Wednesday, October 24, 2012

One More Week!

Here at LIP we are approaching the final stretch.  Only one week left to make a LIP donation.  But LIP isn't the only thing over here that's nearing the end.

My intake group and I just celebrated our two year anniversary in Rwanda!  We arrived in Rwanda on October 21st, 2010 and now that we've hit two years, it's time for people to start returning to America.  I am one of the few volunteers (5 out of nearly 60) who has decided to stay in Rwanda to do a third year of Peace Corps service.

This means that I have to watch a significant chunk of my Peace Corps family move back to the other side of the world.  I also have to start saying goodbyes to the people in my village; the people I've lived and worked with for the past two years.  But I'm lucky that I'll be able to visit my village from time to time next year in order to check-up on people and projects.

It's true what RPCVs (Returned Peace Corps Volunteers) say about their service: the two years go by in a flash!

In preparation of my move from the village to Kigali, I am going to help make LIP a smashing success! Consider it my final hoo-rah.

Even though we've raised less than half of our target amount, we are going to work with what we've got and make magic happen.  If you want to get in a final donation, you are more than welcome to do so!  Even 5 or 10 dollars can help us- we certainly appreciate all support you're willing to give.  If you're not into the "donation of money" angle, but still wish to help us, let me know!  I'm sure that we can think of creative ways that you can aid us in our endeavors!

Our donation total is at $765 currently.  Our goal is $2,000.  Is it possible to raise the remaining $1,235 in the next week? ...You tell me.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Debut of the official LIP video!

We never thought it was possible, and even now I feel like I may jinx us to say it, but- WE’VE GONE DIGITAL.  Yes, you’re right, having a blog means that we were digital to begin with, but now we’ve gone and made ourselves a video.  Living in a village means technology struggles.  It’s amazing that I can even get internet via my USB modem, but it crawls.  Half the time I can’t load html format g-mail, so uploading a video was OUT OF THE QUESTION.  However, I had some work to do in the capital on a Saturday morning, and lo and behold- I found a speedy connection.  Well, it was speedy enough to upload this video in about 2 hours…

What will you see in the video?  Well, I should say you must watch it to find out.  But, here’s what to expect: Rwandan students (ranging in age from 3 to 20 years), the librarian at G.S. Kiruli, limited footage of our current library, a view inside a Primary 2 (equivalent of America’s 2nd grade) classroom and more.  The video is less than four and a half minutes; so take a break form your demanding work, and catch a glimpse of Rwanda.

Also, feel free to give me your feedback! This is my first foray into video creation and it was quite fun! I plan to do this again in the future, so ‘tis the season to share your thoughts. 

Official LIP video

Thursday, October 4, 2012

What does a PCV do?

For those of you who are new to this, PCV stands for Peace Corps Volunteer.  That’s me. I’m a TEFL PCV at that (Teaching English as a Foreign Language).  There are countless more acronyms that are tossed around within Peace Corps, but I’ll try to steer clear of them for clarity purposes. 

So, my particular brand of PCV is “English teacher.”  I am placed at a site, in a village, to work with one school for two years.  Of course, I am not limited to working only with one school, but my primary assignment is the school at which I’m placed.  In my case, that school is Groupe Scolaire Kiruli.  A Groupe Scolaire is the “French” term used to describe nine-year basic education schools.  These schools are public, and supported by the government, which means there are almost always money struggles. 

At this school, we have a Primary School component and a Lower Secondary School component.  I am a teacher at the Secondary School.  My particular school is rather small, with about 2,000 students (only 300 of which are Secondary students).  We have 6 classes in the Secondary school: three Senior 1 classes, two Senior 2 classes, and one Senior 3 class.  I have no idea what’s going to happen next year, because we really only have 5 classrooms for secondary to begin with.  Each class has their own classroom and the teachers are the ones who rotate and move around for the lessons (opposite of how we do it in America).  Since space is so limited, our classes are huge.  The class size ranges from about 40 to 60 students per class- meaning that nearly all classes have challenges which include crowding, lack of personal attention from the teacher and noise issues.  The secondary students range in age from about 14 to 20 and our instructional level is about equal to 6th to 9th grade in America.

