Wednesday, September 19, 2012

One Year Anniversary!


It’s been a really long time since I blogged, but I thought the one year mark was a good time to pick it up again. This past weekend we celebrated one full year in-country. It’s so hard to believe that a whole year has gone by already and we are basically half way through our service here. It really flew by and I know this next year is going to go by just as fast. Looking back over the last year, it’s really hard to sum up how I feel about my service so far. So much has happened, and I’ve grown and changed as a person a lot, but I still feel like I should be or could be doing more at my school. Projects just take so long to get off the ground and it’s hard to feel like I’m making an impact. I’m working still on getting a library built and I have leads on people who want to help donate books and materials for the building, but nothing is confirmed yet. I’m hoping to finally get the building plans drawn up this week so I can submit them to the counsel (everything has to go through the government here and the bureaucracy is a serious pain to deal with) so that we can get the project approved and hopefully get some help in terms of materials from the government. Then, I need to get a confirmation from a hardware store I’m working with that they will supply the materials, after that of course I need to find funding to pay the builder so I can get the building built, and then after all that I have to get my hands on enough books to fill it up not to mention furniture and all that. Bottom line is, it’s a huge project, but I’m just going to keep trying. Other than that, I have some smaller projects going on—on Friday I’m handing out 400 hand-knit teddy bears from a great organization called Mother Bear Project to the students from standards 1-5 at my school which should be a really great (and adorable!) event. I also have a PACT club started which is a peer leadership group which meets once a week to discuss issues facing teens and pre-teens like peer pressure, teen pregnancy, etc. that has also been a long time coming and I’m happy that it’s finally happening. Next week another long time project is (hopefully) finally coming to fruition as we are holding a career fair for the standard 7 pupils with speakers from different careers coming in to talk to the students about the choices they have if they work hard and stay in school. I’m hoping it will at least provide them with a little perspective about what is out there and what they can achieve. Another project I’m working on is the GLOW (Girls Leading our World) camp which a group of us are organizing and will be held at my school at the end of november. The camp is intended to give girls a chance to learn life skills and leadership skills in order to help them make good decisions and stay healthy. We saw a need for something like this in our region as the kids have never had a chance to go to camp and in a very patriarchal society a girls empowerment camp seemed like a good idea.

  So, some things are coming together. Mostly, I’m just really proud of our group as a whole as we’ve made it so far with only losing one couple which I think is a testament to the support and love we all have for each other. I know I would never have made it this far without my friends here and I’m really happy to be a part of Bots 11! So, now we have about 14 months left which simultaneously feels really long and like not nearly enough time.  Either way, I’m excited for the adventures ahead. My life here is super unpredictable and I love that, even if it is stressful and unnerving sometimes, ultimately it’s my favorite part of Peace Corps. So, here’s to one more year!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Catching up

So seeing as I’m not even sure when the last time was that I posted something, I figured it was high time that I wrote. Time has just been racing forward these past few months and it’s hard to believe that we’ve been here 9 months, the bots 12 group is not only here but will be swearing in really soon, and the bots 9s are gone! As we approach the one-year mark, I’m happy in many ways about how my service is going, but also of course a little frustrated as well. At the beginning of May things felt like they were finally picking up. I was leaving for the US to visit my family in the middle of the month and I think the deadline finally lit the fire that was needed under some of these people to get some of my projects that I’ve been trying to make happen for so long to finally happen. (I’m just jumping in with where I’m at now, since I feel like there are too many things that have happened between when I last wrote and now to go all the way back to where I left off.) As a result of either this deadline or people getting tired of my constant pushing to get things done, I managed to have an unusually busy week the week before I went to America, which also happened to be the week I had a trainee from the Bots 12 group come shadow me! I held a health workshop that went on for a few afternoons in which the nurse and health educator spoke to the students about hygiene, puberty, and safe sex; they even did a condom demonstration with the older group of boys which I was really happy about since that is not usually something which happens in primary school. Overall, I was pleased with how it turned out and the kids seemed engaged and interested in getting information that they don’t normally have access to. Additionally, I held a workshop for the teachers at my school about implementing the Life Skills curriculum into their lessons (yes, it took 6 months to actually get the ball rolling on the main thing I’m here to do, but hey that’s Peace Corps…) which I also felt went pretty well. The teachers seemed to be on board with using the Living materials which is a set of worksheets and lessons that teachers can use to teach life skills to their students. They can also use the materials as a vehicle for teaching other subjects thus ‘infusing’ life skills into their core-curriculum subjects. I really support the curriculum and think it’s easy to use and makes a lot of sense. Unfortunately, in reality it doesn’t get used very often in the classroom. I’m hoping that the workshop encouraged teachers to get behind the idea and start using the materials, but since I’ve been back from the states so far I haven’t seen much change aside from seeing the books on teachers’ desks rather than in a closet, which I suppose is a minor success. Anyway, besides the health workshop and the teachers’ workshop, I also finally got a meeting together with the out-of-school youth in the village with a surprising turn-out of 23 people. The meeting got out of hand a little as the attendees had so very different views regarding what I could help them with, but overall I felt it was productive as it gave me a sense of what the youth were looking for and the kinds of things they would be interested in doing. Their biggest concern was with unemployment and they all felt that they lacked necessary skills and money to be able to get jobs outside of the village. I left the meeting feeling like I was making progress and made a plan to meet with them again once more before I left. Unfortunately no one showed to the meeting. Nor the 2 that my counterpart scheduled while I was gone. Nor the meeting I scheduled for this week. So, looks like that project has come to a temporary standstill as I figure out what is getting in the way and try to come up with a different angle to take.

