Friday, November 30, 2012

November 30, 2012 12:15 PM—School-Based Training (SBT)

I arrived here at school-based training on Monday and now we are coming to the end of our first week.  So far, so good.  I met the 27 secondary school trainees on Monday and I have yet to meet the primary trainees.  Since the beginning of the week we have had one volunteer leave, but the rest of them are still going strong.  This week has been very intensive with sessions that we, as trainers, are giving the trainees.  We have been teaching them everything from lesson planning to classroom control and management to subject specific information.  I really feel that this training is much better and more focused than the training I received last year.  Right now we are focusing with them on just their teaching, how to teach and how to teach in Uganda (which can be very different than teaching in America).

So far, I’ve really liked taking on this new role of Peace Corps Volunteer Trainer (PCVT).  It gives me an interesting perspective on how training is run and what all goes into it.  I was also really excited to meet the new trainees.  They are an enthusiastic, excited, energetic bunch of people who are really trying their best to embrace this country and its school system.  I’m also happy with the other PCVTs that were chosen to work with this training.

Tomorrow the trainees have been given the options to take a trip to Kampala to go shopping.  All of them have decided to take this opportunity.  As a trainer, I am also going to Kampala for the day just to hang out and probably get some good food.

On Sunday, I will be leaving here to travel to Camp Build in Kisubi.  So all of next week I’ll be working with Build and then I’ll be returning here on Saturday.  From there I have another week of training to attend before I go on vacation.  Working with training has been really good for me because I get to have a hand in the experiences of these trainees and it makes my time here go by faster.  Every day I’m one step closer to going home.

Friday, November 23, 2012

November 23, 2012 9:30 AM—Thanksgiving in Nebbi

Thanksgiving is one of the few holidays that you can actually truly celebrate here just like you would at home.  Generally all there is to it is a large meal with specific components that can (not always so easily) be made here.  This year I decided to celebrate Thanksgiving in Nebbi with a small group of friends.  My friend, Mike, lives right in Nebbi Town and he has a pretty big house on a very nice compound.  Last year I went to Gulu for Thanksgiving and there were at least 40 volunteers there.  And despite the fact that I really enjoyed last year’s Thanksgiving, it’s nice to be able to celebrate this year with a much smaller group.  I think in total there were 9 volunteers here and a few of Mike’s Ugandan friends also joined us for Thanksgiving.

So you may be wondering how exactly we can make something like a turkey without an oven.  The answer: Dutch oven.  This is where you take two very large pots, putting one right-side up and one up-side down on top of a sigiri, or charcoal stove.  And then you can put something that is in another pot in between the two large pots and this creates a type of oven for it.  So this is how we cooked our turkey.  We also had several other traditional Thanksgiving dishes and even some that weren’t so traditional.  We had mashed potatoes, stuffing (Stovetop instant stuffing!), gravy, vegetables (green beans and carrots), pumpkin soup, pasta salad, pita bread and the Ugandans brought Karo (which is millet bread, a traditional Ugandan food).  And then for desert I made pies and someone else made pumpkin bread.  I made a pineapple pie and an apple pie.  Both came out really good, so I was very pleased and I also got some rave reviews.  These were another thing we had to cook in the Dutch oven.

Pineapple Pie

Apple Pie

All in all, it was a great Thanksgiving but I’ll be glad to be home for Thanksgiving next year!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

November 21, 2012 7:30—Grant Committee

Yesterday I attended my first grant committee meeting.  It was interesting that we got to see the grants and then discuss all the issues with them.  We even had quite a bit of input as volunteers.  To me, not having ever been on a Peace Corps committee before, it made Peace Corps seem a little more transparent.  I enjoyed working with the Peace Corps staff and seeing their input on different issues.  I also had the opportunity yesterday to close out my computer lab grant, so it’s officially done.  Before I leave next year I will have one more grant committee meeting in February and I’m sure we will find some new education volunteers to take over.

Today I’m still in Kampala, but I’m heading up to Nebbi in a little bit for Thanksgiving.  I’m making an apple pie and a pineapple pie, so I’m pretty excited!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

November 15, 2012 10:30 PM—Senior 2 Students, My Students

As I’m sitting here in my house tonight grading papers from my Senior 2 classes, I’m starting to realize how bittersweet it is really gonna be to leave here.  I got to thinking about this mostly because I was grading the Senior 2 papers.  These students, the Senior 2s, are my students more than any other group of students.  These were the ones I was teaching from the beginning.  I’ve been teaching them computers from the time I got here a year and a half ago and I also taught them Math for a while.  I can’t say I know any other students better.  These are the ones that I even know a lot of their names.  For a lot of them I can even put together both their names (their Christian name and their local name) and I can also pronounce most of them.  This was something I never thought I would learn.  As I’m grading their papers and looking at the list of names, I can picture the students.

