Saturday, February 18, 2012

Beyond School

My primary assignment in Samoa is teaching English to Years 1-8 in a primary school in a rurual village.  Additionally, I’m responsible for co-teaching and providing opportunities for the teachers I work with to learn new techniques.  That takes about six hours a day on week days and another several hours on the weekend doing lesson planning and preparation.

We’re encouraged to do at least one secondary project.  To some volunteers, that means grant writing and getting “stuff” for their village.  Our goal is to have sustainable progress.  When we’re gone, will the changes take hold and make a difference in the long run is the criteria.  Samoa is accustomed to receiving funds and support from a variety of countries.    There currently seems to be a bidding war in the Pacific – who can court the island governments by providing the most support.  A variety of political reasons, with the impact of China’s growth seemingly a large part of the reason.  Does it help, in the long run?  Is it what is really needed?

I don’t think so.  Rather, I think it perpetuates the cycle of entitlement and lack of self-sufficiency.  This is especially true because so many things are given that are of no real or perceived value here.  Here’s an example.  We have a fairly well-stocked library at my school.  Most of the books are beyond the comprehension level of the students, but we have a lot of books.  I have never seen another teacher allow students into the library.  I was chastised for it.

Instead, the library has become a sort of shrine.  Someone from the Ministry, responsible for monitoring the New Zealand grant money comes to inspect the library to make sure the resources are there.  Yes, they are because they have not been touched.

I’ve been asked to write grants for new computers, other electronic equipment and new buildings.  Are they needed?  Yes.  Would they be used?  Doubtful.  We have one new computer, which came from grant money.  I’m the only one who uses it.  I have scheduled classes after school every day to teach the other teachers how to use it.  No one has taken me up on the offer yet.

This has made finding a secondary project a challenge.  Many times people will agree they want something, but not enough to become involved.  Yes, it would give me an opportunity to get out of my village on official business if I take on a big project on my own.  Yes, it would look good on my resume or in newspaper/tv spots I promote.  Does it help?  Perhaps.

I’ve opted to let the projects come to me.  I’ve  told people what my skills are.  I’ve asked what they’re interested in.  Then I waited.  So far, it seems to be working.

One woman wanted help in writing a grant to get a new school in the village she and her family are moving to.  She didn’t want me to write it.  She just wanted guidance in how to go about it.  I provided the guidance which included samples and sources of grant monies along with specifics that she should include in her grant.  She’s doing the leg work to get the specific information, not me.

One resort owner expressed a problem with lack of training for his staff.  When I told him I’d done a lot of customer service training in the tourism industry, he asked me to help.  I’ll be piloting a program with his staff.  Based on reactions, I’ll take it on the road if there seems to be genuine interest.

I’ve offered to help college kids with their homework.  There are two colleges near my village.  Based on the five students who came to my fale today for help, there seems to be a need.  While I was working with them, the wife of the pastor of my church came by.  We’d talked about doing an after-school reading program for the primary school aged kids, regardless of which church they attend.

Starting Tuesday, we’ll do a reading session for an hour twice a week.  Immediately after that, we’ll conduct a homework session for college kids.  We’ll be encouraging the college kids to come for the reading program to help out.  We’re expecting about 50 primary kids coming to hone their reading skills.

Newsworthy?  No.  Tiring?  Yes.  Helpful?  I believe that the ability to read is one of the most important skills that anyone can have.   Will this change the world or even this small village?  No, not really.  My goal is to change one attitude.  One perspective.  Motivate one person.   Not very inspirational, I admit, but imagine if we each helped just one other person. 

Just wanted everyone to know there’s more to Peace Corps Samoa than enjoying the beach.

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