My job is pretty much what I make of it.  I work far less than I would in America, but you have to remember that life out here requires different things than does life in America.  Here’s a typical day for me:
Wake up with the sun (and the chickens),
make tea because it’s always chilly in the mornings,
do some things around the house and get ready for work,
go to school for a few hours (teach, chat, hang out in the library etc),
come home to cook lunch (takes a few hours),
maybe pop back up to school or go to visit another school/ people in the village, 
come home and relax inside because it’s usually quite cold in the evening.

And that’s it! When I’m working on projects things change, and my routine tends to vary from day to day.  On market days, I’ll sometimes walk the 25 minutes to the market to buy some fresh produce.  Time is very elastic out here and can easily “get away from you.”  The benefit to my languid, elastic schedule is that I can be available for people when they need me, which is part of my job after all.

When I’m teaching, I teach English communication skills; which focuses on listening and speaking.  My students are able to understand me now, but when I began, as the first foreign teacher to ever attempt to teach these students, it took a while for us to be able to really work together. We do various activities that focus on this aspect of the English language, and I have seen significant improvement in English levels over the past two years.  I’m not taking all the credit on that one however.  I have observed all other teachers giving their instruction in English, so I know we’re all working together to teach these students.  I am lucky enough to have 2 hours a week with each class.  It’s not much, but at least I’m instructing all 300 students.

Since I am extending to work as a third year PCV, I will soon move to the capital city (Kigali) and take a new position.  When a PCV decides to extend, the project they work with for a third year is their decision.  I’ve decided to work in conjunction with an educational development NGO in the city, so I will no longer be teaching.  I will, instead, be working with a team of developers to help improve curriculum and materials at the Primary level.  My current village is only about an hour and a half journey from the city, so I do plan on visiting the folks here from time to time during 2013.

Peace Corps' tag-line is “the toughest job you’ll ever love.” I feel inclined to agree with them but I also find this misleading.  At least, the job is never “tough” in the ways you would expect. It’s the underlining toughness that gets to you- the small things that you’re always having to fight against.  It is not easy, but I do enjoy it most days. So, perhaps they were trying to capture the mix of emotions and experiences that PCVs encounter on a daily basis... endure that for 2 years and you too may understand how that tag-line came into being.  

Where do books come from?

In our library we have an ever-increasing number of books, the majority of which are textbooks.  Some of the books, however, are small readers for students.  About half of these are written in Kinyarwanda, and the rest are in English.  My students love these books!  All of the textbooks are written in English and I’ve yet to discern if students are truly understanding them.  Although, I’m happy knowing that they’re trying and are learning as a result. 

All of these came from the Rwandan Ministry of Education (or MINEDUC as we like to call it).  They arrive in boxes, out of the blue and only mildly organized, and it seems to be fairly luck of the draw as far as what books we receive.  I have yet to discover if we are able to really request what books we want, and like many things in Rwanda, I’ll probably never really know. 

I have looked into purchasing books from abroad/ working with an organization to get books, but all of these methods are pretty involved.  My priority was to get a functioning library in place, and gauge the level of interest.  Now that I see level of interest is high, I’m almost out of time!  However, the good news is that my site (and school) expects a new Peace Corps Volunteer to come to replace me in December.  Now, what they decide to do will be entirely up to them, but I’m hoping they too will want to help improve the library!

After our LIP is finished and the renovations are seen to fruition, I plan on taking some time to work with teachers on how to use the books.  Books are rarely used in the Rwandan classroom as instructional aids.  More often, you can see teachers simply copying information from books onto the black board and students subsequently copying information into their notebooks.  Our goal is to get teachers to use class sets of books to do various exercises and activities, and to help students understand just how textbooks can help them in their lessons.

When we last catalogued the books, we had about 6,000.  Now I believe we’re closer to 10,000.  This is great and opens up so many possibilities!  Another reason why efficient and effective library organization is needed here.