While school is still on holiday I will write a little about my experiences away from school.
At a festival of traditional Sierra Leone culture called the Tangains Festival over Easter weekend, I met a woman who runs a skills training center in a former refugee camp in a town east of Freetown called Grafton. Her name is Isata, and when I inquired, she quickly agreed to teach me how to build a tradional loom. The Class 3 teacher, Susan, and I made arrangements to visit her at her center in Grafton. A few days later we were there and began to learn the techniques for assembling a heddle and comb using only wood from a few different species of tree cut to appropriate lengths and Chinese-made nylon twine. In all we have had four lessons, all taught with care by a young man in his second year of senior secondary school named Mohamed. He has agreed to travel to the school in Goderich to help us set up the looms and I am planning to go at least once more to Grafton to receive basic instruction in how to set up the thread for weaving.
The looms are very portable and are designed for making very long, thin strips of cloth that are then cut and usually sewn side by side to make garments and comforters. Traditionally the thread used is cotton grown in Sierra Leone and spun on hand spindles. There is very little cotton being grown in this country now - I've been told that has been the case since the war - though I have seen a few distaffs of handspun thread going for very high prices. Almost all of the cloth, called country cloth, that is produced now is woven of what is called English thread, really Chinese-produced, polyester thread. The colors are harsher than the traditionally plant-dyed fabrics that are being imported from Mali, apparently woven in a similar fashion, though I am not sure of that. Below are a few pictures of the kind of loom we will build.
When we are done, we will have three complete looms for the school to use as well as the know-how to build more looms in the future. What is particularly nice is that Grafton is only about fifteen minutes west of Rokel where the school will move in September, so there is also a strong possibility of continued cooperation in the future. I hope at least that Susan will take it up and be able to offer lessons to the students.
Whereas in an American Waldorf school, handwork of this sort (including crochet, knitting, sewing and embroidery) is introduced to children in order to help them develop their will (what we can consider their physical and psychic strength in carrying out a deed) as well as their dexterity, here there is the very real possibility that weaving will be a trade for a few of the children when they leave school. So very few of these children will attend secondary school, much less college, that manual arts are, even in primary schools, seen as vital vocational skills. It is something that the Goderich Waldorf School will have to work out when developing its curriculum further.