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Posts tagged ‘peace corps library’

Month 18: suck it up kid, it’s needed

[Insert post about being on vacation for ten days in America.
Oops! I mean Little America. No. That’s not right. Oh!  The touristy part of Cape Town sounds more like it.]

Vacations don’t really relate to my service and thus, I don’t see the point in writing about them. But hey! School has started up again. I’m ready for my last six-seven months of service!

What do those months entail, you wonder?

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That. Cataloguing, categorizing and shelving all the books we recently received. I’ve catalogued 1,000 books or so now, and I’m only half way done. I can power through one box (about 100) books a day. Sitting in the same position.  At the same table. Listening to the same music. Like a robot.

Yes, it drives me crazy. I’m not the type of person to have a desk job. (Unfortunately, my co-workers can’t help me with this process because it involves Microsoft Excel; many still don’t know how to use a computer.)

But in the Peace Corps,  sometimes you just have to do things you don’t enjoy because your community needs it. My school needs a functional library, so I gotta suck it up!

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Boxes that are done

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Boxes to go

Anyone want to take a wild guess how long this will take me?  I’m hoping to have them all numbered and typed into Excel by the end of January. (Winner gets Shania Twain’s autobiography from the 90s I found in a box!)

At the end of the day, we PCVs understand why we are needed. We are flexible and open to such projects because we may have the time, resources and skills to do so and help our communities take a step forward.  We forget about the mundane process and remember the end result. This project is quite a big leap forward for my community. And after all, that’s why I’m here, even if it can be boring sometimes.

I’ll keep chugging along until these books are done. After that, guess what? We’ll be getting another container of books for more Peace Corps schools that didn’t benefit from our first container. No joke.  This is possible through a partnership with the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education, Books for Africa and Peace Corps South Africa and a generous grant from the Sir Emeka Offor Foundation in Nigeria. I’m taking the back seat on this and just gave the DOE a list of Peace Corps schools to deliver to in due time.

The book craziness will dwindle soon; I know I have to plan more activities that are on-the-spot, hit the heart rewarding with my favourite colleagues and learners.

I plan on doing after-school youth development activities with my grade six girls, an arts and crafts club with my counterpart, teaching my principal computer skills, helping make English assignments for grade 4 and 5 and any other fun activity I can whip up. I’m not teaching a class this school year and will be focusing on secondary projects. (Hallelujah!) Sky’s the limit for project ideas!  If you have any for me, send ’em my way.

On the Peace Corps timeline, seven months is nothing. (Only two school terms until my close of service conference.) Wait, what? TIME! Hai bo! Uyaphi?! Stop it! Where are you going?

Back to the grind refreshed and motivated.

Yours in service,
♥Liz

A month in photos: August 2013

  • Thank you card making for my friends and family who donated to our library project! (We raised $12,000 dollar and the books will be shipped within the next week!)
  • Katrina and Michael visit the Battlefields
  • Constantine’s goodbye party/braii
  • Matric Farewell 2013 (South African version of prom)
  • First grade 7 pen pal letter exchange with my friend Josh’s City Year students from Stevenson Middle School in East Los Angeles. Pretty much one of my favorite days in the classroom so far — none of the kids could pronounce Los Angeles or Spanish last names, but were beyond excited to have a new American friend. It was really neat to be able to tell them kids all over the world learn English as a second language just like them. Such a simple, yet powerful project. Can’t wait to keep the exchange going!

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?

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Researching what people eat in India

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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

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Sanele drawing a picture perfect map of Ethiopia

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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

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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

Month three: living and learning, thinking and hoping

One of my best PCV-buddies Katie told me a good Peace Corps analogy: You’re so excited to get in the boat in the beginning, set sail and do everything you imagined, but then you’re stuck in the ocean for a long, long time, waiting, waiting, until you finally see the shore.

Right now, I’m excited to set sail, am making my breezy ride to the middle of the — at times rocky — ocean, and can’t stop thinking about how I can make my service meaningful here.

I’ve got plans in my little reporter’s notebook for days — initiatives I want to do at school such as spelling bees, phonetics activities, reading competitions, intramurals, SCHOOL NEWSPAPER, and more. I’ve got a little piece of paper hanging above my bed as a “blogging cue” that has ideas for stories during my time here; most of these ideas will take a while to report.

