Paper Flowers and Trash

Talitha Pam
Adjunct faculty, Lifelong Learning

A few years ago, I was working for a nature conservation nonprofit in Nigeria. We worked with communities on practical conservation and environmental education. I enjoyed my job because I spent my days teaching and learning.

Despite my contentment, I often wondered if we were making impact. The region had recently become a hot spot for illegal lumbering, and the evidence of their illicit activities was obvious. With all our work, would change ever come?

Growing up in Nigeria, the deplorable state of the public education system was not a new thing to me but this was really bad. As I walked to the class where I would teach, my heart sank despite the smile plastered on my face. The kids sat on the ground; there was no floor, nor desk, the roof leaked and not one of the kids had a sheet of paper or even a pencil.

“Welcome Aunty,” the kids shouted in unison. I smiled and returned their greetings.

While I set up I noticed two little girls ripping paper into long strips. I walked toward them and asked them what they were doing. “Making flowers,” they replied with happy smiles on their faces. I looked closely at the paper and realized that it was regular notepaper that was dirty and had writing on it. Probably something they picked up from outside. Where was the colorful construction paper? Where were the paint and glitter?

“Teacher said we will be talking about pollination and bees today,” one of the girls said. “That is why we are making flowers.”

As she spoke she manipulated the paper into loops and stuck a small crooked twig through it and handed it to me. A flower. It was perfect. Excited I stuck it into my hair and gave them both a hug.

My heart sang for joy because I realized that even in their less than desirable situation the kids were learning. They were creating. They were collaborating. They knew what the lesson was about and they had produced for me their interpretation of it.

YES! Change will come, it has come!

At LCC we do not just teach theory but develop practical and transferable life skills. Our community reminds us that no situation is permanent. Change will come. Sometimes all we need is space to create something beautiful.

I often find myself reflecting on the episode and I always ask myself, how can I get my students to make flowers out of trash?

Photo taken by me