LEWISTON – On a recent day at Montello Elementary School, volunteer teacher Barbara Carnegie sat at a table with two Somali Bantu girls working on an English language lesson.
They were learning the word “smooth.”
Carnegie asked the girls, “What is smooth?”
Binto Matan, 9, and Hawo Ibrahim, 9, came up with answers.
“That’s a good one,” Carnegie said. “When we have nice, smooth skin, doesn’t it feel good to touch your skin?”
The trio was part of the first Camp Middle Jubba, named for a part of Somalia where Bantus lived before violence forced them into refugee camps in neighboring Kenya.
At the refugee camps, education was sparse, if available at all. Some Bantus speak no English and some of the children had never been to school before arriving in the United States.
The goal of the summer camp is to help them learn English and classroom social skills. Because their school experience has been limited, they don’t know what’s expected of them in school, said camp director Mohamed Farah. Last year too many talked or didn’t pay attention in class, he said. The hope is to help Bantu children have a better school year this year.
But the summer camp is “not just school work,” said organizer Elizabeth Eames, an African studies professor at Bates College.
They also play and are learning about Maine, Eames said. Campers have taken field trips to the beach. They’ve seen lobsters, sea urchins and small sharks at the Maine State Aquarium in Boothbay Harbor, have visited a zoo and a children’s museum, have climbed a rock wall and are playing soccer and volleyball.
The camp has 25 children and about 10 volunteers, including Somali Bantu parents.
Mekhan Mumin, the mother of several boys, said she was there to see how her sons were doing.
“I’m here to see if their education is growing, so when school comes they are ready,” she said through an interpreter. She wants them to have “a peaceful mind, apply writing and reading skills.”
Camp director Farah and interpreter Ibrahim Bashir said the camp, which began in late June, is going well. “Everybody likes it,” he said.
As he spoke, the campers worked on an assignment about a banana. What is it? Where does it grow? What is it like? The lesson helps campers think creatively, express themselves and write in English, Bashir said.
College student and volunteer Morgan Seeley, 18, of Greene was teaching fifth-graders about language and reading. “They have improved a lot,” she said. “Their behavior has come a long way.”
At another table volunteer Bonnie Soper worked with four 9-year-old boys. She showed off their banana story. “The kids came up with these words,” Soper said. “Everybody came up with sentences, then we have a story with a beginning, a middle and an end.”
As she spoke, 9-year-old Ahmed Abo drew an ostrich.
Soper began volunteering the week before last. She went with campers on several field trips. “They wrote these great stories about everything they saw,” she said. “I’m amazed at their writing.”
The six-week camp ends this week.
School begins Aug. 28.