"I am certainly not one of those who need to be prodded…"

05.20.10 updates (mogobane, molepolole, sowa)

Posted in personal by stuart sia on May 20, 2010

It’s the 20th of May, just four days after the month after the year since I first left Los Angeles.

The new volunteers arrived over a month ago. As a part of the Peer Support & Diversity Network (PSDN), I’ve been in and out of Molepolole, meeting and counseling the trainees. I just had a couple of them (Anna Gianola and Tess Korbesmeyer) shadowing me a week ago, and it’s funny but I already miss them. It was great showing them around Mogobane, and it helped me realize and appreciate how well integrated I am in my community and how well my work is going after all. And beyond that, Anna and Tess are really great people and I couldn’t have asked for better company.

Colin Pappajohn and I have been working with the Mogobane Disabled Persons’ Committee (a support group for people with disabilities and their caregivers) for the past 6 months, assisting them with a gardening project they have been trying to get off the ground. They’ve already acquired a parcel of land from the Malete Land Board in Ramotswa, and have purchased some building materials, but it’s still a long way from becoming a garden. We’ve submitted a proposal to AED for the funds to get the water connected, build a fence and handicapable pathways, and everything is looking good, though we have run into a couple snags along the way. We are still waiting on a quote from the water agency in Gaborone…forgive my language, but bureaucracy is a bitch. And we also need to start up a business account for the organization, which although relatively straightforward, has proven challenging with regard to the schedule coordination of all necessary parties. It’s been great working on this with Colin and Rre Phanuel Nage, the modulasetilo (chairperson), and although the snags along the way have been at times disheartening, c’est la vie. Andrew Sigman from AED has been very supportive of our efforts, and continually reminds me, it’ll all be worth it in the end. We are probably going to have to resubmit our proposal for the next funding cycle, but that’s okay, because that gives us the time we need to become an even stronger organization. Ga go na mathata.

In the meantime, we can get started on the peer-education program. Oh sorry, rewind, okay, so, it was Colin who first initiated contact with MDPC after holding a focus group with them last year. Colin and his wife, Amy, are working at NGO’s and his NGO, Camphill | Motse wa Badiri, works with PWD’s and has been conducting focus groups throughout the southeastern part of the country to find out how to better provide HIV/AIDS related services to this at-risk population. At the conclusion of the focus group in Mogobane, MDPC committed to training 10 volunteers to reach out to PWD’s and their caregivers in Mogobane to educate them on HIV/AIDS and their unique risk as people with disabilities…hence, the previously mentioned peer-education program.

At school, I’m teaching guidance & counseling lessons as usual, though I have since expanded my scope. We have weekly themes every Thursday morning, during which time each of the teachers meet with their “families.” Something unique that we have started at our school is the division of “houses” (the school is divided into two houses, the Gold House and the Diamond House.) into even smaller units that we call families. Each family has about 10 students, 1 member of the teaching staff (teachers, administration, and myself included), and 1 member of the non-teaching staff (cooks, groundsmen, cleaners, etc.). The Guidance & Counseling Committee comes up with themes for the entire term, but I’ve become responsible for drafting short lesson plans for the heads of family to follow.  The aim is to give students an even more intimate environment in which to share their thoughts and express themselves.

However, the project at school that I believe has the greatest potential for leaving a lasting impact is the Literacy Programme. Here’s an excerpt from my proposal to Mme Motswidinyane, the School Head:

In light of the previous year’s poverty of passing scores (2009) as compared to the number of passing scores the year before (2008), the School Head of Mogobane CJSS was prompted to explore possible reasons for the decline. This exploration discovered that poor literacy among our continuing students was perhaps the greatest contributing factor to the decline in examination scores. Upon the entrance of our incoming Form 1 students, it was discovered that they too experience a high rate of poor literacy, even higher than that of our continuing Form 2 and Form 3 students.

I go on to further propose 3 phases: Identification of struggling students; Testing for baseline literacy and possible learning disabilities; Remedial literacy lessons.

Right now, we just finally finished up with Phase 2, and seeing as how we’re getting into the 6th month of the year, I’d really like to get those remedial literacy lessons going. As it were, Colin’s mother, Jacqueline Starr, who I had the pleasure of meeting last year in Gaborone, happens to have a background in literacy and has played an immeasurably important role in this project. She has been kind enough to guide me along the way, and I can’t imagine how directionless I would be otherwise.

Okay, so I think those were all the updates I had with regard to my service…

Some snapshots from my life outside of service:

ロ   Another memorable language week; this time in Otse.

