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Posts from the ‘Liz’s Secondary Peace Corps Project’ Category

Month 11: oh, so THAT’S what the Peace Corps is all about

I swear, if I had known how much I’d hear the term “sustainability” after joining the Peace Corps I would have kept tally from day one. PCVs are only supposed to be doing projects that will keep going when we leave. Our job is to initially start projects, but train community counterparts to foster an encouraging environment to keep the projects moving along. It all makes complete sense and I will not argue against this philosophy one bit. But I will throw a curveball. What if we have started a project, but our counterparts are becoming disengaged? Do we quit the project or keep going, expect to possibly fail, but know in the back of our minds that SOMEBODY in the community is getting something out of it?

Myself and my community counterpart, who works at the secondary school in my village, started a girls club there at the start of term one. Girls on the Rise, that is. We’re had a total of three meetings – all that went well. The girls are engaged, respectful and eager to learn about the ins-and-outs of being a teenager. I have a lesson plan guidebook from the Peace Corps and other PCVs from the past. We haven’t had to do much planning. We set a schedule to meet every other Friday. The past two meeting times we have had to postpone the meetings for two weeks at a time. As an American with a set schedule, this is a little embarrassing on my end. However, I don’t think it’s that big of a deal from a South African viewpoint.

I cannot do the meetings without my counterpart because the topics can get dense (like rape… yeah, that session was awkwardly dead silent until my counterpart arrived). I did think about doing the girl’s club alone for a while, because at least I’d be following through. But then I realized how crazy that would be – I need someone who speaks their language and relates to the girls. Also, I should be investing my time in something that’s actually sustainable.

While I was bummin’ about Girls on the Rise, a bittersweet sustainable project fell on my lap. I’ve been wanting to do Grassroot Soccer in my village, but haven’t had the time. I decided to host a Grassroot Soccer Camp during the first week of the learner’s winter break (21 June – 15 July) directly after the completion of Paige’s Grassroot Soccer training project, which included two members from my community. So, I set up a four day schedule to do all 11 practices and added a few fun games and arts and crafts like piñatas. Simple. Paige and I in-kinded some food for the camp (and ended up buying half of it…) and paint to paint a HIV-awareness mural at my school. We went along with the plan — camp started on Monday and ended yesterday.

As with anything in Africa, I expected absolutely everything possible to go wrong at camp. I made an alternative schedule and plan in case everything was chaos. Of course everything was chaotic – but not exactly how I pictured it. My community’s two GRS coaches from Paige’s training – Andile and Zandile – were there at 9 a.m. sharp on Monday and from then on were AMAZING.

One thing I will never be able to give these learners is thought-provoking and interactive discussions in Zulu. They desperately need to be taught in Zulu about sex education and issues such as HIV and AIDS considering South Africa has one of the highest HIV rates in the world. Yet, as a PCV, I can facilitate the start of a movement of change.

This week, I sat back and watched Andile and Zandile teach the Grassroots Soccer program all in Zulu. They would not have been doing this (and being paid to do it!) if it weren’t for Paige’s GRS training program. These kids would not have understood this program if it weren’t for Andile and Zandile, but it still all comes back to a PCV scheduling and training for the dialogue to happen.

Andile and Zandile teaching all the Grassroot Soccer lessons at my camp is absolute proof that PCV-based programs can be sustainable and reach many. You just have to find a creative way to go about it — like Paige did by applying for a grant from the South African government to pay the GRS coaches. It might take some money to make that happen – but I don’t blame ‘em. With the unemployment rate so high in my area it just makes perfect sense to make turn a Peace Corps youth development project into job creation. It’s terrific trifecta of change: job creation for community members –> youth development in the community –> youth teaching others in the community.

Our Grassroot Soccer Camp showed me what the Peace Corps is all about – giving community members a nudge and watching them flourish. Who better to relate to the kids than someone from their own community, anyways?

Other than the grade 6 and 7 learners mostly being terrors at camp (stealing lunch food and candy, painting the grade 6 classroom door, bullying my precious grade 5s, and the list goes on…), I’d say it was a decent mid-service refresher. Working with Andile and Zandile  was just what I needed with my one-year service mark emerging on the horizon. Huge thanks to my PCV buddy Paige as well, who helped put this camp together, was there every day and saw her Grassroot Soccer training project come to life in the village!

Thanks for everything Paige!