My trip to America was great, but it was very strange at first to be back. Even though I had only been gone 8 months, it felt like longer as so much has happened in my life over here in that amount of time. It was odd to be back in all the familiar yet somehow unfamiliar places and to try to explain to people I haven’t had much communication with what my life in Botswana is like. It’s really difficult to come up with concise answers to questions like, “how is Botswana?” or “how is Peace Corps?” I found myself feeling like  I could either answer with one word of “good!” or go on for hours about what it’s like and what I’m doing, and so it was hard to come up with a middle ground and not talk people’s ear’s off while also giving enough information to satisfy! Another weird thing about being home was thinking about all fo my friends back here in Botswana continuing on their lives in tiny villages while I was driving around in America on super-highways and ordering pizza for delivery. It was just hard to wrap my head around the simultaneous existence of these two totally different universes existing in the same planet.

Anyway, coming back was not quite as weird. Getting off the plane in Gabarone and haggling with the cab driver for a good price felt normal and it felt like home. It felt comfortable to not be overhearing conversations in English and it was nice to say hi to every person I passed by again. Going to my village was a little lonely the first night, but it did feel good to see the kids light up when I came through the gate and get to snuggle with my poor kitty who missed me so much! Of course after everyone hugged and greeted me when I came back, the first question I got was, “what did you bring us from America!?” Oh well. No matter how much I settle in here, I’m still an American!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Happy Six Month Anniversary, Bots 11!

So we’re rapidly approaching the 6-month mark of being in-country! Hard to believe I’m already almost a quarter of the way through, these first 6 months have gone by fast and yet I still feel like I‘ve barely even started to work.  We were pulled away from site again the past two weeks to attend a workshop put on by the Ministry of Education on Guidance and Counseling and Emotional Intelligence. As Life Skills volunteers  we are partially funded by the Ministry of Ed and so there is kind of a blurry line as to how much we are governed by the rules and regs etc. of the ministry. Anyway, we had to go to this workshop because of that which everyone was pretty unhappy about since they had basically told us that the only reason they were holding it was to make sure they spent the rest of their budget before the end of the fiscal year  so there wouldn’t be budget cuts. This translated to two weeks worth of, in my opinion, very pointless programming. The workshop started off on the wrong foot because of already existing tension between certain MoE employees and the PCVs and then just sort of went down hill from there. The second week which was on Emotional Intelligence (I thought they were going to teach us how to raise the emotional intelligence of our students, but it was really intended for us to raise our own emotional intelligence) was very basic and was reminiscent of psychology in the US back in the 50’s. Most things were talked about in very black and white terms—one personality trait or type better than another, one emotion better than another etc. It was very frustrating and I didn’t find it to be useful at all. Our counterparts from our schools were also with us and some seemed to learn something which is good, but I think all of our time would have been better spent actually doing our jobs in the schools. There’s no such thing as substitute teachers here so all the teachers that were pulled out for this left classes behind without a teacher. Anyway, it was nice of course to spend time with all of my friends and have luxuries like plumbing and A/C for two weeks. However, the back and forth between hotels and my village is a little hard because I always need a day or two at least to re-adjust. The first day back is a little lonely. It makes me a little worried about my trip back to the states in May because coming from America back to this little village is going to be super tough. It’s just a different universe back in America and I think there’s going to be some serious reverse culture shock when I go back. Anyway, I am glad to be back in my own house and looking forward to getting back into the swing of things (although the term ends in a few weeks so exams will interrupt the routine yet again..). I started a debate/English club at the school for standards 4-7 and there are about 50 kids in it so far. We had our first debate before I left on holding school on Saturdays and it went pretty well! We played a game afterwards called “where the wind blows”, any of you GW Alt. Breakers reading this will be familiar with the game, and they loved it! Everyone sits in a circle with one person in the middle so there is one less chair then the number of people and the person in the middle has to say a statement about themselves for example, I like the color green, and then anyone who also likes the color green has to get up and switch seats, whoever is left without a seat has to be in the middle and the game continues. It was a good way to get them to practice English and get a chance to run around a little bit. I think they had a really good time and it was nice to feel like I had actually done something (even though to the American standard it wasn’t much, the definition of success or productivity in the Peace Corps is greatly altered). The teacher who was helping me was supposed to have run the club in my absence but I’m not sure that happened. Anyway, it will be good to do it again this week. I already saw some of the kids from the village since I’ve been home and they were all really happy to see me and gave me big hugs which were nice. Coming down the 5k dirt road into my village in the back of a pickup truck yesterday definitely felt like I was coming home. Spent a good chunk of the day today with some of the girls that visit me a lot which was also fun and made me happy to be back. Anyway, hopefully it will be a good couple of weeks before school lets out for break and only one more month till our trip up to Maun when I'll get to see Matt (he's doing Peace Corps in Namibia)! Can't wait! :)

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Back to School!

