Wednesday, October 26, 2011

CarniBULL!!! (+ Pictures!!!)

We have just finished a crazy fun day at Bushenyi PTC! We are really exhausted and sunburned, but happy! I want to tell you all about it!

First, a little background...this is the final term in the Ugandan school year, and our PTC students will take their final teacher exams in about a month. Our second year students just returned from their final student teaching practice and now are focused on preparing for their pen and paper exams. Their final score is a combination of the practical (student teaching) and theoretical (pen and paper exam) scores. The students last year passed at a rate of over 99% - a real victory for the college! Before they took their exams last year, the principal had promised them a bull if they received great scores. (Seriously - a real bull - to be slaughtered, chopped up, and eaten). However, once the scores were published the students had already “graduated,” gotten jobs, and dispersed. So, alas, no bull to be had.

So, this year the principal decided that he would preemptively offer the students a bull in anticipation of their great scores. So, he proposed we create a day to celebrate them and have them all commit to getting a great score on the upcoming exams. We both thought this was a fabulous idea, as the students here don’t seem to get celebrated enough! So - we were all in for the event! And...I got put on the committee for planning it!

Being on a committee in Uganda is not as glamorous as it sounds. More often than not, the committee never meets, and when it comes up in conversation later, those who have been assigned to it usually have forgotten all about it. As Uganda has turned me into a vegetarian, I wasn’t super excited about helping out with the slaughter and butchering of a bull. I had a feeling nobody else would participate in the planning, so I decided to try to take matters into my own hands.

After a little brainstorming with Ryan and our PCV neighbor Jean, I decided it would be fun to have a carnival type of event with games to enjoy rather than spending a day watching a bull die and listening to incredibly long speeches! So, I wrote up a little proposal and submitted it. About a three weeks later (after multiple rescheduling!), the committee finally met and we discussed the plan for the day. Although, as it turns out, there was still a bull slaughtered and plenty of long speeches, we also had a morning of carnival games, a “drive in movie” outside after dinner, and a lot of fun!

Since the day was all about the “bull,” I thought it would be cute to try to organize my carnival games around the bull theme - a carniBULL! The play on words didn’t pan out too well, as carnival is not a word that Ugandans know, but I enjoyed thinking of my cleverness throughout the day and I think my fellow Americans thought it was funny too (Thanks Jean and Ryan)!

Our “carnibull” turned out to be a sort of cross between a carnival, elementary school field day, and a seven year old’s birthday party. We had to work with a really limited budget, local materials, short prep time (by the time everything got approved we only had about 4 days to get it all put together!) and the reality of trying to explain each new game to our large amount of students. So - simple, cheap, and fun was in order! We decided on pin the tail on the bull, “bullseye” bean bag toss, 3 legged race, waterballoon toss, musical chairs, human tic tac toe, and a “bottle” race for the events of the day. And, since we weren’t sure of how engaged the students would be, we decided to make the day into a sort of competition between classes. We even made a paper mache bull pinata to be given to the winning class! Almost all of the games were completely new to our students and they absolutely LOVED them! We were a little worried, since nobody in America over the age of seven would be interested in playing games like pin the tail on the bull and musical chairs, but there was no need for us to worry! The fact that the games were new and fun was enough to keep the students excited and interested! There was so much laughing and cheering (and a surprising amount of competitiveness considering the caliber of the games!) - it was a complete blast!

It was also a fair amount of craziness, despite Ryan and my best efforts to be our organized and punctual American selves. We ran the carnival for 460+ people almost completely by ourselves! The microphone that was promised to come never did, the tutors who had volunteered to help didn’t show up, the deputy principal in charge of overseeing the whole event was MIA all day, we had to start about 45 minutes late because protocol requires that no event can begin without an opening word from the “big man,” and the language barrier all created for somewhat difficult communication. But, the kids loved it, and Ryan and I learned another lesson in our continuing Ugandan education on flexibility and going with the flow! When I began to get stressed with the details of it all and my disappointment in the lack of involvement from my fellow Ugandan staff members, all I had to do was look around and see the incredible amount of joy on the students’ faces, and it was all absolutely worth it. It was a great success!!!

In the afternoon we ate a big traditional lunch, had singing and speeches, and had all the students sign their commitment to working for success on banners I had made. There was a brief “social hour” (dance!) before dinner, and a “drive in” movie showing of Invictus in the evening (for those of you who don’t know me well - I LOVE outdoor in movies! So....given the chance I had to introduce them to my students in Uganda!!). All in all, I think the students were excited and felt celebrated, and we were happy to be a part of it all!

We know the students had a blast during the event, and we’re also hoping it gave them ideas that they can take into their primary schools when they are teachers. We wanted to give them some creative ideas how with basically no money and limited supplies, lots of fun can be had! And - I think that came through too!

Although I’ve written all about the day, I think that the pictures and videos from the event really do a better job than my words! So, here’s a link to my facebook album from the day (CLICK HERE!), and a carnibull video blog is in the works! Enjoy!

Thanks for reading! We love and miss you all!


Sunday, October 16, 2011

We Are....Peace Corps

Our portable hard drive has proved to be one of the best things we brought with us to Uganda. The dozens of movies and TV shows we brought or acquired since we've been in country have been an absolute gift on nights when we just felt like vegging out and watching something. Since the sun sets every night around seven and we aren't supposed to be out after dark, some nights get long with not a lot to do! While we love reading, playing games, cooking, and talking, sometimes it's just nice to have a movie and popcorn! Thanks to our hard drive, we've seen some great new TV shows (Modern Family!) and movies, and loved watching some classics as well! (Sound of Music last week!)