Thanks for everything Paige!

Now I have three weeks off from school – two weeks to do absolutely nothing but binge watch new TV series I gathered from Paige and study for the GRE (NO interruptions from kids!), then a week in Johannesburg for a City Year South Africa visit! Two more MUCH NEEDED mid-service refreshers.

Check out more pictures from camp here!

Small heartYours in service,


Grassroot Soccer Camp Photos

Paige and I were running around like chickens with our heads cut off at camp (speaking of which, I have seen one in my yard and can attest to how true this hyperbole is), so I didn’t get as many pictures of the Grassroot Soccer practices I would have liked to. Nonetheless, we still took a good amount of pictures — most are of the activities Paige and I facilitated!

Grassroot Soccer Training: what up sustainability!

Every now and then, you’ll find a diamond in the rough out here in rural South Africa – somebody who wants to be a role model for the kids, who wants to make a difference and who sees that there are solutions to two huge problems in rural communities such as HIV and teen pregnancy.

As excited as some people are to work with you, things don’t always work out smoothly. Counterparts may become unmotivated while you work assiduously. And that has nothing to do with the project or how it’s going – it’s just cultural. Culturally, I’ve noticed most people are “ok” with the way things are and don’t see an opportunity to ameliorate something, whereas I always see how something can be better and work for it. This is a major cultural difference I have experienced while I’ve been here, but I understand that I view the way the world works a little differently than many I live amongst.

One of the projects Peace Corps South Africa highly recommends we do is Grassroot Soccer, which we were trained on during our in-service training back in December. Grassroot Soccer is an energetic life skills program that uses soccer, chants, cheers and team builders to teach kids about HIV/AIDS. It’s the perfect combination for a Peace Corps education Volunteer – lessons are already planned and you are given the resources! But there’s always a catch for anything that good – for the kids to really understand the content, it must be done at least partially in their home language.

South Africans love Grassroot Soccer and want to do it, but getting someone to facilitate all 11 one-hour lessons is a challenge. People tend to not follow through, especially if there’s no money involved.

Paige, a health volunteer and one of the closest PCVs to me, recently finished an awesomely sustainable Grassroot Soccer project in our home, the Nquthu Municipality. She applied for a Peace Corps grant to host a Grassroot Soccer training to train 40 community members from rural villages all over our area. All of these community members will be given the necessary skill set to implement a Grassroot Soccer “intervention”at a secondary or primary school in their villages. With the grant money, she flew out two Grassroot Soccer trainers from Cape Town and Johannesburg. Ok – but that doesn’t sound sustainable. So what’s the catch?


Paige and myself welcoming GRS coach Tony from Cape Town at the Durban airport

Paige also applied for a grant from the South African the Department of Labour. Her grant was approved, and the health organization she works for was allotted enough money to pay each community member R1,000 a month (a little less than half of my living stipend). They are required to do two Grassroot Soccer practices at a school a week to receive their stipend. The contract is for a year, and will be renewed each year.

Paige’s home-based care organization already had a bunch of volunteers who weren’t getting paid, but still putting in the hours. She invited these volunteers to be a part of the Grassroot Soccer training to represent different villages.

First day of training; the group meeting

First day of training; the group meeting



Nquthu Municipality, our hood, has an unemployment rate of 44 percent. This new “job creation” will not only teach kids how to lead a healthy lifestyle in a fun and interactive way, but also give people jobs! And who knows, maybe they’ll love youth development projects like this so much that they’ll keep on keepin’ on.


GRS practice “Break Away”, which teaches kids about the risk of having multiple sexual partners

GRS practice “Risk Field” where kids dribble a ball through obstacles that stand for things such as: multiple partners, sex without a condom, drugs, alcohol, etc.

Two community members from my village are participating in the training, and will be the coaches at mine and Paige’s Grassroot Soccer Camp at my school! The learners will do all the Grassroot Soccer activities in Zulu (thank God they don’t have to try to listen to me) and then I will do all the fun arts and crafts, games, and chants. The camp will be next Monday-Friday during school break. My camp plan is a mix between Grassroot Soccer, Zulu, American (of course we are making piñatas!), City Year and National Student Leadership Conference culture – the best of all my worlds! I’m excited to get to jump around, cheer and look like an idiot again. The kids will get a kick out of it.

More to report from camp next week!

