Thursday, August 18, 2005

What They Need is Adult Education

I've been in New Amsterdam about 2.5 weeks now; not very long but I'm starting to get a better sense of the town. I'm also getting a better sense of what I'll be doing at work come fall, and that's the main point of this entry.

I've been assigned to a place that specializes in teaching community adults. Due to Peace Corps rules and restrictions I am not allowed to say exactly which place it is, but suffice to say we run short classes year-long in a number of different subjects ranging from cooking to welding to communication. (In all honesty, Peace Corps has never said a word to us about electronic communication or about blogs, nor have they even asked which of us have blogs -- so maybe they've eased off a bit at least for Guyana, but I mean to take no chances.)

It's not a really big place; don't picture a college or anything. It's pretty humble, though it does have about twenty to thirty teachers running classes all day during the regular part of the year. During summer there are only a couple classes and so they run summer school for young kids. That's what I've been doing for the last couple weeks -- helping my Counterpart run summer school. It's hell, believe me. The kids are pretty wild, and it's hot in that classroom. It just ended today, though, so - hooray!

Come fall (well, actually come two weeks from now) I'll begin teaching my own classes. They're trying to set me up teaching Report Writing to several groups of adults. This class will teach them the essentials in how to compose reports, do research, cite their research, and all that stuff, including a grammar refresher. I'll probably teach 3 or 4 of those classes. What else I'll do with my hours I'm not sure yet; maybe I'll present myself as a one-on-one tutor available during the early afternoon. My classes will begin around 4:30 pm and last about an hour and a half. With this schedule I won't need to get up until late in the morning and I can stay up into the night, which is perfect for me!

The other class I might teach is "Communication," which focuses more upon the importance and practice of both delivering information in speech form and to properly listening. Not something I've ever taught, and I'm a little nervous about it, but I'm sure I could catch on easily. That class would require students to give short speeches, so it would be nice to be on the TEACHER end of that equation for once!

Finally, yesterday I went out with my Supervisor to the local University of Guyana Extension campus, which is about a half hour ride from New Amsterdam. I met there with three people: the Dean, the Director of the Education Department, and an Education teacher (English falls under the School of Education). They want me to teach out there as well, and were falling all over themselves to get me -- since I'm free, I suppose, plus I was educated in America. Anyway, they offer a twin English course, much like schools all over the U.S., with a fall and spring course one after the next. It's a little different from anything I've seen beforem though: the fall course is purely grammar, while all possible types of essay writing are jam-packed into the spring semester. Both of them follow a lecture/tutorial format. So like 80 students cram into a long room and listen to a dry grammar lecture... it sounds to me like a horrible class, for teacher and student alike. No interaction, no discussion, no essays. Just lecture. Then some other time in the week there is a tutorial where about 1/4th of the students meet to review the lecture, and here the teacher sits in the room while the students fill out handouts. Again, not effective teaching and quite boring for all involved. But I guess that's why the education system in Guyana is failing.

In fact, during this visit two of the men I spoke with railed against the abhorrent state of education here, ranging from student passivity to teacher slothfulness. Literally in the same discussion I heard them condemn teachers for being soft on their slacker students, then I was told I couldn't demand anything from my students were I to teach the course. Just give them the handouts, deliver a lecture, then test them. Blah blah. If I teach there, I'll try to stretch the bounds of the class and we'll see who has better results!

But for now, I'll probably stick with my primary project and not work at U.G. I honestly don't relish the idea of teaching a LECTURE class in grammar to 80 students for four months. Yuck! Instead, I'll wait until Spring semester and do the essay-writing course. By then I'll be better situated and have a clearer idea of what I can and can't do.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

And in Case That Link Didn't Work...

Originally uploaded by hawaiianbrian.

Group picture taken on stage at the National Cultural Center after the ceremony. From left to right: Jason, Jody, Michael, Kumar (CD), Beth, Karla, Rustin, Jacq, Roanne, Brian, Wes, Charge D’Affaires at US Embassy, Liz, Andrea, Caroline, Lydia, Nancy, David, Ministry of Education Officer, Erin, Luke, Justin.

This photo appeared in the Guyana Chronicle along with the following article, found at:

Nineteen Peace Corps volunteers sworn in
By Renu Raghubir
NINETEEN Americans will be dispatched soon in six of the ten Administrative Regions to teach in schools and other institutions, boosting the government’s continuing drive to enhance education delivery.

The young men and women were sworn-in as Volunteer Peace Corps (VPCs) by Deputy Chief of Mission of Peace Corps, Mr. Anthony Interlandi last evening at the National Cultural Centre in Georgetown.Associate Director of Training, Mr. Claudius Prince, who chaired the ceremony, said the batch went through eight weeks of training that concluded on Thursday.

