Month: November 2014

Model School & A Very Peace Corps Thanksgiving

Pre-Service Training culminates in what we call Model School. For two weeks we held morning classes for local kids who are currently on break from school. Rumor has it that we usually bribe them with the promise of a chicken, but I am pretty sure the main draw was to get an up close and personal look at the abazungu (foreigners). The purpose is to give us a chance to practice teaching in a Rwandan classroom and try out some lesson plans before we get to site. However, there are a few things that made model school especially daunting…

  • Lack of resources: To put this in perspective, think back to your own education in America. How often did your teachers distribute handouts, worksheets, study guides, packets, and notes? Class sets of textbooks, novels, and workbooks? Did your teachers often use posters, overhead projectors, or even smart boards? None of those are possible here. In Rwanda, our options are limited to chalk and chalkboard and our students have just a notebook. If you want students to practice reading a paragraph or longer passage, you must either spend fifteen minutes writing it on the board while the kids go wild or write it ahead of time on a rice sack and then post that in the classroom.
  • Class Sizes: Since this is the first time PC has organised a Model School in Rwamagana, it was difficult to predict exactly how many students would attend. My school happened to have less Peace Corps Trainees and many, many more students, leaving us with class sizes between 50-75 students. This drastically changed a lot of the activities and lessons that we planned, as a lot of things that would work with 25-30 kids would be absolute chaos in a class that large. Making sure all of the students were engaged was pretty much a constant challenge.
  • Observations: This, more than anything, was what we were freaking out about before Model School began. One of the key components of Model School is that you are observed by peers, current volunteers, and training staff and then given feedback.

However, despite these challenges, I’ve got to say, Model School was a blast. We’ve spent so long sitting in the training center learning about how to teach that it was so rewarding and exciting to finally get out there and do what I came here to do. The students were wonderful (for the most part) and I got some great ideas for what I want to do when I start teaching at my site in January. The days were exhausting but truly so much fun.

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The last day of Model School coincided with the beginning of our Thanksgiving celebration. This was absolutely the longest day here but still one of my favorites so far. We had planned a field day at our school and were feeling pretty good about how we had organized everything beforehand. Things were going pretty smoothly until, at 9am, a group of 150 new students suddenly appeared at our school with no announcement or explanation. At that point, I knew that things were about to get crazy so I prepared myself to laugh through the general chaos that then ensued. To give you an idea, the day ended with a rousing round of a game that could only be called “chase the muzungu.” Picture a handful of Peace Corps trainees being chased by around the school grounds by stampedes of hundreds of Rwandan children… Before leaving the school I was required to give possibly thousands of high-fives and fist bumps to the students. We were sweaty, dirty, hoarse, and exhausted, but we had survived Model School!

That afternoon, our Thanksgiving celebration was kicked off with the killing of six turkeys. As you probably know, I am a vegetarian, so this was not exactly my favorite part of the celebration, but I couldn’t really look away either… The turkeys alone were a 24-hour process so we got permission to sleep over at our training center to prep for the next day’s feast. I chose to be on the pie committee rather than spending the evening gutting the turkeys, wrapping them in foil, and covering them in a pit with hot charcoal… Instead, my friends and I cooked 15 pies. Peace Corps went all out with the American ingredients, so we had a lot of things that are nearly impossible to find in Rwanda like apples, cinnamon, and nutmeg. We stayed up past 3am to finish the pies (charcoal stoves are not the most efficient baking method).

The next morning, we cooked breakfast and plenty of coffee and cooked the rest of the dishes, which was quite a process with the charcoal stoves. In the end we had a pretty remarkable spread of turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, stuffing, green beans, pumpkin soup, fluffy rolls, macaroni and cheese, cornbread, deviled eggs, hot apple cider, and, of course, the pies. We shared the meal with our Language & Cultural Facilitators (Kinyarwanda teachers), the training staff, and some of the Peace Corps staff from Kigali. I was worried that my first big holiday away from home would feel nostalgic and kind of depressing, but these fears were allayed by an amazing feast and even more amazing people whom I’ve been so fortunate to have shared my Peace Corps experience with. I am bracing for my final week of training feeling incredibly thankful for everything thus far and so excited (ok, and a little nervous) for what’s to come when I move to my site next weekend!