Yours in service,

Small heartLiz

Why you should fund my school’s library — Project Amandla

It’s that time during my service where I have to fundraise! As I’ve written plenty of times on my blog before, my main secondary project has been getting my school’s library functioning. I took on the challenge to help coordinate a Peace Corps library project – Project Amandla (power in isiZulu) — with an American nonprofit called Books for Africa. Books for Africa will send a container of 22,000 English books to anywhere in Africa if the recipient(s) fundraises the shipment costs. My school will receive 733 books through this project to enhance our library. Additionally, the secondary school in my village will receive 733 books. I plan to allocate a few months next year to developing the secondary school’s library.

“Amandla” means “power” in isiZulu – because reading is an infinite and undeniable power any child can harness if he or she has access to grade-level appropriate books. Through Project Amandla, my learners and approximately 16,000 other South African students will be given the power of literacy.

I could write anecdote upon anecdotes of heartfelt service stories about why my kids are deserving of these books. Here’s a few:

  • The day I opened my library, my grade 5 girls were skipping around the library (and doing some Zulu traditional dances) because they were so excited that it was finally opening.
  • Dumsani, a grade 6 learner with “special needs”, checks out a book from the library nearly every day.
  • Nolwazi, one of the brightest grade 7 learners, read the only series of chapter books we have within two weeks.
  • That one kid Sebetsang, who I’ve written about before, has been reading Roald Dahl stories that are giving him inspiration for more of his stories.
  • Spheamandla, the learner I detailed in my project’s description, is in the library during ANY free time at school – reading anything and everything he can get his hands on.
  • My grade 5s will have read every book my school owns that is at their level by the end of this school year.
  • My grade 7s need a library at their secondary school to continue reading and exploring a world outside of the very routine days (i.e. copy notes, answer questions, repeat)
  • Two libraries in my community will help these kids take ownership of their education by enjoying reading and thus developing their English vocabulary and comprehension skills.
Spheamandla and other grade 7 learners checking out a book for the first time in their lives

Spheamandla and other grade 7 learners checking out a book for the first time in their lives

To donate funds, view our project link on the Peace Corps Website here:$20 will send 15 books to my learners!

For more information about the nonprofit Books for Africa please visit:

For more information about my secondary library project please visit: Liz’s Peace Corps Secondary Projects

For more information about Project Amandla, please read  the Peace Corps Partnership Program Grant I wrote that explains the background of my community, project implementation, sustainability of the project, desired outcome of the project, etc.

Thank you for helping me make a difference in the lives of these kids who I love dearly and believe deserve a shot at a decent education. We hope to have these books in South Africa by October!

Nolwazi, Sebetsang and other grade 7 learners thank you!

Nolwazi (center), Sebetsang (far right) and other grade 7 learners thank you!

Small heartYours in Service,

Month 10: library opening!

The library is finally open at my school. I’m almost done training my grade 5-7 library monitors who now know where to put back the books, how to help learners pick out appropriate books for their grade/reading level and how to check-out books.

I will slowly integrate the library into class time by bringing classes in and showing teachers how they can utilize it. To lead by example, I am currently introducing my grade 5s to the library and differentiating from fiction and non-fiction texts through a research project for my English class.

They are researching three countries: Ethiopia, India and Nigeria to decide where our class character will travel in my class story. Then, one-by-one each learner will tell me me why he should travel there for a speaking grade for term 2. We are researching those countries specifically because they are the only countries we have books about. Twelve kids are sharing one book, so I made photocopies of the books. They are also using an atlas from the 1980s that has a page about the USSR…the USSR still exists, right? Hmmm… maybe my characters Umhaha and Amandla can travel to the USSR? Yeah, you can get pretty creative with little and old resources…

This will be the project – other than my class – that I spend the most time for the rest of my time here. I’m ecstatic because it’s sustainable, the learners love it and it will teach the kids that reading is something fun and enjoyable.

The library with tablecloths and all

The library with tablecloths and all. My principal added the final touches to the library on a Saturday — ah-mazing, right?

That computer, straight from the 90s, works

Believe it or not, that computer, straight from the 90s, works

Ethiopia group working hard...or hardly working?

Ethiopia group working hard…or hardly working?