They will teach Information Technology, Mathematics and Science in a number of primary and secondary schools and educational centres.

Prince said the volunteers will be dispatched to Regions Two (Pomeroon/Supenaam), Three (Essequibo Islands/West Demerara), Four (Demerara/Mahaica), Six (East Berbice/Corentyne), Seven (Cuyuni/Mazaruni) and Ten (Upper Demerara/Berbice).

He said, “The group is well-rounded, they understand the way of life of the people who have been hosting them and they are anxious to work in the schools.”

Deputy Chief Education Officer responsibility for Development, Ministry of Education, Mrs. Genevieve White-Nedd, welcomed the batch. She pointed out that the Ministry in its 2003 to 2007 Strategic Plan includes the institutionalising of community alliances and partnerships.

According to her, the Peace Corps has a longstanding relationship with the Ministry and many schools have benefited over the years.

Mrs. White-Nedd said the volunteers’ presence in Guyana is at a most ideal time as there is a shortage of teaching staff among other difficulties facing the Ministry. She explained that they will assist in eliminating illiteracy.

Mr. Interlandi encouraged the volunteers to strive to enhance public health, comfort and care for people and serve with “everything you got”.

The Peace Corps was established in 1961 to promote world peace and friendship by helping the people of interested countries in meeting their needs for trained men and women.

It has 7,733 Volunteers in 72 countries working to teach children, bring about HIV/AIDS awareness, and improve information technology and business development.

The Guyana volunteers also received certificates for successfully completing their training.

Swearing-in Ceremony: Peace Corps Guyana
National Cultural Center
July 29, 2005

Remarks by Anthony J. Interlandi, Charge D’Affaires

Founding of the Peace Corps

It was 2 o'clock in the morning of October 14, 1960. Democratic Party Presidential candidate John F. Kennedy arrived late to speak to students at the University of Michigan.

More than 10,000 of them had patiently awaited Kennedy’s arrival [historical].

On that chilly autumn night, Kennedy challenged those youth to devote part of their lives to live and work in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

He wanted them to back his effort to form a volunteer organization, later to be known as the Peace Corps.

The student response was immediate. Within weeks, they organized a petition drive and gathered 1,000 signatures in support of the idea. Several hundred others pledged to serve. Letters poured into Democratic Party headquarters.

Kennedy went on to win the election in November 1960. He made founding of the Peace Corps a priority.

Within two months of taking office, Kennedy issued an Executive order establishing the Peace Corps within the State Department.

He used authority and funds from the Mutual Security Act of 1954 to set up the Peace Corps as a unit within the Department of State.

The Executive Order directed the Peace Corps to train men and women for service abroad for new programs of assistance to nations of the world.

The Peace Corps would support existing U.S. economic assistance programs [Executive Order 10924, 1961].

Kennedy named his brother-in-law, Sargent Shriver, to head the new agency. Shriver was a fervent idealist. Within months the first volunteers trained and went to the field.

Kennedy and Shriver wanted permanence and autonomy for the Peace Corps. Many members of Congress agreed.

In September 1961, the 87th Congress passed Public Law 87-293. It established the Peace Corps as an independent agency of the United States Government.

Since then, more than 168,000 citizens of all ages and backgrounds have worked in more than 130 countries throughout the world. They have served in fields such as health, teaching, agriculture, and technology.

Today in Guyana

You, the Class of Guy 16, follow in these hallowed footsteps.

It will be your duty to serve in schools.

It will be your duty to improve informational technology in Guyana. You will do this by working with volunteer organizations, schools and the University of Guyana.

In addition, all Peace Corps volunteers train to help prevent the scourge of HIV/AIDS in Guyana. Use your talents to enhance public health.

Always conduct yourself with dignity and discipline, because:

You, more than I, or others, will be the face of United States of America in your communities.

You will be the face of 45 years of the finest Peace Corps tradition of service and brotherhood.

On November 22, 1963, an assassin extinguished the life of John F. Kennedy.

But that assassin did not extinguish – nor could he extinguish – that shining vision of an American outreach to the world.

Today, John Kennedy’s vision lives on in you.

Sargent Shriver’s Exhortation

Sargent Shriver summed it best at the 40th anniversary of the Peace Corps, at the Lincoln Memorial on September 22, 2001:

Here’s what he said [ Shriver.htm, 2005]:

“…The Peace Corps exists to serve our fellow human beings, regardless of race, education or power…
The Peace Corps works it magic from below, not from above…
It concentrates on the basics of food, health, education and community…”
You as Peace Corps volunteers, thus, must go out and
“…Be servants of peace…
Work humbly, persistently and intelligently…
Weep with those who are sorrowful…
Care for those who are sick…
Serve your neighbors…
Serve your towns…
Serve the poor…
That is your challenge…”
I implore you to:
Go out and use all of your training…
Go out and use all of the talents given to you by your Creator…
Go out and stay faithful to the oath you will take…
And, above all, in the timeless words of Sargent Shriver…
Go out and…
“Serve! Serve! And Serve!”