A lot of people here keep asking when I’m leaving.  I think people are concerned that they won’t know and then they can’t say goodbye to me before I leave.  And as the end of the year is approaching even more people ask me this because it is really natural for teachers to leave at the end of a year.  But no students ask me this question more than the Senior 2s.  They heard that I wasn’t going to be here for the rest of this term starting next week.  They found this out because their computer exam was moved to this week to accommodate me.  I think they took this as I was possibly never coming back and so the questions were even more than usual.

As I sit here thinking about all this, I look back on the progress some of these girls have made since I got here.  I also can’t help but think of the girls that are always at the top.  These are the ones I seem to know the best.  They are the ones that keep going to camp and they seem to be the ones that are most likely to come and chat with me.  Many people would probably look at my situation and say how much I’ve changed the lives of some of these girls.  Going to camp alone really gives them something they would have never had otherwise.  They also have all these new computers in their computer lab.  And who knows, maybe I’ve been such an influence that a lot of these Senior 2s will opt to take computers next year as Senior 3s.  But what most people don’t see or think about is how much these girls have changed me.  Upon arriving in this country I was told that girls here are told they are no good at Math and Science and because of that they often just give up.  I was told girls here are generally not assertive and won’t look you in the eye.  They don’t speak up.  Just from taking a handful of my students I could prove most of these myths wrong.  They’ve changed the way I look at Ugandans and stereotypes in general. 

A lot of students (or people in general) will ask me to take them back to America.  Usually I would just brush them off, but I knew I crossed a certain point when I actually wanted to take some of my students back with me.  As far as Uganda goes I’m at a pretty good school and therefore we have some really good students.  It just kills me that if these girls were given the chance to go to University in the U.S. (or any other developed country), they could really make it.  But because they were born here and their families don’t have money, they will never live up to their full potential.  Unfortunately, I don’t have the means to make this happen.  Not to mention the fact that these girls aren’t ready to go to University yet, but even if they were I’m still helpless when it comes to this matter.

Despite any ill will or discouraged feelings I may have developed toward my school, especially lately, it will be bittersweet to leave my students.  I can’t wait to get out of here, but I hate to leave them.  As a whole, they have never truly disappointed or disgusted me.  There are very few things in this country that I will really miss, but this is one of them.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

November 13, 2012 12:45 PM—Girl Tech Scholars Part 2

I feel like someone just told me Santa Claus wasn’t real.  This week I had the challenge of talking to my school about the possibility of one of our girls getting a scholarship to go to another school.  Leading up to this conversation with my head teacher I was anxious but hopeful.  I really felt like he is a reasonable, respectable person who really truly cares about the girls at this school.

After having a few different conversations with him about this over the past two days, I’ve come to realize that he isn’t exactly who I thought he was.  I realized before that it wouldn’t be in his best interest to let one of the top performers leave to go to another school, but I thought if he really cared about these girls, he would help them to possibly have this opportunity.  As it turns out, I was wrong.  He is more interested in his own self interest and the interest of the school in general, than he is of the best interest of these girls.  I think what I thought before of him caring about the students was really him caring about the school.  You may not think there is a difference, and normally there isn’t, but in this case there is.  In my conversations with him he would say things like “It would do the school a disservice for one of these top performers to go to another school.”  And my response to that was “Aren’t you doing these girls a disservice by not letting them have this opportunity?”  But no matter what I said he would constantly twist things back to favor his side.  This whole experience was frustrating because these girls work so hard and they deserve this.

After I gave up talking to the head teacher myself, I called Stevie, the director of Girl Tech, to see if the head mistress at Wanyange would call my head teacher to try to let us help these girls apply for the scholarship.  And in the end, the head mistress at Wanyange felt like it was a lost cause because my school is better than most and that she didn’t feel we would really be able to push much further.