 

 

 

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Two Months Down, Two to Go!

Crazy as it sounds, in one month, I will be in Kigali for the official Peace Corps Swear-In Ceremony! The training days have started to meld together, which is why this post is so belated. Recently, we’ve had a lot of sessions on the methodology of teaching English as a foreign language to prepare us for our “model school” practicum coming up next week. We had our midpoint language evaluation a week and a half ago, which is basically a 30 minute oral exam. Things turned out shockingly well, and I surprised myself by placing into Intermediate Low, which is the minimum level we’re expected to get by the end of training. Not bad for a language that has 16 different ways to say good! I’ve also started getting a lot closer with the other trainees in my group. We’ve had great discussions on everything from theories of foreign aid and Rwandan history to bodily functions…

As much as I’ve enjoyed many parts of training, sometimes it gets a little claustrophobic, so I am really looking forward to gaining some independence once I move to my site. Speaking of which, let’s rewind a bit to my site visit three weeks ago…

The journey to my site way up in the amajyaruguru (north) with my headmaster was quite an adventure. Not long after I remarked to Father Alphonse that I was really impressed Rwanda’s highway infrastructure, we abruptly turned off the main road onto a narrow dirt pathway just barely clinging to the side of a mountain. The remaining two-thirds of the journey passed in this manner, with Father Alphonse’s loyal steed of a RAV-4 sputturing in fits and starts up and down mountains, the rosary on the rearview window swinging violently, with the breathtakingly beautiful and serene vistas in the backdrop.

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Finally we arrived to the village of Janja and headed to the top of the mountain, where my school is perched. The first stop on my whirlwind tour was my future home, a charming brick house with five bedrooms, three tenants (including me), a common room, a kitchen, and—perhaps most importantly—a flushing toilet (!!!!). I will share this house with two Rwandan inhumi (adult but unmarried females) who also work at the school, Laetitia and Florence.

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During my tour of the school grounds, I quickly realized that my school is pretty much a complete anomaly for rural Rwanda. In fact, it’s almost as if a wealthy benefactor made an error in accidentally depositing this school with wifi, satellite dishes, a computer lab, and science labs in this remote and isolated location. One of the most hilarious parts of my site visit came after the tour, when I was instructed to change into “sporting clothes” (which I definitely did not bring) and prepare for “common sports.” As usual in Rwanda, when I have no idea what’s going on, I pretend that I do and follow along as best as I can…It turns out that “common sports” refers to St. Jerome’s weekly tradition of a 3-4 mile run… up and down a mountain… with the entire school. Just as I began to wrap my head around this fact, the school gates slowly opened and the 700 person stampede up and down the mountain began, with me thrown somewhere in the middle alternating between wheezing and laughing up at the ridiculousness of it all. Members of the village appeared to be eagerly awaiting this weekly spectacle and were lined up on the sides of the dirt road yelling encouragement—“Komera, umuzungu!” (stay strong, white person!)—at every turn.

the computer lab at my school

the computer lab at my school

Compared to that instance, the rest of my visit was pretty uneventful. I played a game of volleyball with the teachers, ironed out my schedule for next year (I’ll be teaching English Language Communication Skills to Senior 4 and Senior 5, the equivalent of 10th and 11th grade), helped proctor a few exams, and took a walk down into the teeny village of Janja. “Janja center” includes a vocational school, a primary school, a Catholic church, one small shop, and a genocide memorial. That’s it. I’ll have to travel an hour on a mototaxi to my regional town just to buy food at the market or stop at the post office. However, I can say with full certainty that the all-around stunning beauty that is Janja makes up for its remoteness. Don’t ya think?

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Afterward, I went to Musanze, my regional town to meet up with the other volunteers in the Northern province. It’s a nice little town surrounded by the Virunga mountains and volcanoes and has an Italian restaurant, a French bakery, and the most delicious pizza in Rwanda (so I’ve heard).

Other than my site visit, there have been a few other big events, including a visit to the Kigali Genocide Memorial, a Peace Corps Halloween party, and a trip to the National Museum in Butare… But I think I’ll leave those for the next post. Thanks for reading!