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Month five: in-service training and relationship building

A common question I get from people back in the states is – “When are you going to start teaching?” My response is always complicated, as I have to explain that although I’ve been in my village a bit now, but I haven’t done much yet.

For the past three months I have been participating in Peace Corps South Africa’s “community integration” phase. In less bureaucratic terms, it’s the time I spend observing my surroundings, figuring things out for myself and writing a report to present to my principal and Peace Corps program director. The next step in my newbie PCV process is In-Service Training (IST) before I start my primary Peace Corps project – English teaching – and any secondary projects of mine and my community’s choosing in January.

These past two weeks I have been at IST with all the other 37 Americans from my Peace Corps cohort (SA 26) in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal. We’ve been socializing, eating like kings and queens during the day (dessert all day errday), watching the popular South African soapie Generations together and snuggling in our down comforters at night. Wait, what? A Peace Corps training event at a four-star hotel?

When we first arrived at the hotel we were confused about where we were. All we really ask for at these little gatherings is a hot shower and good friends, but we basically got First World Amurica. One of the beliefs South Africans commonly have about America is that we’re all rich white people, which is a view I strongly want to disprove. However, inviting our South African counterparts to a ritzy hotel isn’t going to help me tackle that stereotype anytime soon. Ohhhh… snap.

IST was divided into four workshops – supervisor’s, English teaching, life skills, and Peace Corps administrative sessions. We were required to bring our principal to the supervisor’s workshop, an English teacher from our schools to the English teaching workshop and a community counterpart who would be interested on running youth programs with us for the life skills workshop.

I was stressing about finding a community counterpart, so I e-mailed the Health PCV who left my village earlier this year. She responded back with great advice and actually recommended the two people in my community I’ve wanted to get to know better — the secondary school’s administrative clerk and my school’s security guard. She explained the secondary school’s administrative clerk, Yama, as a girl who “fights for what she believes in and for herself and wants to further herself.”

My life skills counterpart Yama and myself accepting a certificate of completion

My life skills counterpart Yama and myself accepting a certificate of completion

After reading that, I got so excited because if anything, it’s been hard for me to connect with females in their 20s I’ve met in South Africa because many lead very, very different lives than me. Most have children or want children at my age. I have yet to find any driven young woman like myself…until now.

To kick things off at the life skills workshop, Yama and I had a day to design a project we can start in our village. Yama said there’s a huge need for a girls club to empower and educate young women because teenage pregnancy is one of the biggest issues in our community. Last year alone there were 38 teen pregnancies at the secondary school, which is quite a lot considering the school only has around 200 or so students. We’re aiming to start a girls club hopefully during the second term next school year.

After, we covered topics such as HIV/AIDS, natural nutrition, healthy lifestyles training and after-school programs training we can bring back to our communities. The education programs hosted by other non-profits we can use in our communities included: Operation Hope, a financial literacy and money management program for young teens, Project Citizen, which involves learners in democracy by addressing a social issue in their area and suggesting policies about it, Scouts, a co-ed version of boys and girls scouts and Souns, a phonetic and literacy program for young children. It’ll still be a couple of months before I start any of these options in my village.

Yama and I also spent two days going through Grassroot Soccer training, which is a program that uses soccer games to teach kids about HIV/AIDS and has a partnership with Peace Corps programs throughout Africa. It’s an extremely interactive and fun program and engages the kids into a serious dialogue about HIV/AIDS. The only problem is the program will have to be taught in Zunglish and predominately in Zulu so the students can really be comfortable expressing their feelings. Yama and I want to start the program during “sports” at the primary and secondary school in our village.

Grassroot soccer training -- pretending the balls are multiple partners, which makes it easier for a person (HIV) to come and tag me while I'm trying to dribble four at a time

Grassroot soccer training — pretending the balls are multiple partners, which makes it easier for a person (HIV) to come and tag me while I’m trying to dribble four at a time

Katie, my fellow CYLA alum, and myself met a former City Year South Africa staff member -- Tony Gubesa -- at our Grassroot Soccer training! LOVING these international ripples!

Katie, my fellow CYLA alum, and myself met a former City Year South Africa staff member — Tony Gubesa — at our Grassroot Soccer training! LOVING these international ripples!

Grassroots soccer spirit break! This isn't real life! On LA! C-Y-L-A anyone?

Grassroots soccer spirit break! This isn’t real life! On LA! C-Y-L-A anyone?

Look at that spirit, discipline, purpose and pride

Look at that spirit, discipline, purpose and pride

The English workshop was shorter and touched on corporal punishment and classroom management, English teaching games and teaching the writing process. I invited a life orientation and technology teacher as my English teaching counterpart, Miss Molefe, because she is teaching English for the first time next year.

She is a newer and dedicated teacher and I think working with me next year will really help prepare her to take over English when I leave. And not to mention, she’s definitely one of my favorite teachers – not long ago she taught me how to bake amakhekes at her house (little South African biscuit cakes)!

At the supervisor’s workshop, my principal and I decided I will teach grade 5 English as my own class and the listening/speaking portion of the English curriculum to grade 6 and 7 for about two-four scheduled hours a week. Miss Molefe will teach grade 4 English and we will work together.

Miss Molefe, my English counterpart, and myself

Miss Molefe, my English counterpart, and myself

This will honestly be one of the most challenging things in my lifetime yet, but at least I acknowledge that I’m going to need to work my butt off. Thankfully, I am not teaching grade 4 because it is their transition year from being taught in isiZulu to only English. Teachers can code-switch when needed, but if I taught grade 4 I wouldn’t be able to translate everything for them – probably only simple sentences and words. I’m glad I finally know what I’m teaching next school year (starting mid-January) so I can start prepping.

Peace Corps scheduled IST at the perfect time because we’re ready to start that transition from acquaintances to relationships with our South African counterparts and fellow PCVs. The amount of time I got to spend with my counterparts and fellow Volunteers helped me get to know them better as friends and not just co-workers.

Tonight is my last night with SA 26 and I will be heading back to the village tomorrow. I miss my family and my home sweet hut – looks like my “integration phase” was successful.

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P.S. — I’ve signed up to run (more like walk) a half-marathon, the Longtom Marathon,  in March that supports the Kgwale le Mollo Foundation — a foundation founded by South Africa PCVs to help send high school students to university. I need to raise at least $100USD! If you would like to donate to help a worthy South African learner receive higher education, go to the Website: http://www.klm-foundation.org/ and click “Donate Now” at the top right-hand corner on behalf of Liz Warden. Thank you for your support!

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