Over the last few years, I have worked in a variety of humanitarian situations in extremely diverse locations; from the foothills of the Himalayas, to the marble-strewn islands of the Mediterranean, to the colorful landscape of East Africa. I have lived in capital cities, in small towns, and in the straight-up boonies. When working in emergency locations, sometimes you have to roll with the punches and embrace life sans electricity, running water, and access to other things that you might otherwise take for granted. Through my experiences I have picked up tricks of the trade and figured out coping mechanisms to make any situation feel like home.
For example, my personal hard-drive is filled with all 7 seasons of the West Wing, a few silly rom-coms, and some stand-up comedy; I always tote a Kindle full of trashy romance novels; and I never leave home without my french-press travel mug and at least a month’s supply of coffee. When I turn up in a new place, the first thing I do is find out where to get clean water, followed by whether reliable electricity is available and if I can connect to WiFi. In the following days, I often scout out the best shops that sell little comforts like chocolate bars or fruit juices and search for where to buy some local things to make whatever living space I have feel a little more like home, be it a mat, a basket for dirty laundry, or simply a colorful piece of fabric to drape somewhere.
Most of the time, already waiting for me wherever I go, is a bucket. When I say bucket, I literally mean bucket…you know, like the ones you see painters carrying around or that you find in hardware stores. Buckets, I’ve come to realize, are more versatile and useful than a Swiss Army knife or multi-tool (which I also carry around with me, in case that wasn’t obvious by now). Buckets can be used to carry water; they are necessary for flushing toilets from a great height; they function as luggage containers; and who doesn’t love a bucket shower? The list goes on and on. The fact that this useful item is usually provided for me wherever I go supports my theory that other people and cultures also recognize the functional properties of the bucket and likely agree with my personal opinion: you simply can’t live without one. I would give up my hard-drive, my computer, my Kindle, and yes, my coffee…as long as you don’t take away my bucket.
Resourcefulness and using one item for multiple functions is a theme in the Little Ripples teacher training we are delivering. We encourage the teachers we work with to use the items and resources available to them, for example: re-purposing plastic bottles into musical instruments; using flowers, trees, or the landscape around them to teach about colors, sounds, and other adjectives; and incorporating local music, stories, and dancing into their learning spaces. Today, we focused on the importance of play-based learning and shared lots of different toys and learning materials with the teachers. It was so much fun to see them play with the toys and experience the items in the same way that their students might.
When we encouraged the teachers to think about how to use the toys to facilitate learning, one teacher held up a soft, red, plastic toy car. She said, “You can help to teach the students colors with this.” “Very good!” I responded, thinking she was done. As I turned to another teacher though, she said, “But also you can teach students about sounds, you can teach them modes of transportation, you can use it to tell a story….” and her list went on and on. She was followed by teacher after teacher who explained how to use a single item in multiple ways to facilitate learning. Additionally, without being prompted, many of the teachers naturally spoke about how the toy they were holding up related to the four areas of child development (physical, emotional, social, and cognitive) and the values of Little Ripples (Peace, Helping, and Sharing). With this toy they could teach children how to share, how to be creative, how to work as a team, and how to just play and have fun. It was inspiring to hear from these teachers how they could do so much with so little, and how excited they were to get into their learning spaces and start playing with their students.