Monday, October 19, 2009

The work has begun

As I mentioned in my last post, this last week has been busier than my first few weeks in Sierra Leone. Things feel like they are finally picking up steam. Just like with any new job, it has taken time for me to settle in, figure out what my priorities should be, get to know the people involved, and really get started on the work. Add in adjusting to a new community and culture, and it makes for a somewhat slow start. I very much appreciate the time I took at the beginning to visit various schools and communities, do language training, and more or less get adjusted, but it's great that more concrete things are now happening on the work front.

I gave my first teacher training workshop this past weekend, on Sunday. First of all, the date was originally planned for Saturday, but on Thursday afternoon we discovered that donors who built the two new schools in Maso and Makambray (from Plan) were coming to visit on Saturday. With half of the teachers attending the workshop coming from those two villages, we had to reschedule, so we moved the workshop to Sunday. Unfortunately, this conflicted with attending church services for some, so the turnout was a bit lower than it might otherwise have been. However, we still had 22 teachers attend, so I'm pleased with that.

Overall the workshop went well I think. Rather than focusing on training on learning methods (since I am not a teacher myself, I didn't feel comfortable offering that kind of training), the workshop focused on peace education and classroom management. It was really a follow up to a workshop held by PSI and cdpeace here in January. That day-long workshop focused on eliminating corporal punishment in schools (now illegal in Sierra Leone). The workshop I did yesterday offered a quick review of the key items learned at that workshop and then checked in with the teachers about how things are going in terms of the goal of eliminating corporal punishment. My role was as facilitator rather than expert, which was exactly what I wanted.

I'm generally very  impressed by the teachers here. Even though many of them do not earn salaries (our work here is primarily focused on the volunteer teachers), they are always eager to learn new skills. Some of the teachers who attended the workshop walked 5 miles on a Sunday afternoon just to be there. Teachers seem very dedicated to improving their teaching and creating a more peaceful classroom and community. At the end of our session we brainstormed about ideas for future workshops that cdpeace & PSI might offer. Among the subjects mentioned were child-centred learning techniques, using local materials as teaching tools, agricultural training, training in activities like games, sports and music, human rights training, and record-keeping and computer training. Classroom management is a major issue as well, especially with the huge class sizes here (for example, my neighbour in Mapaki, Fatmata, teaches nursery at the school in Maso and has 75 children in her class, ranging in age from 2 to 5 years old). There is obviously a great need for ongoing support for teachers here, and PSI and cdpeace are both working to meet that need in whatever way possible. It is also inspiring to hear the teachers talk about what they can do to help themselves without waiting for outside support (e.g. from government) that may never come.

Also on the work front, I have done my first few interviews for my research. I have started with interviews with my key informants - people in the community who are knowledgeable about women's health and are in a leadership role. Already some interesting findings and ideas have come up, and  I am really looking forward to starting the interviews with local women themselves, hopefully later this week. Lots of typing to transcribe interviews is ahead for me!

I will be out of touch for the next two days. Tomorrow morning I am heading to Lungi (where the airport is located) to pick up three visitors from Canada arriving late in the evening. The visitors are Jane Gloor and Nancy and Vaughn Wellington. Jane is a pediatrician and the parent of a student at Parkview school, one of the schools in Canada that is twinned with a school in Sierra Leone (Mathombo school). They will spend a week in Paki Masabong and Gbonkolenken chiefdoms visiting schools and clinics and then are planning a week of holidays.

On our way through Freetown to the airport I'm also planning to stop in to the grocery store. I'm inordinately excited about this, especially the prospect of getting my hands on some real cheese and maybe some nutella and/or some jam :) I'll report back on all my food goodies when I return to Mapaki on Wednesday.

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