Saturday, August 6, 2011

Two Down

Term two is finished. Exams are completed and marked, classrooms are empty, and the school compound is even more quiet than usual. It feels strange to be finished with two terms of teaching, especially because I know how quickly the third term will come and go.

Since I wrote last, I have been continuing to work on developing teaching resources with the staff and the pupils. It’s been slow sometimes, and my unrealistic expectations become apparent all too frequently, but I’m not giving up. Lately I’ve been learning a lot about the power of example. I’ve known the phrase “actions speak louder than words” since I was young, but I have come to understand its meaning during these past few months more than any other time in my life.

When we first started the poster/resource development project, we had endless staff meetings where we would argue over the best way to divide the work and organize the project. We NEVER came to any consensus. Once I was fed up with the inefficiency, I started to make posters on my own. And then other teachers made posters. And still others made posters. Then there were collages made from old magazines. And pictures of animals with their names so the kids could improve spelling. Then one of the teachers enlisted the help of a couple of the best artists in the school to draw a sign language alphabet that wraps along the walls of one of the lower primary classes. I am blown away when I look back at all that was accomplished when teachers worked at their own pace, in their own way. Work is done differently here – in my professional experience at home, I’m used to having a plan when a project is started and gauging success by meeting or missing pre-determined benchmarks. But here, quiet leadership and self-directed ambition gets things done. The project has grown more slowly and in a different way than I expected, but it’s all the more beautiful for its natural development.

In mid-July, I had a chance to branch out from school-based projects (and teaching) by getting involved with community-based outreach (which is SUCH a cool part of the Deaf Education program in Peace Corps Kenya). I was invited by an NGO called St. Martin’s Catholic Social Apostolate to come and speak about Deafness in children. I may have mentioned St. Martin’s before in this blog, but let me introduce them more fully. I think they are an INCREDIBLE organization (their motto is “Only Through Community,” which is the first clue as to how great they are). Most of the people who work for St. Martin’s are Kenyans who volunteer their time, and almost everyone in the Nyahururu area knows about and/or is impacted by the work they do. They have outreach programs for people living with disabilities, people living with HIV/AIDS, survivors of domestic and sexual violence and vulnerable children who are orphaned or living on the street. The story of how they were founded is beautiful, and I can personally relate to it, since a good number of the kids at my school were locked or hidden away throughout much of their childhood, before someone advocated for them and took them to school. (To read the story of the founding of St. Martin’s, go here. I strongly encourage it!) Anyway, the staff who works with disabled children and their families travel into the villages in order to find children who aren’t receiving services that they need, and advise the parents accordingly. They told me that they know how to advise parents of children who are 6 years old and above, because a 6-year-old Deaf child can start school, but that they don’t know how to advise parents of young Deaf children. I jumped at the opportunity to speak with them, because (as anyone who has studied early childhood development knows) the first few years of a child’s life are incredibly important for language development. If a Deaf child is not acquiring any language in those first few years, they are set up for a very difficult experience in school. So we talked about what causes deafness, Deaf culture, KSL, language development, education opportunities, parental involvement, etc. It was a great experience, and I hope I’ll be able to conduct similar seminars in the future. I’d also love to set up some parental support groups, who can help each other learn KSL and just spend time together and advocate for their kids.

So, with teaching on top of all the other activities, it’s been a busy term. Sipili School for the Deaf has also recently been linked with a British school through a school partnership program run by STAR4Africa, so we’ve been working in implementing practices to make sure the partnership is successful. There’s a volunteer from the UK here for three months who is providing technical support for the program’s implementation, so there’s plural “wazungu” at the school until September, not just one “mzungu.” The school linking program focuses on global citizenship, and there is also an emphasis on children’s rights, which is great for the kids to learn.

Since the term is over, we have about five weeks off for a break. I’m currently in Kisumu with two girls from my school (and about 85 other girls from other schools), at a Peace Corps camp called Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World). It’s a female empowerment camp, and we attempt to address issues that are pertinent to the lives of girls (especially in Kenya where traditional gender roles predominate and cause real barriers for young women), but aren’t covered fully in school. Although “life skills” is technically part of the Kenyan curriculum, it’s not tested in the national examinations so it’s oftentimes overlooked. So GLOW has a lot of sessions about making goals, planning for the future, women’s health, reproduction, money management, human rights, domestic and sexual assault, future employment opportunities, etc. It’s been a lot of fun to plan and teach the sessions, and the girls have been so much fun to work with. Within the camp there is a section for hearing girls and another for Deaf girls, but during meals and free time it’s been amazing to watch them mingle with and learn from one another. They’ve all come out of their shells, and are able to participate with a lot of enthusiasm. This is the last day of camp, so we went to an impala sanctuary this afternoon where we saw animals and Lake Victoria, and had a “disco” to wrap it all up. Now it's past midnight, and all the volunteers are completely exhausted after a week of planning, teaching and directing girls. We’ll probably all find a way to sleep on our respective vehicles back to site tomorrow…

…unless we’re not going back to site! The Peace Corps Cross-Sector Workshops are happening in Mombasa this coming week, so a lot of us are taking a shuttle to Nairobi tomorrow, and then will travel onward to the coast on Sunday. I still haven't been on the Kenyan coast, so I'm excited to experience the laid-back attitude, observe the Muslim culture and watch the sunburned wazungu tourists try to bargain. And of course the training sessions will be interesting - they're funded by PEPFAR (President's Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief), and volunteers from all sectors (education, small business and public health) are eligible to attend. So I'll probably learn a lot AND get to know more PCVs from around the country. Two teachers from my school are also attending, and I'm really excited for them to get information about HIV prevention and community activism.

After my week in Mombasa, I'll travel back to Nairobi with a fellow PCV (who is also a very good friend), and we'll take the GRE together on the 18th. I don't really have a reason to take the GRE, except to keep my post-PC education/career options open. I've been thinking a lot about what I want to do after I finish my 2 years, and since I have seriously considered everything from getting an MFA in creative writing to getting an MD/MPH to working as a barista for the rest of my life, I think it's important to be prepared. (That third option wasn't considered for too long, but it was considered). Finally, after the GRE I'll spend a couple more days in Nairobi meeting with a Kenyan organization that wants to help our school, and then meet with some Peace Corps Staff to help plan the Pre-Service Training for the NEW education volunteers who are coming in October. I can hardly believe it's already time to plan the next PST, it feels like I was just landing in Kenya, just getting on the bus to Machakos, just meeting my host family. But instead it's almost time for a totally new group to experience all that. I'm excited I'll be able to provide input to help make their training as helpful as possible.

I know August will fly by as I fulfill all my commitments and live my "other life" in cities and on buses instead of in my little house in the village. But I know I'll be happy to get home once it's all settled. I already miss my students, and I'm starting to feel a little bit of separation anxiety, since I know my class 8 pupils will be leaving at the end of the next term.

But in the meantime, I'll try to take everything one day at a time and enjoy new towns, new faces and new experiences. I don't think that will be TOO hard.

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