Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Successes and Challenges

Success of the Day
To start my classes every day I write an entry activity on the board.  It is usually a few practice problems of concepts we’ve been working on lately.  The last few days we’ve been working on adding and subtracting negative numbers during the entry activity because even though we spent a lot of time on it last trimester, there is still a lot of confusion among my students.  After about ten minutes of the students working on the problems in their notebooks, I call students to the board to complete the problems.  Today two of my lowest students (these students can barely speak Portuguese, read, or write) raised their hands and volunteered to complete problems on the board—and they both got them right! YES.

Challenge of the Week

Yesterday evening I went to visit the director of the primary school at her house.  She is one of the most educated women I’ve met in Zobue so I like talking with her because I can have more in depth conversations with her than I can have with a lot of other people in Zobue.  We had a long conversation about the education system in Mozambique and how it is failing to teach children well.  She says that it wasn’t always like this.  When she went to school in the 90s (she is 31) she learned well.  But now, teachers are not getting paid enough and do not want to put in the effort to be good teachers.  Many teachers don’t show up or simply don’t teach.  Materials that are supposed to be bought for the school such as chairs and books never come because the bosses pocket the money.  Teacher’s salaries do not come on time.  She worked hard to get a 4 year degree and still isn’t receiving her increase in salary because the government supposedly doesn’t have enough money.  Class sizes in the primary school range from 45-80.  Students squirm in discomfort from having to sit on the floor during lessons.  In addition, she said she recently received a memo from the province saying that she is not allowed to fail any student in the whole school.  So this means students will continue to move on without knowing how to read or write and reach secondary unable to keep up with the schoolwork.  She says the education system in Mozambique is so bad that she is considering putting her kids in private school even though she can barely afford it.  “How can a country move forward if its people are not educated?" she asks.  “I don’t know,” I respond.

Monday, May 26, 2014

District Science Fair

In Peace Corps there are various projects volunteers can be involved with in addition to their primary project.  For example, my primary project is teaching, but I can also participate in secondary projects.  The reading program I mentioned in my last post is one secondary project I am working on.  That project is funded through USAID, which is trying to improve early grade reading in Mozambique.  In Mozambique, there are also a few long-running projects funded by PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.  The four projects are REDES, JUNTOS, English Theater, and Science Fair.  I’ll talk more about REDES, JUNTOS, and English Theater in future posts, but now I’m going to talk about Science Fair.

Science Fair was originally started by Peace Corps volunteers in Mozambique to provide students with opportunities to get hands on science experience, since most science classes in Mozambique are taught without a laboratory component.  It is basically like a science fair in the states: students create projects and present them in front of judges at a fair.  There is also an emphasis on using recycled materials and other materials of low cost.  A few years ago the Mozambican government adopted the Science Fair program as part of their Ministry of Science and Technology.  There are currently four phases of the fair: school, district, provincial, and national.  Peace Corps volunteers work alongside government employees to realize the district, provincial, and national fairs.  There are two PCVs who are the National Coordinators and each province also has a PCV Provincial Coordinator.  In January, I was asked to be the Provincial Science Fair coordinator for Tete.  My responsibilities include working with the district and provincial representatives to realize the fairs and to facilitate travel to the national fair.  I accepted to the position, not really knowing what it would be like at all.

Since January, I have met with the government representatives a few times and things seemed to be moving along well.  I also tried to get some students in Zobue started on projects, but it was really difficult to explain what kind of projects were required.  With my Dad visiting in April and the school break in May, the date of district fair (May 17th) was creeping up and I didn’t have any students with projects.  My options were to work really hard with a few students and basically do their projects for them so they would be ready for the fair or not to stress about it and make sure to start early next year preparing the students.  I decided on the latter.  Well, this was my first try mobilizing students and it didn’t go so well.  Now I know better what I need to do and next year will be better, I thought.  May 17th came and went with no word about the district fair.  Then came a call from the district representative, Arsenio Amoda on May 22nd.  Let me walk you through what happened in the following two days after that phone call.

May 22nd, 5pm
While I am walking home from school I get a call from Arsenio Amoda. 

Arsenio: Ola Sienna, tudo bem? Hi Sienna, everything good?

Sienna: Ola Arsenio, sim tudo bem como esta? Hi Arsenio, yes everything is fine. How are you?

Arsenio: Estou muito bem, obrigado.  Vamos realizar a feira distrital o sabado e estou a convidar a escolar secundaria de Zobue. I’m very well, thank you.  We are holding the district fair this Saturday and I would like Zobue Secondary School to participate.