An Innocent Question

So I'm chilling at my house here in New Amsterdam, entertaining myself by playing a video game. It's a "trivial pursuit"-style game from the early 90s I hadn't played in a while. Right around halfway through the game the following question pops up:

"What is the capital of Guyana?
A) Georgetown
B) Linden
C) Paramaraibo
D) New Amsterdam"

I stared speechlessly at it for a second and the timer almost ran out. For some reason, it struck me pretty hard. This innocent question, which one year ago I would have never known nor cared much about, now speaks directly to my daily life. It even mentioned this tiny town in a backwater part of a distant continent, the town where I now live.

This particular game I played in the arcade many years ago in Waikiki after I had first moved there, and I couldn't help but wonder if it had asked me that question all those years ago. I could have had no way of knowing Guyana would ever factor into my life at the time, much less that I'd LIVE THERE. And yet... here I am a short decade later.

There's nothing odd about the question itself, only the way life takes us on new and unexpected paths that change everything. I wonder what else is in store for me in the decades to come?

A Newsworthy Event, Apparently

The Guyana Chronicle, one of three newspapers here, covered our Swearing-In. Take a look at the details here or here.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

A Tale of Three Parties

You may recall from an earlier post, I went on a trip to the Essequibo Coast on a "Volunteer Visit," the idea of which was to let us see first-hand the life of a Guyana PCV. We had several days of parties, which was followed up by two more. Here is what happened:

On July 2nd, we were invited to the Ambassador's mansion for an American Independence Day celebration. Yes, we knew the 4th was really Independence Day, but July 4th also happens to mark Caricom Day, which is a Guyanese holiday, so the Embassy decided to hold it on that Saturday instead. We went out to the Ambassador's residence in our Peace Corps vans and were stunned: the Ambassador is put up in a gorgeous apricot-colored mansion along the highway leading out of town, on a sprawling acreage surrounded by razor-wire fencing. The grass is edged and cut, there are no cows wandering around, and there's a gorgeous turquoise pool alongside near the tennis courts.

The party was already in full swing when we arrived. Though there wasn't anything to eat for a vegetarian, there was plenty of food in general, including barbecue for the meat-consumers. Attending the party was pretty much anyone in Guyana associated with the United States, whether that meant through the Embassy or through the local branch of the CDC, which is down here for AIDS relief. And the Peace Corps, natch. Also attending, though, were a group of find folks from Loma Linda University, a private school in northern California. They were on a short two-week trip to Guyana as part of their studies in medicine, coming down here to do sort of a "case study" of the health care situation. They had been going from hospital to clinic. Since us Trainees were so green and knew so few PCVs, there was a lot of confusion as to just who was with Peace Corps, with Loma Linda, or with any of the other U.S. institutions in country.

Most of what I did during this party was to swim. Yes, I availed myself of the sparkling pool, the bluest water any of us had seen in a good long while. It was the perfect temperature, and even though it was a little crowded with kids and other people, it was practically perfect. I floated and looked up at a blue sky and palm trees and just enjoyed life.

That party ended, sadly, way too early, so we were driven home. The next day was party #6 for some of us. The Peace Corps took us out on a nice Sunday morning to a place called "Splashmin's," which is sort of like a water park on a black water lake about 30 miles or so south of Georgetown. While there were no water slides, like for some reason we were led to believe, there was a nice lake and lots of thatch-covered huts in a great big grassy lawn to stretch out in. A loudspeaker system was playing music (ranging from soca and dancehall to, at one point, Madonna's greatest hits). We splashed around in the water and drank at the bar and just generally enjoyed each other's company. There were all kinds of water toys to rent, like jet-skis or rafts or paddleboats, but all of them were a little to pricy, and we had already spent $500 Guyanese to get into the park, so most of us just stuck with the free stuff -- the lake itself.

The seventh and final party came on Monday, July 4th. This was Caricom Day throughout the Caribbean. Caricom is a political organization of most of the countries of the Caribbean, something like the European Union. While they haven't united enough to have a common currency (the Eastern Caribbean has that, but nowhere else), nor have they figured out just how much they want to unify politically, the burgeoning economic entity of the Caribbean Community (Caricom) celebrates its existence on this day.

So for Caricom Day we went to the house of our Country Director. Like all CDs, the Peace Corps puts him up in pretty good digs. He has a two-story, air-conditioned house with reliable water, a gorgeous clean kitchen, the works. It was big enough to house most of the PCVs, and our Loma Linda friends, who returned for yet another party. I met several of the people and ended up talking with two of the ladies from L.L. for an hour or so.

