November 6, 2011

Another brief update

Welcome, November. The year has progressed exceptionally fast, and I have found myself in the midst of a variety of projects. As much as this blog has become a gallery of journal entries, a behind the scenes and in between the lines of the pleasures and vulgarities of Peace Corps service, this is more of an update of what takes place on the main stage, what occupies my day. So more lucidity, less metaphor.

I work within a school zone, mostly at the largest school which is also responsible for overseeing the government and community schools in the zone. Some of the projects we have been working on with the teachers and students:

Africa Map. A large map of the African continent, to serve as a permanent teaching aid for the school. We have gone beyond thinking about thinking about creating it, to applying the paint thick onto the walls. All the countries, including the new Southern Sudan, will be colored, and we are attempting to draw and paint all the flags of Africa as well, from the stripes of South Africa to the shield of Kenya and the stars and stripes of Liberia.

The map in progress

Co-Teaching. The main focus of our project, but has been shifted to the backburner, to simmer. The idea of this is to teach with a Zambian teacher, also called team teaching, and ideally it's continuing professional development in the classroom, with a focus on trying out new teaching methods and practicing experiential learning.

Workshops. Sub-Saharan Africa, including Zambia, uses a system of in-service teacher training to ameliorate the undertraining of teachers. So far we've done a workshop on Mathematics in everyday life, with the intent of making Math teaching more relevant and intuitive; there was a recent program on this which unfortunately expired as soon as the donor funds ended. Another workshop centered around improvising materials for a pre-reading program that also faltered after USAID funding completed (a typical issue with an externally-funded education ministry). This week I just led a workshop on classroom management and discipline, with a focus on addressing and debating the use of corporal punishment in schools (which is technically not allowed, but still quite prevalent in different forms).

Community Schools. I could write a whole entry on this topic. Community schools are institutions which arise from a need for education within villages; unfortunately, despite frequent promises and policy changes, the government gives little support or funds to such schools. The Head Teacher who is responsible for overseeing all schools within the zone is very concerned with the status of community schools, in particular three of them which are currently not operating. Last month we attended a meeting with one school that is nearly completed its building and has a new teacher after the previous one quit due to lack of payment. It takes a lot of community participation and involvement, especially in poor rural areas, to keep these schools operational. Hopefully with the new government there will be fulfillment of some of the promises to provide for these necessary and important institutions.

Grassroots Soccer. Not the best name, considering the game here and everywhere else is Football, but this is a pilot program that has just come to Zambia from South Africa. It integrates physical education and sports with HIV/AIDS education, consists of a dozen practices which can be done as an afterschool program, community intervention, or sports camp. I'm running it with two of the sports coaches at my school, and we just finished our first intervention last week, the youths graduated with certificates, and big smiles on their faces. The program is quite good, the integration of topics like HIV transmission is quite elegant at times, and the kids really like it; and being facilitated in the local language, Bemba, they are much more participative. It seems like there is an issue of over-saturation of HIV/AIDS programs and education, very few of which are effective, engaging, and produce real results.

Training. I just found out I was chosen to be one of the three volunteer trainers for the next group of Peace Corps volunteers to arrive in Zambia and work in the education project in February. It will mean I will be out of my village for a month and a half next year, I will be in the capital city Lusaka creating and facilitating the training program to orient the new volunteers with the Zambian educational system as well as life in schools. My counterpart, Mr. Mwewa, has also been chosen to be one of the two Zambian teachers who will help facilitate the training sessions, so I'm very much looking forward to the two of us working together.

There are a lot of thoughts, ideas, and projects in process which are going on as well. I started a compost pit with the intent of beginning a small garden to demonstrate organic farming techniques and food security, but in this project I am more of a learner. At school, there is talk about literacy classes and a small library, but talk is cheap and thus I delight in it, playing with ideas before juggling the harsh reality of real things. I spend some of my free time studying the local language, although I am still perplexed by the local dialect, Lala. I am continuing to feel like an anthropologists, so just the very act of being is productive enough to keep me going. But as of late, work has filled many of the holes in my schedule, edged out my hobbies, and left many books to pine lazily on the shelf, bookmarked and postponed.

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