewing old friendships and creating new ones!  Along with the afore-mentioned teachers, there were four who came via our government contact, Mrs. Zainab Lawal, from three government schools and one private school in the area. This was so encouraging as we realize the wider net being cast, the greater number of students impacted as the use of phonics is introduced as the most effective way to teach reading.

Of course, spending time with our Fulani students was a big highlight of this visit.  Salihu and Baruwa, students who started at this school at the Nursery School level and are now graduating from high school spent a portion of each day with us.  Babangida came with his father, Alhaji Garba. Babangida, one of my favorites, had been taken out of school some years ago and sent for Islamic training. Now Garba was bringing him back to Bright Hope to continue with his ‘Western Education’.  He is a teenager now, but will start again in Primary 4. We visited a little boy named Shehu in a Fulani camp some distance from the school. Shehu was born with an incurable skin disease called Ichthyosis Vulgaris, inflicting him with thick, dry, cracked skin over his entire body.  We purchased several large jars of Vaseline to help soften his skin, and we’re looking for a local source of Shea Butter which may be an even better solution. We’ve fallen in love with this child and his extended family; at least fifteen related families and over fifty children live together in this camp.  

Emiworo, Kogi State has for fourteen years been the ‘home of my heart’ in Nigeria.  This is where Jim and I, as Free Methodist missionaries working with the International Child Care Ministries, ICCM, (FM child sponsorship program,) built the first ICCM school for Fulani children.  Alhaji Mogodi Musa, the first Fulani man I met in Nigeria and my closest friend and colleague, worked tirelessly with us, convincing over twenty Fulani chiefs in the Emiworo area to agree to send their children to this school.  The school was opened in January, 2008, and has been educating Fulani children ever since. A second school, Little Lambs Nursery School, was quickly opened, then a third, Etiose Primary School in Ondo State. A forth school was opened in Enugu State.  During these years Jim and I lived in an apartment behind the Free Methodist Church sanctuary on the Emiworo school campus. This is where Jim’s body lay in state when he died suddenly in October, 2008. Now a signboard stands outside the church bearing his name, in memory of this great missionary, his love for God and God’s people in Nigeria.

Emiworo campus was the scene of my kidnapping in 2015.  I was standing in front of the Free Methodist Church talking with Rev. Jacob Ahiaba and his wife when five masked gunmen, shooting into the air, rushed towards us, grabbed me then threw me over the compound wall and dragged me into the woods behind the school.  I was their captive for twelve days, but God was with me, cared for and protected me and arranged my release twelve days later. It was God who touched the hearts of two of my captors who then saved my life and released me unharmed. Because of this, I am never afraid to return to Emiworo.  I know that my God, who has saved my life over and over again, will continue to keep me until it’s my time to go home.

I learned to love Emiworo and her people, the great Niger River flowing nearby, the capital city, Lokoja, just twenty minutes away.  It was fun to take Jan, Judy and Carol on a mini-tour of Lokoja, this old, colonial city, one of five in Nigeria that still show remnants of that colonial era.  We saw the Holy Trinity Anglican Church and first primary school in northern Nigeria, built in 1865. We visited a memorial to the end of slavery in Nigeria and saw the two iron bars that, if a slave could reach and touch them, he would be set free.  We saw prefabricated buildings brought from the U.K. by colonial settlers up the Niger River by ship. We drove to the top of Mount Patti to try and see the view, from this high vantage point, of the confluence of two mighty rivers, the Benue and the Niger, but we’re in ‘Hamartan’ weather right now, so dust from the Sahara covered the city in a yellowish haze.  

Lokoja is known as the ‘Confluence City’. If you look at the Nigerian National Emblem, you will see the Y shape in the center, which represents the confluence of the two rivers, with Lokoja the center of the Y.  