ロ   Playing guitar for the South East District Youth Against HIV/AIDS Day event. My students made me feel like such a rock star with the thundering ovation they gave me. The guest speaker (a news anchor from BTV) had to concede my celebrity nearly rivaled his own, but he was perfectly charming about it.

ロ   Running naked amid thunder and lightning on the saltpans of Sowa to celebrate 1-year in country.

ロ   Brainstorming a new TV show situated in town hall meetings with my friend, Erica. Go ahead, be skeptical, it’s gonna be a hit! We’re dead serious about this.

ロ   Going to a wedding in Molepolole in stunner jeans and leather sandals (like the ruggedly fashionable Californian that I am) with the diva fabulous Irene.

ロ   Celebrating “Diez y Cinco de Mayo” at Mich’s in Kanye with comida mexicana, a palate I have for over a year been deprived of. And, yeah, we know fifteen is quince…it’s a joke…relax…

ロ   Oh, almost forgot, I have a new nickname that has persisted despite my best protests: Stu-balls…thank you Erica for the neologism, and asanteni sana Tunda na Irene for making it stick…

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08.23.09 gaborone

Posted in personal by stuart sia on August 29, 2009

I HAVE INTERNET, and its great. I finally gave in and signed up for wireless internet in Gabs and I am now officially connected to the rest of the world. That’s my big news for the week.

I’ve been in Gaborone for a week and a half now with the other Life Skills and NGO volunteers, and it’s been good. We went to a restaurant/bar/club called the Bull and the Bush last Saturday. I had an amazing calzone and danced until 1 am. Good times with good people.

It’s Tuesday and the counterpart component of the workshop has begun. My counterpart, Thuli, arrived last night and its been great catching up with her. Today we discussed our expectations of each other and what we hope for me to accomplish in these next couple years, and the discussion went well. My two-month assessment of Mogobane has given me a lot to think about, but I’m choosing to focus on a couple in which I can really make a difference.

To summarize some of the issues we face in Mogobane Community Junior Secondary School: low grades, low rate of promotion to secondary school, alcohol abuse, truancy, and teenage sexual activity.

IDEA 1:

The Life Skills Curriculum developed by the Ministry of Education aims to address such issues. And although the Guidance & Counseling Department of each school has been mandated to be the “vehicle” of this curriculum the Ministry of Education has been wise to acknowledge that Life Skills are neither measurable nor something that must necessarily be “taught.” That is to say, Life Skills (such as assertiveness, high self-esteem, confidence, interpersonal communication, etc) can and should be taught in a variety of settings; hence, the concept of “stream-lining” the curriculum.

The Ministry has now charged all teachers to implement and integrate the Life Skills Curriculum into the regular curriculum. I am a fan of the concept but a critic of its implementation.

In a nutshell, the teachers have the resources to integrate Life Skills into their individual curriculums. The issue, however, is that the resources are not easily accessible and many of the teachers aren’t actually trained on how to use those resources. And what I mean by “accessible” is not that the resources are not there, but that they are not easily utilized. As useful as an abstract discussion of Life Skills is to understanding the importance of Life Skills, it is less so for the teacher who must construct her or his lesson plan from scratch. How does an agriculture teacher promote assertiveness skills? How does a math teacher promote decision-making skills? Although not impossible, it is, admittedly, challenging.

I want to make it easier. The teachers at my school are stretched thin as it is, with 20 teachers filling the committees and the roles normally filled by 50 to 100 teachers in larger schools. Lesson planning is time consuming, and it is not always easy to be creative. If I can make the Life Skills resources provided by the Ministry more subject specific, I think the teachers are more likely to utilize them.

IDEA 2:

Most of what is learned in life is learned outside the classroom. While it is not a bad thing to address such issues in the classroom setting, it is negligent to not address such issues outside of it.

My school is small: it numbers about 200. The great thing about a small school is it offers more individualized attention and an intimacy lost in larger schools. However, this also comes with a poverty of resources and opportunities.

I want to give students opportunities to build their self-esteem, to develop interpersonal skills, to have their efforts and successes recognized, and to feel a sense of ownership of their school.

There is unfortunately a poverty of such opportunities in my school. In conducting appreciative interviews with several of the teachers, I tried to find out what sort of student clubs and activities our teachers have the knowledge, talent, and interest to run. And I would also like to find out the sort of clubs and activities the students themselves would like to see at their school. What I ultimately hope to establish is a variety of student-initiated, student-lead, and subsequently sustainable groups, whose activities are guided, recognized, and appreciated by teachers.