Thursday, 2 December 2010

Day in the life...

OK, getting back on the blogging wagon here. I'm going to change my attitude a bit to what i do here, so future posts may be a bit rough around the edges... I have decided to go for more posts, less trying to get them exactly right.

so ...

A few people have asked what exactly my work days are like here. That's a difficult question to answer - to take this week as an example, I've had:
  • a day and a half spent planning, marking and organising in the office
  • an impromptu speech to open a disability advocate for kids training
  • a day facilitating a couple of sessions (including a completely impromptu STI awareness bit complete with very graphic photographs) for a parent conference at a primary school
  • a day visiting teachers in schools
You may notice the word impromptu comes up quite a lot.  The best thing about the impromptu STI session is that I didn't even consider that this was a funny situation at the time.  Myself and another, newer volunteer were put in the position of having to give a talk about STIs, with no warning whatsoever, to thirty shell-shocked mothers, and I only realised this was out of the ordinary once my colleague pointed it out.  Guyana has made me un-surprisable.

Anyway, my day today was visiting schools.  I am working at the moment together with a Peace Corps volunteer who is mainly based in New Amsterdam Special Needs School.  Together we are running a series of workshops for primary school teachers, one from each school, looking at strategies to make schools more inclusive.  A combination of chalk-and-talk teaching, an overambitious curriculum, too many tests at a young age, and teachers with either little training, no training, or inappropriate training leads to a majority of pupils getting left behind, and leaving school with very limited basic skills. We are aiming to train one teacher in each primary school in the region with some strategies to involve more pupils. These teachers then in theory can train the other staff in their schools.  Today was a follow up visit to see a couple of those teachers in their own classrooms.

Both schools were over an hour from where I live on a minibus 'up the Corentyne' - towards the Corentyne river on the border with Suriname.  This takes you from the more urban areas of New Amsterdam and Rose Hall Town into more rural farming areas, where the main road is both a road and an area to graze cattle, dry rice, store piles of mud, and mix cement.  None of this road furniture stops the minibuses tearing along at ridiculous speeds on the wrong side of the road with Vybz Kartel blasting out of the speakers.

Both of the schools I visited today were a real breath of fresh air.  In each, the head teachers were working incredibly hard, and incredibly effectively, to make calm, structured learning environments and to give their teachers ideas to engage more pupils.  At one school, they were working to develop a Resource Centre in a building that had clearly been put up years ago with development money, but never staffed or made use of.

The teacher I saw in the next school had worked with a previous VSO volunteer, and had a wonderful attitude towards the children.  She believed, and showed through her teaching, that engaging the children positively through activities, games, stories and songs is the best way to get them to learn and behave well.  I saw a revision session where pupils were reading and answering questions together in pairs, and a phonics session punctuated by songs and silly actions. The fourty pupils, a previously struggling group with some challenging children with very disadvantaged backgrounds, were having fun and learning without realising it. And she was even using a couple of ideas from our workshops amongst plenty of her own!

I came away from today feeling terrified that we were about to run into a bull much more positive than I have for a while about the value and impact that VSO volunteers can have here.  Sometimes the challenges and obstacles, particularly at the level of policy and beauracracy, can make you wonder how big an impact we can really make. It is really heartening to see real evidence of ideas getting passed on, filtering in to everyday teaching and making a real difference.

Song of the moment: Beenie Man - I'm OK/Rum and Redbull

Postscript - therefore, please donate to VSO!  A re-adjustment of foreign aid policy has decreased their share of the British funding pie, so they do need support.  In my experience in Guyana, VSO are certainly one of the most effective organisations for helping people to help themselves without becoming dependent on outside aid.

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