Workshop #2 - Kachia Grazing Reserve, Kaduna State

In Kogi State, we stayed in the Rock Garden Hotel, in Lokoja.  On the Kachia Grazing Reserve, we stay at the Wuro Nyako Learning Center.  This center is a very large compound with six apartments, a primary school, two buildings containing a computer lab, a sewing center, a Shea butter and yogurt factories, all donated by Africa Development Bank.  All but the yogurt factory are in disuse and disrepair.

Thirty-eight teachers are enrolled in this two-week workshop, all of them from government primary schools but not all of them presently employed.  There is a terrible dearth of teachers here for several reasons. MOST of the schools have over two hundred pupils enrolled, some are up to four hundred, but with only one teacher for each school.  Schools for Africa has no schools in Kachia and cannot hire teachers for this many schools, so we are doing the next best thing, and that is training the teachers that are available. In the first week the instructors gave an in-depth review of English grammar, spelling rules and of course, single letter and multi-letter phonograms.  The second week will be practical demonstration of teaching reading phonetically in two local primary schools. Most of the teachers have cell phones and are recording the lessons, especially the forty-four sounds made by the twenty-six letters of the alphabet.

A big highlight for me, as a promoter of managed, rotational grazing on these reserves, is the work of a young Fulani herdsman named Alhaji Tashi.  Alhaji Tashi lives in an area of the reserve called Yola Fulako, notable to us because of the dam our friend Chester Novak built in that place. (Unfortunately, this dam failed, but there are plans to repair it this April.)  Tashi is one of the herdsmen who attended the two-week training in managed grazing that we held at Emiworo two years ago, under the auspices of Alan Savory, world renowned scientist and ecologist.

Alhaji Tashi had told me on our last visit to Kachia that he was practicing managed, rotational grazing on his land in Yola Fulako, so I had determined to go with him to see his project.  I did that the first weekend of our time in Kachia, taking along two, hundred-kilo bags of cattle feed in the back of the Sequoia! At Yola Fulako village, Tashi showed me the little school house his community had built for their one hundred fifty children together with the house and well they’d built for a teacher.  Afterwards, with several village men, we sat under a tree and Tashi drew on a sheet of paper the four paddocks he was using, the system of time his twenty-eight cattle spend in each one and the location of the water source he uses at this time. (We could see the urgency of the Yola Fulako dam repair.) After we had discussed his work and I’d seen with my own eyes that he was actually practicing this grazing as he said he was, I took him back to the car and presented to him the two bags of feed.  He was so surprised and happy! I hoped that this gift would encourage him to keep up the good work, and perhaps bring other herdsmen into the system, and I was right!

Yesterday during our walk through the Ladduga Market on Kachia, Tashi came up to me again.  He said he’d held a workshop on managed grazing at the little primary school! He had taught five men in his community how the system worked, and all of them were ready to start!  I asked if I could come to his next training to hear what he’s teaching and meet the five men. I want to suggest that they combine their herds and do rotational grazing together; this is important as the more animals you run on the land, the higher the grass and ground water yield will be!  

Workshop #3 – Bobi Grazing Reserve, Niger State

On this reserve, Schools for Africa has opened three primary schools and hired sixteen teachers.  Two other communities in the reserve, Barista Side and Dam Dutse have urgently requested schools as well; we hope to provide those in the next few weeks.  

We held the Bobi workshop in the large, spacious classroom of the new building which Niger State Government has given Schools for Africa!  The program went very well, with the instructors teaching new methods to help pupils recognize, point out and pronounce phonograms in songs and poems.  Teachers were guided in how to teach the writing of sentences and stories, and how to simplify stories, teach vocabulary and create spelling lists.

I took the instructors on a little tour of the reserve after the workshop was complete, and on Sunday, Jan, Judy and Carol arranged an appreciation dinner, complete with gifts and a final toast, for our wonderful staff, Saidu, Jacob, Lawal, Sani and Okon, who cared for us so well for the past six weeks.  Three teachers who stay at the teachers’ quarters in Alhaji Buba’s compound, (where we also stay,) helped with the dinner and joined us in the celebration! Our staff will never forget these three instructors, the kindness and dedication they’ve showed during these six very strenuous weeks!