As discouraged and disgusted as I was, after talking to Stevie about it I felt a little better.  I realize that there are plenty of volunteers at schools that are much needier than mine.  And it sounds like most of the other schools didn’t throw up any problems like mine did, so most of the rest of the girls will apply.  In the end, as long as two exemplary students who are unable to go to a good school otherwise get these scholarships, then that’s all that matters.  And maybe it’s better to have students from schools that are worse than mine get this opportunity.  I guess overall, what I’m most disappointed about is that I see my school in a different light now than I did before and I don’t think there is too much that will change this.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

November 11, 2012 9:00 AM—Decorating for Christmas

Just like last year, this year I did a little decorating for Christmas.  Although unlike at home, it only takes me about 10 minutes to decorate.  I got some of these decorations from a volunteer who has finished her service and is no longer in Uganda and the rest were sent to me last year from home.  You may think it’s a little early to be decorating, but considering I’m leaving my site next week and I may not be back before the first of the year, I thought I would take this time to enjoy my decorations.

My little Charlie Brown Christmas Tree

Saturday, November 10, 2012

November 10, 2012 5:00 PM—Girl Tech Scholars

Back in August we (Peace Corps Volunteers in Uganda) had a few different camps happening here.  I was lucky enough to be able to send girls to two of them, West GLOW and Girl Tech.  I personally went to West GLOW and participated as a director, but I was unable to attend Girl Tech.  Before the girls went to camp I had a little talk with them about the expectations I had for them and the behavior they should adopt while at camp and when I did this I focused mostly on the ones going to Girl Tech.  I wanted to make sure that they were on their best behavior especially because I wasn’t going to be there.  I didn’t want any volunteer from camp to come back to me and say “Why did you send that girl.  She was a pain in the neck.”  So I reminded all of them that they represented not only themselves, but also their school and most importantly, me.  All that being said, I sent the girls to camp and hoped for the best.  After camp, I had a number of volunteers involved in Girl Tech, mostly the mentors of each individual group at the camp, come to me to tell me how great my girls were, which is always nice to hear.  Now that camp is over (and has been for months now) things are starting to come up again and for one particular reason…

Girl Tech was held in Jinja at an all-girls secondary school called Wanyange Girls’ S.S.  This school is one of the top girls schools in the country and not only is it difficult to get into, it is also expensive.  The head teacher of Wanyange loved Girl Tech so much that she decided that she wanted to give out 2 scholarships to 2 girls that attended Girl Tech, one for Senior 1 and one for Senior 2.  She wants to offer them admission for the remainder of their secondary education (up to Senior 4) and they would only have to pay 150,000 shillings per term.  To put this in perspective, the girls at my school pay somewhere between 300,000 and 400,000 shillings per term and at Wanyange it costs 800,000 shillings for the first term and 500,000 for every subsequent term.  So this is an amazing opportunity for 2 girls who attended Girl Tech.

When this scholarship idea was first mentioned to me about a week and a half ago by the director of Girl Tech, Stevie, I thought that maybe one or two of my girls would get nominated.  I did send 7 girls and 5 of them qualify for the scholarship (the scholarship is not eligible for Senior 3s despite the fact that some Senior 3s went to Girl Tech), not to mention they were some of the top performers at my school.  As the week went on Stevie kept updating me on how things were shaping up.  She was also at TOT, so I saw her every day this week.  At the end of the week, she told me which girls were nominated.  She had each volunteer mentor nominate 2 girls from their group, which would total 16 girls.  Out of all the girls at Girl Tech all 5 of my girls who are eligible for this scholarship were nominated!  And even one of my Senior 3 girls was nominated (although she is not eligible so she will not apply).  To me this was really exciting!  It makes me feel like I’m doing my job right.

Now over the next week that I’m at site I have to talk to the head teacher of my school and explain this to him.  This may not be easy, because it is in his best interest and the best interest of the school for these girls to stay here.  Although he isn’t a totally unreasonable person and this is an amazing opportunity for these girls so, hopefully things will go smoothly.  The girls will have to go through a phone interview with the head teacher of Wanyange Girls, take an exam that I administer, and complete two essay questions.  Wanyange is also going to look at the details of the school these girls are currently at (like their current school fees and the school’s test results).  After all this, Wanyange will select which girls they are going to take for the two spots they have available.  They are not going to select more than one girl from each school, so at most only one of my girls will get it.  Nonetheless, all the girls are going to get a certificate (and people here love certificates almost more than the prizes themselves) and a small monetary price for being a finalist in this process.

To me, this is really exciting and I hope my school sees it in the same way.  When I was telling someone about this the other day I said “I might be losing one of my girls next year if she goes to Wanyange.” And he said to me in response “It’s not that you’re losing her.  It’s that she is being upgraded.”