Last night we scoured the hard drive and chose a movie that Ryan had seen before coming to Uganda, but I had not - We Are Marshall. While I am not a huge sports movie fan, I do enjoy a "feel good underdog" movie every now and then. Before watching the movie, I actually had no idea even the basic premise of the movie. (As evidenced by the fact that as the football team got on the plane that would ultimately crash and result in everyone's death, I was talking about how exciting it must have been to get to take a plane trip with all your friends and teammates! Ryan looked at me and said, "Do you not know what this movie is about?!" Ooops!) But, as it went on, I thought I had a pretty good idea of how the movie would progress: tragedy hits small town, unlikely coach steps up to lead a ragtag group of players, despite adversity they succeed with unprecented sucess, and all live happily ever after. I realize this may be an oversimplified view, but it's the jist of movies like this, right?

We Are Marshall surprised me though! Although it had some of the typical twists and turns I have come to expect (and, in all honesty, really enjoy!) of such movies, the end was a surprise. For those of you who haven't seen the movie recently, it ends with a back and forth game that results in a crazy pass and the first win of the season for the team. The town rallies behind them and different characters come to terms with their grief from the tragedies they have suffered. It's a good ending! But, before the credits roll, a bit more information is shared about the Marshall University Thundering Herd's success that year. After the exciting win that ends the movie, the team went one to win.....drumroll please....only one more game! No big championship, no great victory, just one more win. In fact, they didn't become a very notable team until more than a decade later. By that time, the coaches who had led the return of the Marshall Football program were long gone, the players had all graduated, and the town had moved on from the shadow of the 1970 plane crash. got me thinking about Peace Corps. While I think many volunteers hope that as they move around the world to serve communities in need, they will indeed have an experience worthy of a "feel good underdog" movie. And, undoubtedly, some of them do! But, for the majority of us, our service may only result in one or two wins - no great championships, no shiny trophies. But, I think it's important for us to remember that those one or two wins really are huge! Just as the Marshall Football team cherished those two wins as a chance to get their football program back on its feet and help a town recover from tragedy, our one or two "small" Peace Corps wins might make a world of difference to the people we live and work around, and to our lives as well!

The coach of the new Thundering Herd football team, Jack Lengyel, only coached at Marshall from 1971-1974. In that time, he racked up a 9-33 record. Now, I'm no football whiz, but that's not a great record. Yet, he laid a foundation that would ultimately lead the team to greater victories many years later.

We will be Peace Corps volunteers from 2011-2013. Who knows what our win-loss record will be by the time we will leave. I guess we will have to hope for those one or two wins, and realize that after we head home we may leave behind the foundation for greater things in years to come. It's comforting to know that even if our service doesn't result in a "feel good underdog movie," we can still have confidence that we're doing good work that will have an impact, despite its challenges.

So...after finishing We Are Marshall last night, I felt inspired! And I thought I'd share some of that inspiration with you!

Thanks for reading! Love and miss you all!


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Another New PTC Adventure

Well Term III in the Primary Teachers College world is full of many turns which we are finding as they seem to happen. The latest has been school practice, or student teaching. It started basically last Friday. They had planned a “brief”ing (can it still be called brief if it goes over 3 hours) to happen on school practice. So we waited all day for this briefing to happen and then at about 5 a student came to inform us it would be at 8 in the evening.

The briefing was basically last minute do’s and don’ts to the students. It is interesting because the tutors seem to think that they need to give the students an answer for every single question they may have out in the field. Rather then just teaching them critical thinking skills to find their own answers to questions. So we went over seating arrangements, learning aids, proper PE uniforms (for the majority of the briefing), how to write capital and lower case letters, and many other things. Every tutor had to be sure to include his or her input (even if their input was the same as the last tutors). Emily talked about how these students had the ability to change the teaching profession, and not just reciprocate what their teachers were like. So if their teachers were not on time, they could be. If their teachers caned them, they do not need to cane. If their teachers humiliated them they did not have to do the same to their students. They were all very excited and encouraged by what she said, especially since most of them were asleep before she came up.

The next day the students were ready to leave by 7 am for the schools. They slowly trickled out throughout the day, and the last group left around dinnertime. The schools do not provide anything for them so they have to take it all with them. When I say all that consists of: their boxes for clothes, mattresses, flour (for Posho and Porridge), beans, paraffin, and wood for cooking with. They loaded everything up and off they went.

This week we have been getting to observe them out at their primary schools, which has been really fun. So each morning we pile into the school truck and get dropped off at the various primary schools. Emily and I have been getting to go together, which it has been nice to bounce ideas off of one another. Each day we get there basically right as the school day is starting and make a plan with the 10 to 12 second year students that we will observe. Then most of the day is spent sitting in the back of the classroom watch how they do and looking through their lesson plans. Then after we are done observing the student teach a 30 to 40 minute class we meet with them to discuss our observations, and their reactions.

So far we have loved getting to build more one-on-one relationships with the students that can often be hard to do when they are all at the college. Some of the common mistakes or areas of concern we have seen are: not knowing effective alternative discipline techniques, variety in teaching methods, and not engaging students very effectively in the classroom. The things that we find the find most hopeful for our students are that they are excited to teach, their classrooms are very well organized, and almost all seem to really enjoy their students. So overall we have been very encouraged with were are students are at, and really enjoy getting to see them teach.

We were a little worried that two mzungus (white people) would cause a huge disturbance at these primary schools, and most of the time it doesn’t. You always have at least a couple students looking at you in class, but usually they are not always the same students. But our students always come right up to us when we get there and greet us and that makes us feel right at home. We have about 2 or 3 more weeks of school practice, and then the students will get graded by the national moderators for school practice. So hopefully these weeks of teaching will get them confident going into teaching jobs in just a few more months (some could have jobs as soon as February)!

Well I hope you all are doing well back in the US, and we hope that you are enjoying your fall!