Researching what people eat in India


Taking a break from researching Nigeria… I guess the “throw yo hands up for the camera” is a worldwide “I’m a cool kid” thing


Sanele drawing a picture perfect map of Ethiopia


Some of my learners – like Siyanda – struggle with English, but are artistic. It’s nice to deviate from the norm and give them something to draw and label


Siyabonga and Buhle working together to draw the Nigerian flag

Dear Peace Corps high, won’t you stay for a while?

Yours in service,
Small heartLiz

Month nine: the library is ready to go!

The day has finally come that I have been waiting for – I am done organizing and decorating my school’s library!

When I first got to site, I poked my nose around to see what I could do. I came across the library, which had been organized into sections, but had no system for kids to check out books/put books back on the shelf. So, I created an accession register for all ~800 books, separated them by reading level or subject and created labels for all of them. That took me about five months; I was going crazy. Let’s just say I am not passionate about taping labels onto books and sorting them.

But if you know me, have seen my childhood room, my freshman dorm room, college apartment, or now home sweet hut, you know I like decorating. I always have to find a way to make things bright and colourful and usually cut out some letters from construction paper to write a quote on my wall or something along those lines.

Naturally, I had to decorate my library.IMG_6425I decided to hang big signs from the rafters for the fiction and non-fiction sections and stars. So far, whenever a learner comes into the library they look up and say, “phezulu!” (above) or “it is beautiful!” If learners are curious about the decorations in the library and are attracted to the colours and shapes, won’t they want to come in and read? Hopefully, because that is my goal. I want to make this space theirs and somewhere they really enjoy being.

Next week, I will continue my library progress to get ready for the big opening on Monday, Apr. 22.

  • finalize rules and hours with staff members
  • give grade 5, 6 and 7 applications to be library monitors, choose monitors and then train them
  • train the teachers how to use the library through a scavenger hunt
  • make a reference guide for teachers about where they can find certain books they can use in their classes
  • train all the learners on how to use the library and keep it clean

Initiatives to come from my library:

  • hopefully, hopefully a school newspaper (I just have to)
  • English story time with Miss Mathebula (me)
  • chess club (the grade 7 educator is very adamant about getting this started)

We might not have many books right now, but we will be getting more! Some PCVs and I have started the Books for Africa process with our volunteer group (South Africa 26) and the health volunteer group (South Africa 25). Books for Africa is a nonprofit based in Minnesota that does exactly what its name says — sends books to Africa. Each shipment of books contains approximately 22,000 primary and secondary books. To receive the books, we must raise the funds for the shipping costs (approximately $15,000USD). We have invited other PCVs and their schools and organizations from South Africa to be a part of the project, which we decided to call Project Amandla. Simply, amandla means power in Zulu and literacy gives people power. Thirty schools and organizations will participate and each one is required to raise 2,000 Rand for ~733 books. Today was our first day of fundraising at school and the kids could wear casual clothes if they paid 1R. Most of the kiddies wore casual clothes and we raised 216R today! Every Friday my school will continue this effort.

All those who are participating in Project Amandla will soon be asking for donations from America to raise the rest of the money. I am working on finishing the Peace Corps grant for $5,000USD with help from other Volunteers. Once the grant is approved, our project will show up on the Peace Corps Website and we will send out a link to our blog viewers, friends, family members and former co-workers. I will also publish a description of the grant on my blog as well as a short promotional video. Stay tuned; coming soon!

Things are finally coming together at site and I will be very, very busy these next few months. Just what I’ve been waiting for — to be stressed again. Seriously though.

Yours in service,
Small heartLiz

A month in photos: February 2013

  • The first meeting of Girls on the Rise — a girl’s club that my counterpart Yama and I started at the high school in my village. The club is open to anyone and will run until November. We will teach about health issues, self-esteem, love problems (that one is on Yama), sex, really anything else a high school girl would want to talk about. With 38 teenage pregnancies last year at the high school, we can only hope this club will help girls make the right decisions for their futures. My counterpart rocks and organized all the girls. We will meet twice a month. During our first meeting we had the girls draw and discuss their “self-image”, how they see themselves, which I think they enjoyed! (more to come on Girls on the Rise as it takes off!)
  • Pen pal project with my City Year school Markham Middle School in Watts and also Stevenson Middle School in Boyle Heights of Los Angeles. My former roommates Marissa and Josh are team leaders this year at each school! Hopefully I can send the letters this week, but there’s a post office strike (Africa always wins).
  • Learners helping me label library books, which of course got out of hand
  • Other randoms from February

Yours in service,
Small heartLiz