The GBA Program Committee has been talking a lot about dictionaries. At first glance, one might wonder why there’s so much chatter about the little books. But when we dive deeper, it’s easy to see how the discussion over dictionaries is an important reflection of GBA’s deliberate model of development. ***
One goal of GBA’s new curriculum module is for the students to start making vocabulary lists with words that pertain to sustainability. As Board Member Maria Brown explains, “They [the students] will essentially be making their own personal dictionaries.” Then the question of obtaining words for the dictionaries came up. Here in the US, we are able to look up words on our computers, phones, or tablets. However, in Kinshasa, these options are not readily available, and students would need physical dictionaries in order to look up words. Maria reports that the first thought was to just send dictionaries to DR Congo or buy them in Kinshasa. But alas, GBA’s intentional way of thinking and acting redirected the Program Committee to some potential pitfalls of this approach.
A concern emerged that the introduction of the dictionaries could be a bit disruptive within the community, as dictionaries are not a typical household item in Kinshasa. Thus, the Program Committee has been discussing how to best introduce the dictionaries to the students and teachers. Ann Marie Thomson, co-founder of GBA, commented on the dictionary discussion: "It's so easy for us to get dictionaries, but in DRC it is rare and people can make money off of them. How can we make this a learning opportunity AND how can we help the children also value WORDS?....it's one thing to bring dictionaries and hand them out, it's another thing to prepare students and teachers for creative ways to use dictionaries for the benefit of their own learning and understanding.” Anne Marie went on the explain that if she were living in the Mpasa community right now and didn’t understand the value of and uses for a dictionary, she would consider selling her dictionary in order to buy essential items. In the US, most of us face no dilemma between having a dictionary or having food, but in Mpasa, this is a real concern. That is why the dictionaries must be introduced with care and their value must be demonstrated.
It is these thoughts and questions that GBA constantly asks itself that makes it so unique. The asset-based approach to education is what creates real, lasting success—and sustainable solutions. “What I got from this is that EVERYTHING GBA does is done slowly and purposefully with care and intention, not just ‘plugging in’ an answer for a need, but looking at the long term implications,” Maria says. “I just don't think very many NGO's operate this way.”
The differences are in the details, and GBA vows to always examine even the most seemingly minute ones, like dictionaries. Stay tuned for updates on the dictionary discussion and other aspects of the new sustainability curriculum.