lørdag 20. februar 2016

What could a Serbian donkey teach Norwegian students?

Students of teacher education at University College of Southeast Norway were exposed to an extraordinary challenge when they were asked to help a donkey with her health troubles. Maza-donkey had traveled far away from home in Serbia, over seven mountains and seven seas, to a place in Norway where grass was greener… dangerously greener. The change of climate and food did not do her well, she got laminitis (horse disease caused by too much sugar and proteins in food) and she desperately needed help to keep her dissolving hooves dry during the long Norwegian winter.

The fall after Maza got sick I was responsible for visual art teaching in a wonderful group of 17 students of teacher education. Their excitement inspired me to come up with an idea that they could design a shelter for Maza. That would be a realistic problem for them to solve – with pedagogical capacity to engage them, make them learn though experience and get inspired how they could plan their future teaching of school children.

A large cage-like construction was occasionally standing just outside the art department. It was a rest from reconstruction of the building. It needed to be removed anyway, and we saw possibilities how to transform it into a castle for Maza - who we imagined was a donkey princess. The students designed square applications in water-proof textile to fill the windows in the metal frame. Maza herself inspired the designs: some of the motives were her hairy ears, happy tail and mystical cross on her back. The students that were inspired by a story about “princess Maza” gave her diamonds and other things a princess should have in her castle. Some students made landscapes to remind her of her beloved home county. One student even made an applique of Serbian national fruit plum, unaware of the fact that Maza once upon the time actually lived in a plum garden…

Maza taught the students about empathy and designing for specific purpose and needs. She taught them about the importance of imagination in learning and teaching, and how meaningfulness comes from feeling of being of value for someone else… event if (or exactly because?) that someone else is a little helpless donkey. There is so much mastery and joy in the experience that out efforts matter to someone. 

Thanks to Henning, Terje and Thomas who helped with transporting of the “cage-construction” from University College of Southeast Norway to the stables at Holt, Stokke, and to Marianne and Roger that allowed us to place it on their property.

This story has also been edited and published at the web-page of Norwegian embassy in Serbia:   http://www.norveska.org.rs/News_and_events/News-and-events1/What-could-a-Serbian-donkey-teach-Norwegian-students/#.Vsi3RWf2bIU

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