Thursday, November 8, 2012

November 8, 2012 8:45 PM—TOT and PST

Today was my last full day of TOT (Training of Trainers) and tomorrow I’m heading back to my site.  Since I got here at the beginning of the week a lot has been going on and many things have been figured out.  I now know when I’m working with PST (Pre-Service Training) for the new volunteers and in what capacity.

First of all, a little background information.  There is a new training group arriving here in Uganda in a little over a week.  They will be the first group of Education volunteers to get here since I got here over a year and a half ago.  There are 46 of them (19 male, 27 female) with 28 of them working in Secondary education and 18 working with Primary education.  In their training, there are essentially four parts.  There is one introductory week (it’s actually 11 days) where they will get a lot of introductions to Uganda, Peace Corps and the Ugandan education system.  Then they will be broken up into sectors (primary and secondary) and sent to two different model schools for school based training (SBT).  After SBT they will be broken up into language groups and sent to their satellite trainings to learn culture and language in the regions they will each be living in.  And finally after that they have one final week where they come back together for a workshop with their new supervisors and they have their swearing-in ceremony.

I was chosen to work with the School-based training (SBT) part of this training.  This part of training lasts for three weeks however, because I’m also working with Camp Build (which happens to be the second week of SBT) I’ll only be working with the new trainees for two weeks (the first and the third weeks of SBT).  During this part of training, I’ll only be working with the secondary school trainees because this is my sector.  They will be living and working at a secondary school (Mukono High School).  I will be living there as well for the time I’m working with training.  While at the school they will be learning to teach in a Ugandan classroom.  The first week of SBT the school will still be in session with the students finishing their final exams.  During this week, we will be presenting sessions to the trainees to prepare them for teaching.  After this initial week, the school will no longer officially be in session but some of the students will come back for additional lessons that will be given by the trainees and some Ugandan mentor teachers (these are teachers from this school who are staying on for an extra two weeks to help with the training).  During these last two weeks, I will be observing the trainees teach and giving feedback to them as well as guiding them on how to teach in this country.

Overall, I’m really excited to work with training and I’m really excited to meet the new volunteers.  I think we are as prepared as we can be for them to arrive and I hope that we can make this training even better than the training I got when I first got here.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

November 1, 2012 10:00 AM—Book Review: The Post-American World

I just finished another good book that I felt I needed to share.  The book is called The Post-American World by Fareed Zakaria.  Zakaria was born and raised in India but then went on to do his post-secondary education in the U.S.  He says that this book is not about the decline of America, but more about the rise of the rest.  Although that may be true to one extent or another, I would have to disagree.  Considering there are more chapters in this book about America than there are of any other country, it is more about America than anything else.  Nonetheless it was a really good book.

In this book Zakaria talks a lot about the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) countries.  He focuses in particular on India and China and how fast and in what ways they are developing.  These two countries are very different from each other and they are developing in very different ways, but both are also developing very quickly.  He talks a lot about their history and what has lead them to the positions that they hold in the world today.

The other main focus of this book is the United States and its superpower status.  He discusses some U.S. history so we can try and understand how America got to where it is today.  He also compares the America of today with America in different periods throughout history.  He even goes as far as to compare the U.S. today to the British Empire 150 years ago.  He also talks about many problems that we see in the U.S. today including the economy, politics and terrorism.  The main focus is on how America is the strongest country in the World right now, but how that might not always be the case considering the rise of some other important players (ex. China and India).

A few weeks ago I was sitting in the staff room watching TV.  Al Jazeera was on and I was trying to get as much news as possible before someone came and changed the channel to something really mindless.  And as any news station in the world, there was mention of the upcoming U.S. election.  Then President Obama came on and everyone in the room got quite.  They all want to listen to Obama.  And as soon as Obama was no longer on they went back to what they were doing.  At this point, one of the other teachers looked at me and said “Our President!”  I said “Our President?”  He responded by saying “Yes, the U.S. controls everything in the world so Obama is our president too.”  This conversation really made me think about the status of the U.S. as the world’s biggest superpower.  This teacher was referring to Obama as his president, but not in a bitter, angry way.  In fact, most Ugandans are proud that Obama is the U.S. president.  But for a Ugandan to acknowledge that the U.S. controls a lot of the world really struck me.

Anyway, this book discusses the decline that America will probably see in the coming years and the rise of the rest of the world.  It talks about history, economics, and politics as well as an in depth analysis about what the U.S. can do to try to cope with this changing world.  Overall, I really enjoyed this one and I found it to be very intriguing.  If you are at all interested in Economics and Politics, or the rise of China and India, I’d suggest reading this book.