Sienna: Esta Sabado? Ok obrigada, mas nao temos alunos com proyectos este ano.  This Saturday? Ok thank you, but we don’t have any students with projects this year.

Arsenio: Que? Nao tem? Porque nao? What? You don’t have any students with projects? Why not?

Sienna: Sim, desculpa, mas demoramos muito este ano. Yes, I’m sorry, but we were late this year.

Awkward silence….

Arsenio: Entao, eu vou falar com o director. Ok I will talk to the director.

Sienna: (realizing I just made a huge mistake because in Mozambique you never say no) Entao, tal vez posso falar com o professor Flavio a ver se ele tem algums alunos com proyectos. Well….I guess I could ask the physics professor Flavio if he has any students with projects.

Arsenio: Ta bom. Obrigado. Ok, thank you.

May 22nd, 6pm
I call the physics teacher Flavio to see if he has any ideas.  He say we will meet at the school in the morning to figure something out.

May 23rd, 8am
I get to the school and Flavio is not there.  I wait in the teacher’s lounge watching a cartoon about soccer players and a Brazilian news show about the bus strike in Rio de Janeiro, expecting him not to show up.

May 23rd, 9 am
Flavio shows up, produces two “experiments” he has written up, grabs two unsuspecting students from a nearby classroom and tells them they are going to do science fair.  We spend the next two hours typing up the projects and explaining to the students what science fair is.

May 23rd, 10:30 am
We break for the morning and tell the students to get their materials and meet back at the school at 3:30 pm to practice.

May 23rd, 3:30 pm
I arrive back at the school and wait with one of the students for an hour until Flavio shows up so we can practice their presentations.  The second students shows up and says her father refuses to let her go to Moatize for the district fair the next day.  By this point, it is almost dark and all the students have gone home.  What are we going to do, Flavio asks? We need a student who can speak Portuguese.  I call Seni and ask if he wants to participate, but he has work to do on the farm the next day.  Finally we grab a small 9th grade boy who has the bad luck of living next to the school.  He denies being able to speak Portuguese, but lets some Portuguese slip out so he is wrangled into coming with us.  We practice with the students for an hour and it is obvious they really need more time.  "Tonight you don’t sleep," Flavio says.  "You stay up until midnight and practice. I don’t want to be embarrassed."  The fair is in Moatize, about 2 hours away so we agree to meet at the chapa stop at 6am the next day.

May 24th 6am Day of the Fair
Flavio and I walk to the chapa stop, but students aren’t there.  He runs up to the school in the rain to try and find them, while I stay and try to get the chapa to wait for us. They aren’t coming, I think.  They aren’t going to show up.  Fifteen minutes later the three of them appear.  Well, I guess we’re going, I think.  We pile into the chapa and take off.

We arrive in Moatize and spend the day at the district fair.  I’m actually pretty impressed by how organized it is.  Granted, we start about 3 hours late, but they have judges, decorations, a schedule, speeches, theater presentations, and serve us both snack and lunch.  Since I am the Peace Corps coordinator I am expected to make a few comments at the beginning and end of the event.  I get a special spot to sit next to Arsenio.  There are 11 students from 4 schools participating.  Our students are the only ones not from the Moatize city area.  They are by far the least prepared, with the least command of Portuguese.  The winning projects include an electric kettle made of an old water jug, a model of a human lung using a disposable water bottle and balloons, and “therapeutic” salve.  Zobue’s two students are not among those who will move on to the provincial fair.

The fair ends and we head back to Zobue.
So, that was my adventure with the District Science Fair.  From getting the call about the fair to returning back to Zobue on Saturday, only 48 hours passed.  While I wish our students had been better prepared and had more ownership of their projects, at least they got a free trip to Moatize and got to see what the Science Fair actually is.  Next year they will know more about what science fair entails and hopefully will want to participate again.  I can work with them earlier on to be better prepared.  Next year I also will have a better idea of what I am preparing them for, since I’ve now seen a district science fair myself.  While there are a lot of things I would have changed about how this district fair went, I think it was still a good experience.  I got to work closely with a fellow teacher and see how he interacts with students. I got to take a trip with some students and see how that all works.* As provincial coordinator, I will still be involved in planning the provincial fair in June and attend the national fair in Pemba in July.  I’m sure it will be full of more adventures.