Yet, I also feel like a fish out of water on this little USS Peace Corps boat. I’m here for a reason — to live and thrive — but I’m going to need help from others, like a fish needs water, to implement anything I want to do here. That will happen in time, but not as fast as my head is daydreaming it will.

What makes me nervous is that my school is pretty unstructured: Teachers spend up to an hour into morning class to argue over something, don’t get to class on time, might not teach because they are “too tired”, listen to people come to the school and sell things (real life infomercials straight in my school’s staff room — I’ve learned that “there’s a meeting” doesn’t mean there is a meeting, just someone selling something), etc. My favorite moment of unstructurdness is on “sports day” when learners are out of class at 1:30 p.m. to play sports, but they end up just sitting around. The sports equipment is there and plentiful, but there is no structure for the kids to actually use it. Moreover, my principal seems to always be busy or away from the school attending meetings to really have the direct oversight that’s needed; she’s extremely hard to schedule a meeting with.

A lot of things I want to do here must be structured (I salute you, America), so I’m crossing my fingers that I can find a way around this “structural” clash of cultures to still be successful. Whenever a teacher isn’t in class or learners are wandering the school grounds, I stay clam and collected because I remind myself that this is their culture and how schools have been for decades. Teachers don’t see a problem, so how would they fix it? I’m hoping that by leading by example the next school year will help add more structure to my school.

I still haven’t been doing much at my school because there aren’t many classes to attend. Teachers are busy grading and working on evaluations. Thus, I started one of my secondary Peace Corps projects, which is to get the school library up and running.

The David Rattray Foundation, a non-profit that works closely with the schools in my area, has donated plenty of books to my library, including every kid’s favorite — Roald Dahl! The director of the non-profit, Ben Henderson, supports PCVs and we are very lucky to have him so close by! He comes by the schools every so often to deliver new books.

When I first arrived at school, the library had been sorted into fiction and non-fiction and by subject. However, there was no system in place that would allow learners to check books out. So, I’ve taken on a couple of duties:

1) Cleaning out the library and getting rid of every teacher or student workbook that was unnecessary. This took me about two weeks. I felt like I was on a reality show for hoarding; I found student workbooks that were from the 1980s. I lugged all the books out in a wheelbarrow and burned them (literally — trash is burned here). Satisfaction.

2) Making an “accession register” for all the books — a handwritten notebook with numbers according to every book so they can easily be tracked. I recorded 671 books!

3) Currently, I’m in the process of organizing the books alphabetically and color coding the books based on reading level in the fiction section and color coding and grouping the books based on subject in the non-fiction section.

4) After that, I’ll make return cards for all the books so they can be checked out and create an alphabetical title catalogue to make the books easier to find if a learner asks for a specific one.

Talk about tedious and repetitive work! My goal is to have the library up and running by next school year (January) so I can use it with my class and show other teachers how to utilize it in their classes. In the meantime, I will get some students on board as “library monitors” — some grade 5s have already been coming in during lunch to read and were so excited to see the new books Ben brought the other day. They’re top of my list.

The library has been keeping me busy and I feel somewhat accomplished. Americans like getting things done and that’s exactly what I’m doing. But don’t worry, I’m still socializing with the teachers now and then because building relationships is #1 in South Africa over getting things done quickly.

Other than spending M-F from 7:45 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at school, I have free time when I’m not doing chores. Community “integration” has been a bit challenging for me because the weather is bipolar where I live — blazing heat one day and vicious thunder and rainstorms the next. People rarely walk around unless they have a destination.Thus, I feel stupid walking around with no place to go even though I’d like to meet more people. I go to church with my host family occasionally, which is a community hub to greet people. However, as a female, it’s harder to make friends because being friendly to men here isn’t taken as “let’s be friends” but rather, “oh, can I get your number?”

Just the other day I was laughing and hanging out with my 19-year-old host brother and his friend to socialize, but two days later the friend knocked on my hut at night, asked for my number and asked to come in. Hmmm…REJECTED.

Whenever I go into town I am hit on or proposed to.Trust me, none of this is going undocumented: I am writing down all the hilarious things Zulu men say in attempt to woo-me-over and it will be published in a while. I’ve started telling people in my town and my community that “ngiya xolisa, kodwa I have” an American boyfriend, which is actually kind of fun. Clearly, he’s a hipster-preppy mix and a journalist (still searching for name suggestions?) This make-believe man has my heart back home, sorry Zulu men!

