Two Rancocas Valley teachers learn much on trip to Nigeria

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Teachers Sara Shelley and Jonathan Freitag may have learned more than they taught while visiting Nigeria on a humanitarian
trip in July.

The two social studies teachers at Rancocas Valley Regional High School, who are a couple and live in Philadelphia, visited
the African nation July 1-27 with the S.E. Onukogu Foundation, a nonprofit that  provides educational and medical
assistance to those in need in rural areas.

For two weeks, the two taught English and math to students in the village of Ngwoma. They then traveled to the northern part
of the country to Tula to provide medical assistance to people in need.

They learned a lot about the country and its people.

“They have a very rich life, a rich family life, a rich religious life, and a rich tradition. There is a burgeoning patriotism there. But materially, most live an impoverished life, and it’s very sad,” said Freitag, 34, a teacher at RV for
nine years. “The family bonds are immensely powerful. The politeness and respect for elders was so beautiful. There is no
material richness, but a richness of soul, heart and generosity. The generosity was overwhelming.”

Shelley, 28, who grew up in Moorestown and has taught at RV for five years, said the experience was “enriching.” She taught 65
children who ranged in age from 2 to 12.

“The kids were so eager to learn,” she said. “They were energetic and positive. We talked about how some of these kids
would do so well in the United States, if they had more opportunities.”

Shelley was struck by the differences between village life and life in the United States.

“I was surprised how little there is for people to do,” she said. “In America, we have so many choices. At night (in the
village) when it is dark, there is a void of entertainment.”

Since many of the villagers rely on farming to survive, they are early to bed and to rise, she said.

“The simplicity was kind of liberating,” Shelley said. “You just enjoyed people’s company. I’m always making to-do lists
here, and there is so much to do all the time.”

She said it was nice to not have to think about what to do next and just relax.

The poverty and lack of access to modern conveniences like refrigeration and dependable electricity were jarring.

Freitag said that there are no “cold foods” in Nigeria and that choices are limited. Driving conditions were also difficult, he

“I lost 12 pounds,” Freitag said. “Driving is just frightening. … It was a challenging trip. It was fascinating and

Freitag, whose former co-worker and friend Ernest Onukogu arranged the trip and served as a guide, said many Nigerians
speak and write English because the nation is a former English colony.

The two teachers even got to learn a bit of Igbo, the language spoken in Ngwoma.

“We tried to ingratiate ourselves,” Freitag said, adding that Westerners are treated as celebrities in Nigeria.

The kids followed them, marveling at their sneakers and especially their watches, he said.

“But kids are kids, and if you show them humility and respect, you have a good chance of bringing them into what lesson you
want to teach,” he said. “They were wonderful students. The kids would walk through mud so they could attend classes. They
have a strong desire to learn.”

Shelley intends to incorporate some things she saw and learned into a Modern Africa course she is teaching at RV. The course
is a new elective at the school.

The two said they were so affected by their trip and the kids they encountered, they intend to return, possibly next summer.

“We want to go back and see the students we taught,” Shelley said. “We admire Ernest (who works with the foundation). He
needs people and help.”

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