*It is SO different than in the US.  No permission slips, no details about when we were returning.  When we got back to Zobue in the dark (it gets dark here so early now! Winter!) I was thinking about asking the students if they were ok walking home in the dark, but as we were getting off the chapa before I could ask THEY asked ME if I was ok walking home.  Kids here are so capable.

Our two Zobue participants: Monica and Salumao
A student from Moatize Escola Primaria Completa Samora Machel presenting her electric chaleira.
The theater group, OJM, doing a skit about how parents should allow their students participate in activities like science fair.  They also did a skit about not discriminating against people with HIV.

A student presenting a project about the conductivity of water.  This project was really cool and I thought it should have won.  Another side note: I don't think the judging of the fair was very objective/consistent/fair and some of the projects weren't based on the most sound science.  Things to work on for next year.

Monday, May 12, 2014

May travels

The last few weeks have been very full.  I finished up my first trimester of teaching, visited volunteers in Angonia and Kaunda, and travelled to Maputo for a Peace Corps conference.  I am now back in Zobue and reflecting on the past few weeks.

We had a surprise visitor for a few days in the form on Lucas Arribas Layton, who was a volunteer in Zobue with his wife Janet in 2010-2011.  Lucas was in Mozambique doing work for the World Bank and was able to visit Zobue while doing field work in Tete.  It was great to meet him and hear all his stories and wisdom of Zobue.  He was also a Peace Corps volunteer in Honduras in 2001-2002 and is about to start a job with Peace Corps headquarters in Washington DC.  Peace Corps is lucky to have him back!
Lucas with Seni and Romao on our porch.

Hiking up Turtle Rock with Lucas and Piro.  I learned to say "we are out walking" in ChiChewa.  Tikuyenda yenda.
 Before heading to Maputo for the conference I visited Matt for a few days in Kaunda.  Kaunda is about an hour from Tete City along the road to Zambia.  It is a very small town, but has some lovely mountains nearby and gorgeous sunsets.  I always like visiting other volunteer's sites because they are all unique.
When I was visiting Matt in Kaunda we met a guy with a Skagway, Alaska shirt.  Of course, I asked to take a picture with him.
 After Kaunda, we all flew down to Maputo for the Peace Corps reconnect conference.  The conference was a chance for us to get some more training, meet the new Peace Corps director, eat lots of delicious food, and see our fellow volunteers in the southern region whom we hadn't seen in 5 months.  Though we missed the volunteers from the northern region (they had their own conference in Nampula), it was great to see friends after such a long time apart.  The new country director had us all over to his house one afternoon for samosas, chai tea, and other finger foods.  The big excitement for me was broccoli and cauliflower, two vegetables I hadn't seen in 8 months and missed dearly.  I had actually had a dream about broccoli just two nights before so I was very excited to see it!

I don't have any pictures of our time in Maputo (whoops), but I'd say my highlight was eating a real croissant just out of the oven from a lovely French bakery.  I'm still dreaming about it.  Before my flight back to Tete on Saturday I was able to chapa out to Namaacha to visit my host family from training.  It was great to see them (the kids have grown so much!) and they were very touched that I made the effort to visit them.  Hopefully I will see them again soon, though I don't know when I'll next be in Maputo.

My two host sisters Laiza and Lele.

My host cousin Ninho.

Host brother Pai.  He is almost as tall as me now!

Mae Gloria.  So chique.
While I was in Namaacha we went to a cultural dance competition.  This group was my favorite.  I wish I could upload the video--their dancing was amazing!

Though the past few weeks have been full, I have to admit I've been struggling with feeling happy in Zobue.  I'm having a hard time adjusting to the pace of life here and being less busy than I'm used to being in the States.  Living in a different culture 24/7 is exhausting.  I miss having people to talk to who share a common upbringing and worldview.  Teaching sometimes seems futile.  Other projects are incredibly hard to get going because it involves mobilizing people who have little experience in organized projects and different ways of communicating.  So, though I feel incredibly lucky to be living here, it isn't easy.  Moving to an entirely new place is never easy and trying to make a life in rural Mozambique is even harder.  

That being said, I'm hopeful for the next few months. I'm starting to work with the primary school near my school to develop a reading program to improve literacy.  I'm thinking about asking for more classes to teach and I registered for a computer science class online through EdX (just for fun and for something to do in the evenings).  So, pouco a pouco, little by little, the months are sliding by.  It is almost 8 months since I arrived in Mozambique.  Before I know it, it will be September again.