Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Joy of Making Plans

Hi everyone! Hope you are all well! We hear that temps are warming up in the midwest these days! Hope you’re enjoying the warmer weather and maybe enjoying thinking about getting gardens going! We are certainly enjoying the luxury of gardening year round, but will be happy to get back to our backyard garden in MN next spring all the same!

Things at the college are continuing to progress. We sent our second year students off yesterday for their semi final school practice. Throughout the next four weeks they will be getting their first shot as full time classroom teachers, and we’ll be going out as staff to observe them and offer feedback. It’s always fun to get out and see the schools and visit the students while they’re teaching. I think many of the schools we are going to this term will be even more rural, village schools than ones we visited during term three, so it should be interesting to see them. Ryan and I are quite an attraction for the kiddos, so it’s fun to surprise them with our runyankore, even though the constant staring does tend to get old.

The clubs we’ve been working on with first year students are getting off the ground....sort of....Here’s the update:

The reading clubs have been an interesting lesson in mathematics - exponential decline! When we originally offered the clubs, a surprising 120 kids signed up! Ryan and I were a bit overwhelmed, but happy with the interest. So, we picked out 8 books that we offered to read with the kids. The plan was that we’d read a few chapters of the book each week, and meet to discuss them in small groups. Since reading (for enjoyment) is such a foreign concept and discussion is often difficult here, we figured it would be better to discuss a few chapters at a time rather than the whole book like a traditional book club. So, in the next step, the kids signed up for the specific books they wanted to read. After that, we had only 60 on our roster. We were actually a bit pleased because we thought 120 was really too much, and we hoped that the 60 who stuck around would be those who were really interested in reading and not those who had just felt pressured because everyone else was doing it. So, we cut the books to be read down to 4 (about 15 per reading group) and have been working on meeting for the last two weeks. During week one, not a single student showed up. Luckily there’s a ping pong table in the room that we were waiting for them, so Ryan and I kept ourselves busy as we watched the clock tick by with no students showing up. (Just between us, I think Ryan’s been quite surprised by my mad ping pong skills!) Throughout the week, we made more announcements, tried to involve student leaders in reminding first years, posted signs, spoke with each class stream, and hoped that during week two turn out would be better. Now, at the end of week two, 9 students total have shown up for the clubs: 1 for Magic with Everything, 3 for Things Fall Apart, 2 for Mine Boy, and 3 for Treasure Island. So....it’s definitely a small number! But, the kids who have come are very excited about reading and discussing, and who knows how the clubs will catch on over time. I think the benefit of developing relationships is so important, so even if that’s all that comes out of this club I believe we can consider it a success.

I’ve only had one meeting of the girls club so far, and it was excellent! Over thirty girls came! I was actually texting Ryan while I waited for them (“how long do you think I should wait before I give up?”) and looked up to see a mass of girls moving towards me! They were so happy to have a place just for them (no boys allowed!), and their excitement was evident, even through their shyness. During our first meeting, we made introductions, talked about what we hope to get out of the club, and played a couple of getting to know you games. At each meeting, I’ll bring a “question box” where the girls can write anonymous questions about anything on their mind and we will discuss them the following week. It caught on right away - there were already four or five questions by the end of our first meeting. Since most of them had to do with reproductive health issues, this week I’m going to give an overview of female reproductive anatomy and talk about the menstrual cycle. Teaching “sex ed” is brand new to me, but I’m excited to be able to share knowledge of women’s issues to interested young women. We’ll see how it goes!

I’ve also floated the idea with them of making reusable menstrual pads and they are really interested. Some volunteers over the past couple of years have created a project that uses local materials to make resuable pad “kits” at an extremely low cost. For about 75 American cents, each girl can make their own kit - with 2 pads and 3 cotton towel inserts. (1 pack of purchased disposable pads currently costs about $1.50) So, if there’s enough interest, this week at the market I’ll pick up yards of fabric, cotton towels, buttons, needles, and thread and we’ll start making them together next week.

Ryan has been working with his counterpart Patrick to co-teach ICT classes for first years. Since there are four first year streams, they take turns being the lead teacher and play off one another really well. Ryan is really excited by the partnership. He feels that they are both learning lots from each other and building a great cross cultural relationship. We think it’s really the best of what a Peace Corps education position can be - truly working together to share ideas and improve instruction in a sustainable way. The students are very excited to be learning computers. When Ryan asked how many had used a computer before, only about 15 of the 200 had raised their hands. So, they’re starting at the beginning - turning the computer on and off - and working from there. It’s going well!

Our community VSLA is doing great! We met with them last night and they are all so excited about their progress! They have saved three million shillings as a group (about $1,500) and have loaned out almost all of it! The loans are getting paid back in plenty of time (and early!) and everyone is quite pleased with how the group is changing their culture of saving and giving them the opportunity to take loans. Last night some of the members brought up the idea of helping one another think of ways to use the money effectively, so it looks like our next step with the group will include introducing some income generating activities and helping the members consider how getting a loan from the group could help them create even more income.

We’ve also offered to start another VSLA with staff from the college who are interested. At this point 15 have signed up, so we’re trying to work to schedule a preliminary meeting with them this week. We’ll keep you up to date!

So, we’re excited about the progress that’s been made in the term so far, but continue to be amazed at how difficult and slow going it is. There are so many unplanned activities and unexpected changes of plans that get in the way of things happening like they are supposed to. It’s a lot of hurry up and wait as we are trying so hard to get everything off the ground. There are also plenty of cultural confusions to complicate things as well. But, I really think optimism and patience will pay off! We’ll keep hanging in there and hope that even when successes are small, they’re enough to make what we are doing here worthwhile!

Even in the midst of the constant ups and downs of service, there are plenty of moments that just make you want to laugh! Although we’re getting less and less surprised by the funny day-to-day things that happen, we still try to note them for “a chuckle of the day” as my grandma would say. :-)

One funny moment occurred last week when I was in a matatu headed to Kasese for a meeting with some other volunteers. I had picked up a paperback from the Peace Corps library specifically to read in transit (I can’t tell you the number of Kindles that have been crushed and smushed courtesy of Uganda’s public transport system!). So, as I sat with four others in the first row of the matatu (intended for 3), I was enjoying an easy read murder mystery about a polygamous mormon cult in Utah (scintillating topic!). I began to notice that the young man next to me seemed interested in what I was reading. I smiled and just kept flipping through the book. Eventually I noticed that his hand was now helping me support the left side of the book, while my hand was holding on to the right. Without saying anything, he gently pulled the book towards him so that we were sharing it in between us. And, for the next half hour we sat like that - silently sharing the book between the two of us. As I would turn a page, he’d adjust his hand and continue reading with me. I didn’t know whether to be embarrassed by the needlessly dramatic content of the story I was reading, of just amused that here I was in extremely close quarters, sharing a cheesy book with a total stranger! Despite all the funny transport happenings we have experienced, that was a new one!

So, there’s your “chuckle for the day!” Thanks for reading and keeping in touch. We love and miss you all!


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