I haven’t met many females my age except my host sister and the secondary school’s admin clerk, who I’m hoping will agree to be my language tutor. On a normal day, I watch Generations, an over-the-top-so-bad-it’s-so-good soap opera, with my host family every night and hang out with them on their porch just to spend time with them. I’m molding my relationship with them as if I am part of the family rather than a tenant.

The other day my Mama and Sisi showed me family pictures from as far back as the 60s — some of my Mama and her siblings at the school I’m teaching at, pictures from my Mama’s wedding (you can tell she LOVED her husband. I really wish I could have met him) and some pictures even in front of my 20-year-old rondoval hut! My family has lived in my village for generations and still lives on the same property my Mama grew up on. Now, we live on her husband’s family’s property. I was so happy to learn more about their history and shared a couple of my own photos with them as well.

Women, like my Mama, in the community are seriously super women, just without the flying super power. I wouldn’t be surprised if later they evolve to have that, though. They do everything at home but herd the cattle and chop the wood. As a female, I’m finding my place in the culture. People are shocked when I tell them I can’t cook or I’m single. Which, obviously, ignites the common responses: “I will teach you how to cook!” or “I will find you a South African boyfriend and you will get married here!” Ha, have fun with those people!

My “cooking” has been made fun of plenty of times back in the states and frozen meals were my best friends. I’ve never learned how to really iron clothes. I don’t fold my laundry. Doing laundry in the states consisted of throwing all my clothes — regardless of color — into a machine at once. Cleaning my apartment or room to be spotless clean only happened every once in a while. It’s a running joke with my friends back in the states to feel sorry for whoever marries me (it will suck to be them — IF that happens).

Frighteningly, I’m becoming domesticated like the Zulu women I live among. I’m learning how to hand wash my clothes (which takes up to four hours sometimes) and scrub the coffee stains out of them. I clean and sweep my hut every day because cleanliness is a big deal to my family. Likewise, I’m learning how to cook without a fridge.

Daily meals consist of oatmeal for breakfast, fruit or dry cereal for lunch and a variation between a mix of grilled veggies (onion, tomato, butternut) with seasoning, lentils, sugar beans, soya mince (soy meat), flour tortillas from scratch, rice, pasta, or eggs and if I’m lucky some avocado or guacamole for dinner.

I’m going to get sick of eating the same thing every day after two years, but I’ve been pleased with it so far and my cooking isn’t horrible. I coined the term “saxican food” — a fusion of Mexican and South African food. My host family even loved the guacamole and tortillas I made for them. Rarely do people want to eat what I make, so that’s a score in my book!

Although I haven’t been eating anything so foreign, my body is still hating me right now. It doesn’t like eating the same thing every day and it really doesn’t enjoy trying to digest beans — big or small — all the time. I’ve been sick on-and-off since I arrived at site and hoping it isn’t an on-going thing like a parasite from water or something of that matter, but I doubt it.

The untold Peace Corps stories of dashing to the outhouse or puking outside your hut during the night are real. I am living proof — people just don’t like to talk about it because in our culture it’s taboo. Here, it isn’t and I’m giving you a real slice of life of what it’s like to adjust to a foreign country. News flash: You get sick and all you can do is laugh about it with your fellow PCVs.

I’m supposed to start team-teaching with a teacher next week. The English teacher is aware of this, so hopefully the plan follows through. If not, I’ll be taking on my own grade 5 class — wish me luck!

P.S. mine and Katie’s CYLA alumni story made its way to Peace Corps social media (the Tweeta and Facebook) thanks to City Year!

We are beyond thrilled that our ripples story was shared to such a wide audience because if we were City Year or Peace Corps applicants we would be “fired up” from the story; it demonstrates the power of service! Humble brag, but we’re pretty darn proud of both of these organizations.

Sorting through the fiction books and grouping them based on reading level…it’s a mess, I know

All the new books the David Rattray Foundation just donated! Can’t wait to read Roald Dahl books to my classes!

My completed hand-written library accession book. Hopefully people can read it…

Sala kahle,
SmallTransparentLogoLiz