So it’s been about a month since I posted last so I’m not going to try to summarize everything that has happened since then, but rather pick up from where I’m at now. The holidays came and went and were fun, but definitely hard to be away from family. Celebrating Christmas in Africa definitely put the craze and hype that’s created around Christmas back in the states in perspective though. Also, I got a kitten! She was living in the thatched roof of the outdoor kitchen on my compound and so I started to feed her and now she lives with me and certainly brightens my day. I think my landlord and her family think I’m crazy for keeping a pet inside as they kept giving me confused looks and asking, “but where is the cat?” and “You really like the cat?”, but oh well, she’s helped keep me happy!
 Anyway, school has finally reopened, which means my village has started to re-populate. After the New Year, the teachers came back and started to plan for the school year. It’s still been a slow start with getting any of my projects off the ground, but I’m sure we’ll get there eventually. The first day of school was nothing like what I expected and certainly nothing like the first day of school in the US. First of all, most of the kids weren’t even there even though they were supposed to have been picked up the day before. As I think I’ve mentioned before, the kids who board often hide from the trucks that come to pick them up because they don’t want to leave their families to come back to school. After the morning assembly with the kids that were there, the students were all instructed to start cleaning. Some swept out classrooms, but most of them were down on their hands and knees pulling weeds from the school yard. Almost no teaching was done. There weren’t any fun first-day-of-school activities, no one sat down and went over a colorful poster of classroom rules, there weren’t any nametags on the desks (especially since most students don’t have desks), and no books were handed out. It was a stark reminder of the reality of the situation here. The second day of school was an even bigger dose of reality. I sat in on the second grade class for the day which was actually 2 classes worth of kids crammed into one classroom. The teacher did some teaching—the kids counted to 50 a few times, recited some English phrases (which I’m pretty sure they didn’t understand), and played a little game which helped them learn verbs. At one point the teacher was asking students to come up and answer the question, “What is your name?” and when one girl couldn’t answer she got a very hard smack on the head. After these few lessons the kids were left to their own devices, which meant that they beat each other up or played hand games while the teachers did some work at their desks, and this went on for almost 2 hours. I was floored. When I asked the teacher if I should do anything she said no and that I should just sit down. It was very frustrating especially since the teachers had just been discussing the poor test results that the students were receiving. The entire system seems to be flawed to me. Starting in standard 2, students are expected to speak and learn exclusively in English, yet they have just come from standard 1 in which they were taught exclusively in Setswana. They clearly do not understand what the teachers are saying yet are probably afraid to ask questions since they risk being smacked. This is not to say that the teachers here don’t care and aren’t good people. The teachers I work with are very kind and they do care about their students’ success, but they are up against impossible odds and live in a culture where children’s needs are secondary at best, and corporal punishment is the norm. Today I sat in on the second grade class again and a little more teaching went on. Students also had a chance to try to apply what they learned by writing a few sentences about themselves (while kneeling on the ground and using their chairs as desks) in English. I helped out by calling the kids up one by one to read to me what they had written. Almost all the students had no idea what they had written; they had simply copied down the sentences from the board. It was a very eye-opening experience. How are these kids expected to take tests in English when they can barely even read the word “am” or “my” let alone understand what it means? I honestly feel overwhelmed because I’m not even sure where to start to tackle these issues, especially since a lot of the issues I have found in the school come from the style of instruction. At 22 years old and with barely any teaching experience, I don’t feel that it is my place to start telling these veteran teachers how to do their jobs, nor do I think that that is a constructive way of changing anything. However, I am having a hard time figuring out just what I should do and what my role should be in helping these kids succeed. Luckily, I have time on my side, and hopefully the answers will become clearer as time goes on. I did get the chance to meet with the guidance and counseling committee to discuss plans for the year and gave my input about topics as well as choose which topic I would like to teach. This semester I will be talking to the kids about study skills because I think that they are severely lacking. Anyway, it’s been an interesting couple of days. In about a week and a half we go to In Service Training for a week where we’ll get a chance to plan for the year and be reunited as a group after 2.5 months on lockdown which will be great. I’m hoping when I get back I can hit the ground running with some projects, but since this is Africa I will probably only be able to hit the ground at a slow stroll, but hey, I’ll take what I can get!