Truly, I know I speak for all the teachers and staff of the three workshops when I say a very BIG ‘THANK YOU’ to Jan Novak, Judy Hildebrant and Carol Barrett for the immense gift of this incredible teaching, the time, money and effort they spent these past six weeks, the hardships they endured, bringing this program to us.  We are so very grateful, and look forward to the next level of teaching next year!

On Monday, Lawal and Saidu drove the three ladies back to Abuja to cool their heels at the ECWA Guesthouse!  Literally COOL their heels! The temperatures on the Bobi reserve were over a hundred degrees Fahrenheit every day!  The rest of us packed all our gear on Monday then left Tuesday morning for Minna, capital of Niger State, where I’d been called to a meeting by the Commissioner for Agriculture.   


Meeting on March 12 with the Commissioners in Minna, Niger State

Two commissioners – one for agriculture and one for livestock and fisheries - were present at the meeting. Also attending were the Permanent Secretary for Agriculture, the Director of Lands and the Director of Bobi Reserve.  I had been called to the meeting, but had no idea what it was all about! I was soon to find out!

First of all, I was told, the Governor was attaching two additional security officers to me, at his expense, any time I came to work on the reserve!  He wants to be sure of my safety at all times!

Then secondly, the Director of the reserve was ordered to call community elders from Barista Side and Dam Dutse to assure the Government that if Schools for Africa put two primary schools there, we would be afforded complete cooperation and security.  

Thirdly, they told me the Government has sewn uniforms for ALL of our school children in preparation for a visit from Governor Bello on April 2, and President Buhari shortly thereafter!  They would like a demonstration for these dignitaries on the system of teaching reading using phonemic awareness! (We will prepare well for this great opportunity!)

The Permanent Secretary for Education was called into the meeting.  She asked me to explain this reading program. Afterwards she asked if Schools for Africa could do workshops for teachers in the government schools!  Yes! Of course! Why not! This program could change the face of Nigeria! Jan wrote up a proposal for her which I’ll submit this coming Monday.

Finally, last but not least, the Commissioner for Agriculture told me they had scrapped their former idea of giving each herdsman 10 hectares for grazing, (an idea which both I and Usiel Kandjii, certified trainer for Allan Savory, had told them would NOT work,) and were ready to adopt managed, rotational grazing for the reserve!

They want me to take a group of them, including Governor Bello, to Zimbabwe, to attend a seminar under Allan Savory at his institute for holistic land and livestock management!  I was asked to put together all the details for the trip and get it to them asap, to present to the Governor! I’ve written to Allan; he is on it, and suggests August or September for the visit.

What comes next?

Tomorrow I will meet with Pastor Emmanuel at the new City of Refuge to discuss plans for the proposed primary school, church and herd of twenty-four cows!  

Monday I’ll drive back to Minna to submit the Zimbabwe trip proposal, the government reading workshop proposal and discuss with the Permanent Secretary the upcoming repair of Dam Erga.  Then I’ll go on to Bobi, to sell our old Sequoia, buy a small ambulance for the maternity clinic and locate the site for a second clinic on the far side of the reserve. I want to meet with the Community Health workers and get their reports, and advertise for a full-time nurse for the present clinic.  

Next Saturday I go with Alhaji Buba to buy twenty-four cows! I am working on the best plan for those cows, for their care and feeding, and how they can be best used to support our Fulani believers at the City of Refuge.    

On March 29, I’ll attend the Board meeting of the Northern Nigeria Provisional Annual Conference.  

April 2nd, back on Bobi to meet Governor Bello!  I’ll stay on Bobi then for some time, until President Buhari has made his own visit.

Please stay tuned for a second email – a wonderful proposal from my dear friends Ralph and Doris Heritage!  

Goodbye for now, and God bless you and keep you ‘till we meet again!

Phyllis Sortor

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