My chat with a teacher recently had me questioning the impact or lack thereof being made by the Wadadli Pen programme. To contextualize, this is from all accounts a committed teacher, one who sees her chosen profession as a vocation. I didn’t get the feeling she’d ever heard of Wadadli Pen as I described it to her. I was asking her what I could do to get more penetration in the schools, short of visiting every class at every school. I explained to her that that just wasn’t possible. I’ve visited many schools over the years, I’ve done writing workshops in the schools; time and work obligations as a freelance writer do not permit me to make a habit out of that these days – especially not in the current economy. Still, it was clear that she felt that that’s what it would take, as she said as our conversation petered out that she didn’t have time to push it but perhaps I could come and do presentations at the school. It felt like we’d circled back to the beginning at that point, but I suppose there wasn’t much else left to say after she’d suggested sending the information directly to the teachers and liaising with them; check and check, that’s been my approach the last few years after going through the Ministry of Education and the media didn’t yield huge returns. I still target the media and the Ministry (and youth workers and churches and youth groups) but I also mail and update the teachers on my growing contact list directly. Still, the numbers aren’t what they could be. Perhaps the interest isn’t there? And yet she expressed desire to get the children writing more. I asked her if she’d heard about my summer writing programme, Jhohadli Summer Youth Writing Project, yes she had; and if she’d passed on the information to the children, not so much. Perhaps, I suggested to her, since we already have a prize for the school with the most submissions, we need to also have a teacher prize as further incentive. Maybe, she conceded. The entire exchange left me feeling a bit down, though there’s more to my dark mood than that, if I’m being honest. After a recent interaction related to the JSYWP which triggered flashbacks to negative experiences related to my relationship with sponsors/donors/patrons over the years for Wadadli Pen, the thought of having to approach and entice local businesses to be patrons, and massage that relationship so that no one feels slighted and everyone feels like they got their due mileage, makes me feel tired before I even start. I’ve actually begun applying for grants hopeful that that will free me from that tiresome process but who knows how that will go. So the question on my mind, I suppose is, if it’s so hard to fund it and there’s little interest in participating in it – especially among the kids (and teachers) in the public schools who I really want to reach? Is it worth doing?
That’s where I am as I write this. God willing, I’ll be in a better place by the time it’s time for planning to begin in earnest. Because if I’ve learned anything about doing Wadadli Pen is that you can’t do it half heartedly, it takes so much out of you, you’ve really got to go all in or you’ll find no joy in it and no energy to make it happen.
2014 will make it 10 years since I launched this programme. At heart, I want to find the energy to keep it going and to expand what it does. But as I posted somewhere else, I’ve got to find a better model. A model that allows for funding for year round engagement with the students in the classroom not just a Challenge that taps into the potential but doesn’t help develop it; a model that makes it less dependent on me to push it; a model that doesn’t see me going cap in hand and feeling bitter when those interactions sour as they sometimes do. What I never wanted was for Wadadli Pen to be about me; I want it to be about giving the young writers coming up hope and opportunity. I guess in that sense it’s about me because the lack of those elements in the development of my own writing coming of age in Antigua and Barbuda was what made me want to do this in the first place. To be the alternative.
I guess the question I’m now asking myself is, so now what?
As with all content on wadadlipen.wordpress.com, except otherwise noted, this is written by Joanne C. Hillhouse (author of The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, and Oh Gad!). All Rights Reserved. If you enjoyed it, check out my page on Amazon, WordPress, and/or Facebook, and help spread the word about Wadadli Pen and my books. You can also subscribe to the site to keep up with future updates. Thanks.