29 January 2009

The Coolest

The Coolest

“No one day is like another, each tomorrow has its special miracle, its magic moment in which old universes are destroyed and new stars created”
-Paulo Coelho, “By the River Piedra I sat Down and Wept”

The month of January zoomed by! And what an amazing month it was. All of the volunteers from my July 2008 staging group reunited for three weeks of training near the nation’s capital. It was so refreshing to see the other volunteers and training staff together again for the first time in three months, and to see how much everyone has changed! New Years was a great celebration, and we were able to spend time with the volunteers from Zinder as we all made our way west. During this early In-service training (IST) we focused on job specific language skills, cross-cultural sessions, community-content based instruction, cross-sector trainings, grant writing, funding sources, proposal writing, and project design management using logical frameworks. The education volunteers were also very lucky to meet members from Niger’s Ministry of Youth and Ministry of Vocational Training to discuss gender-sensitive teaching methods, community development through income-generating activities, classroom management, education enhancement/school-retention activities, as well as finding ways in which volunteers could work more closely with officials in local youth centers. Since our first “three months at Post” are officially finished, we are allowed to begin projects in the community. It was really helpful to have the first “three months at Post” to concentrate on learning Hausa, and becoming more familiar with the NGOs and community based organizations in my city. January is almost over, and I hear that February will be a much hotter month. Some items on my February bucket list:

1. Start a hot season garden. I think it would be very cool to begin growing a lot of my own food. I just have to actually start it! Some Chinese physicians in my city are growing bok choy, so it can’t be that hard right!?
2. Read Fareed Zakaria’s “The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad”
3. Work with my counterpart to plan/obtain funding for a training for the 7 school headmasters in my city, as well as C.O.G.E.S. (similar to the American PTA groups) presidents and treasurers. We could do some great capacity building with them, which I think will help them work more efficiently and be more transparent with their finances. 2009’s list of sensiblisations with the COGES groups include: Creating a budget, A fair and democratic vote, Funding sources, Meeting Management, Collecting Feedback, Introduction to Internet/Technology, and Record Keeping.
4. Find a way to collect used teaching methodology books in French. During IST, a lot of the other education volunteers were talking about starting small-scale Teaching Methodology resource libraries in their cities. Many of the English teachers haven’t had the opportunity to have any teacher training. This is especially important because the Nigerien government wants teachers to being using gender-sensitive teaching methods.
5. Work with local English teachers and find a way to record dialogues and passages from their textbook English For The Sahel (EFTS). During IST, we met a man from the national ministry of education. He told us that they did not have access to any of the sound recorders made by the publisher. They tried to have a project a few years ago in which English conseillers and Peace Corps volunteers were making their own recordings, but for some reason that project abruptly stopped. Many of the students learning English have never heard a native speaker of English and/or haven’t had the opportunity to hear different English accents (i.e. Nigerian English versus American English versus Australian English). I want to find a way to get funding so that each school could have a sound recorder or small CD player so they could play the recordings for their students. I think this is especially important at teacher training schools (called Ecole Normale).
6. Write my first radio show. This is a lot harder than it sounds! We had a full day’s session on Information Technology, and how to do follow up to make sure that the messages that we are broadcasting over the radio are actually being understood. I have been helping two volunteers in my city with radio shows every Saturday. All of these radio shows are done in Hausa, and the topics range from Cold Season Gardening, to HIV/AIDS prevention to Road Safety. I am going to do my best to do a February show for Black History Month and step-up to the plate while my radio partners take a much-needed vacation to South Africa.
I should also mention, that we were able to watch the inauguration of our very new president Barack Obama at the American Cultural Center in Niamey. All of the volunteers in town attended, as well as Nigerien English teachers and their students. We were jam packed into a room, watching CNN on projected on a screen. It was amazing, historical, and I was so happy that I was able to experience such a ground breaking event. My Auntie Jill and Uncle Flores sent me a box of Obama gear, so I handed out stickers, pins, and bumper stickers which can now be seen on the walls of corner stores and jacket lapels throughout my city! My Aunt and Uncle also sent me four bright blue Obama ballons which I took over to the young girls next door. They were so happy, singing “Obama! Obama,” over and over again. I think these are the first ballons that they’ve ever seen. This made me so happy, especially because unlike many girls in Niger, these girls are starting school, and will have a very bright future, so they were most deserving of this very small gift! Thanks Uncle Flores and Auntie Jill. I must also say that I felt very blessed to be in the warmth of Niger and not the 11 degrees of bitter icey cold in Washington D.C.
I also had my first international birthday. My friends took very good care of me, took me out to celebrate, and even made me a video of funny clips from our 6 months in-country. I was so surprised, I had no idea they were doing anything! Also, thank you Mom, Uncle Flores and Auntie Jill, Amina, Tia and Uncle Fred, Backs Family, and Santana Family, for all the birthday packages, books, emails, and phone calls from America!

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