Art for five-year-olds in Mogoditshane

Wife Karen has not been here in Botswana long before we travel out to the St. Peter’s Day Care Centre in Mogoditshane.

Gladys Mudereri, the director of the Centre, is always welcoming. The periodic reports of the Centre are filled with stories of volunteers who add to the energy and, well, joy, of the place. All of whom, it seems, receive a gracious welcome. Her greeting to Karen is no different.

Mma Mudereri – well, Mmaruti Mudereri, for a priest in Botswana is Moruti, and wives of priests, including Karen, are Mmaruti – anyway, Mma Mudereri and Mma Spencer set out to plan what Karen might do. By the time we leave (I am simply Karen’s driver, as she has not yet embraced driving here), the two have decided that Karen will do some art classes with the three-, four- and five-year-olds, will do workshops with teachers about art in the classroom, and may have a session with the caregivers of these orphans and vulnerable children.

Our first quest is to discover if there are any art supply stores in Gaborone, and if so, where. We go to the Craft Market, where we find a gallery owner and several local artists having coffee. We join them. We learn that there are two stores here. If they don’t have what she needs, they say, the only alternative is to go to Johannesburg, where there is one store that these artists obviously love.

The idea of a drive to Joburg quickly grows on me, but I am to be disappointed. The two shops here may not have a great inventory for professional artists, but they are reasonably well stocked for art in schools. Karen picks up some things and we head home.

I know that Karen has become settled in Gabs when the coffee table is covered with her art projects and my cookware and cooking utensils are coated with glue and coloring. Her first class – with five-year-olds – is to be papier mache. She blows up thirty balloons, tears my newspapers up (most of which I have read), and begins to make homemade glue.

The St. Augustine Theological School s soon coming to the end of the term, and I have some final course preparation to do and some concluding handouts to write. I have visions of driving Karen to St. Peter’s, where I will find a quiet corner to work on my laptop.

No.

‘When I think of all the things I have done for you in your work,’ she begins. And she is right. During my time at Greater Birmingham Ministries, the Washington Office on Africa, and the Diocese of North Carolina’s School of Ministry, well… the list is quite long. My making a case for my plans really doesn’t hold up.

The children are remarkably attentive as Karen shows them what they will be doing. They are making papier mache fish. I quietly pray that they know what a fish is. That is not a safe assumption in a desert country.

But they happily set out on the task. There are plates with Karen’s glue in the center, ample quantities of strips of newspaper in front of each child, and balloons rolling around on the table in front of them. Soon there is a quiet buzz in the classroom as they begin to glue strips of paper onto the balloon.

Many of them actually manage to cover the balloon – which is their goal – before the class time is over. The teacher, her assistant, Karen and I all assist a bit, spurring them on by adding paper ourselves. I see Karen smile when I tell one child that she needs to put glue on the paper before she tries to stick it on, but then I see her roll her eyes when the child persists and I say, ‘Well, dry is good too.’ There are other diversions. Those boys who clamored for a large balloon discover how much more work it is to cover big ones, and one child finds it fun to wash his hands in the glue. But they are remarkably diligent in the task.

We hang the finished papier mache on a string I have strung between a cabinet and the windows. The line is low enough for the boys to reach up and tap the balloons – it’s low enough for the girls, too, but for some reason they don’t try – but I can’t get the line any higher. The teacher may have a challenge here before Karen returns for the next stage, adding colored paper, and tail, and eyes and a mouth.