Most of my time was taken up, though, talking to a gorgeous woman from Guyana. She knows our Safety and Security Officer and a lot of the PCVs from Georgetown, and so is always invited to their parties. I spent most of my time enjoying a conversation with her, and now we are friends. One interesting irony: she works at a mine here in Guyana where one of my dad's long-time friends used to work, at least before his company sold the mine to hers.

Arguably, the highlight of the party were the two veggie burgers I had, complete with lettuce and ketchup. Ahhh.... It was nearly the only lettuce I've had since arriving in Guyana! (At one point I bought some from a local supermarket that caters to expats, and it was this really expensive imported romaine -- it hit both "the spot" and "the wallet!")

And this brought our marathon of parties to an end. Lest anyone reading this blog thinks to himself or herself, "Jeez, these dang Peace Corps Guyana people do nothing but freaking party!" I can assure you we do not. What you saw there was a bizarre concordance of parties, a sort of planets-aligning kind of thing. It's as if almost all the parties we would ever have during training were coincidentally thrown all in the same week. The downside is that all the other weekends have been slow. :)

There was one other party, which came a couple weeks later, held at the house of a financial officer from the Embassy. But that's another story...


This is the Real Thing, Baby

Well, at long last I'm an official PCV. We had our Swearing-In ceremony on the 29th of July, and that following Sunday the Peace Corps drove everyone out to their respective sites. Everything went down like this:

The afternoon of Swearing-In we dressed in our finest. I wore a nice Aloha shirt I hadn't worn ever, brought just for the occasion, along with khaki linen slacks; but I was very sore that I'd neglected to bring my kukui nut lei, which would have perfectly rounded out the ensemble. I have a really nice one, with these polished black kukui nuts spaced apart by clusters of tiny little shells. It looks fab with a black and tan Aloha shirt.

Anyway. So we went to the Cultural Center in Georgetown, which was basically like an Opera house, and probably one of the nicest buildings in all of Guyana. It had a large theatre, of which only about a tenth was filled with people who came out for our "graduation," but we didn't mind -- the media was there, and so we ended up on the news! The ceremony itself was about two hours long, involving a few (thankfully) short speeches by our CD, APCD, a representative of the Embassy, and a representative of the Guyanese Education department. Afterward we were called up one by one onto the stage, where we were handed a piece of paper which declared we had successfully finished out Training and were proper PCVs. It was very much like a graduation ceremony in that sense, minus the cap and gown. When this was finished, we stood in a long line and the CD's wife and the wife of the guy from the Embassy went down and gave each of us a nifty little Peace Corps lapel pin, which had the Peace Corps circle logo underneath the crossed Guyanese and American flags.

Following this, we resumed our seats and a local dance troupe of several young ladies from a local church came out and did a stunning interpretive dance to Luther Vandross' "Dance With My Father," which was so moving it was hard to avoid bursting into tears. Seriously. I want to weep just thinking about it. Whoops! There I go.

Afterward, we were called up on stage en masse to give our own speeches, those of us who chose to do so. Mercifully, only three of us wanted to do this. Following this, we gave the Peace Corps a nice surprise with a pair of songs a fellow Trainee had written to the tunes of "My Favorite Things" and "So Long, Farewell" from The Sound of Music. If I can find my copy of the lyrics I'll post them here. It was amusing, and got some good laughs.

The ceremony over, we held a brief reception upstairs, with pupu platters and delicious cherry juice. As this ended we made our way to the Ocean View hotel for our big party. This was a nice bit of symbolism, because the Ocean View was the hotel we stayed at for a couple of days when we first arrived in Guyana. The party went well -- we had it catered and had a d.j., though I ended up not getting completely drunk, as I predicted I would. That isn't to say others didn't get totally drunk: we had one volunteer who was so hammered on the way home she vomited like a fountain and then passed out. Ah, frivolity.

Some of us wanted to go from the party directly to the National Park, where dancehall legend Beenie Man was having a concert that very night (horrible timing!!!) but the Peace Corps said absolutely NO. We had a special APCD just for training, a great guy and a wonderful teacher (and a Rasta, to boot) and his last act as our temporary APCD was to see us all home safely. One volunteer, drunk and not making the best decisions, slipped away on the sly with some PCVs from previous years who were going to the concert. She was found out because her alibis didn't jive with each other, and came damn close to being Administratively Separated on the very night of her Swearing-In! Scary thing is, I dang near went with her that night... but as I said, I wasn't that drunk, so better judgement prevailed and I dodged that particular bullet.

In the end, we all went home and woke up as PCVs. I was remarking to another volunteer here in New Amsterdam that it's almost like it took me 7 years to make it through Training... But I'm here, and it's f-ing awesome!