Ha Sefako, Butha Buthe, Lesotho
I graduated from Penn State and currently live in Lesotho, Southern Africa as I serve in the Peace Corps!

My Lesotho Videos

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The First 6 Months!

Hello everyone! After living in Lesotho for 6 months, I thought it was time to explain what I do everyday. I just submitted 11 grants requesting over 4,000 books for 4 schools. Woaah! The next few paragraphs are copied from my grants and changed a little to expand on some of what I do!

I work as a resource teacher for the four most northern schools in the country, which include Ha Sefako Primary School, Liqobong Primary School, Monontsa Primary School, and Mifika-Lisiu Primary School. I have been working very closely with the teachers at each school to improve the way the students are being taught with a focus on literacy. To do this, my friend Meg and I designed a literacy workshop to provide teachers with creative ways to introduce reading, writing, and public speaking into the classroom. Each teacher walked away with several books written in both English and Sesotho, a complete list of Dolch words for their classrooms, educational games, and much more. The following two weeks were spent working with the teachers as they tried new teaching techniques and read to their students for the first time. It was incredible to see the teachers get excited to try very simple ideas when they taught. I walked into one class as a teacher was explaining that students had to put a finger between words so they weren’t 5 inches apart and words weren’t running together. A few teachers were really excited to play Bingo with their students. They were even more excited when I told them that they could change they game in any way they wanted.

During the six weeks between Easter and our winter break, I will be working with teachers from grades 1-3 to create a phonics program that another volunteer has been working on in her school. Students are learning that each letter has a name, sound, and can create a word with the help of other letters. The teachers think I’m crazy and that I’m having their students make nonsense sounds, but I showed them where I was headed and they like the idea. Since the workshop, they have started to trust me a lot more and believe me when I have new ideas.
Students in grade 3 and 4 replied to pen pals from Costa Mesa, California. I set up pen pals with a friend of mine that I interned with in State College. The kids here were so excited to learn about California and write back to their new friends. The letters they wrote were unbelievable. Their teachers spent days reading letters to their students and helping them write back. For the students, it was their first time having someone helping them read and helping them create a letter. In response to their remarkable writing, I am working with teachers in grades 4-7 to schedule a time for creative writing in their week.
The same students are also learning about community service and how to plan, implement, and analyze projects. They will be working in their villages in June and July and reporting back once school begins again in August. None of the teachers understand why the project is important or why I want to do it, but the agreed to let me teach about community service and give an assignment. I told them that I would grade it and everything as long as they watched me teach the lesson.
I’ve also been working with teachers teaching math, science, and health. Each school has a pretty well stocked math and science kit, so I’ve been encouraging teachers to use them. I’ve done a lot of explaining and modeling so the teachers understand how each object is used. I made sure all of the teachers understood how dangerous some of the chemicals in the science kits could be and asked them to use them for the first time when I was visiting their classroom. For some reason, the chemicals have been one of the more interesting items for the teachers and they have used them as zit cream, to unclog whiteout, and to demonstrate soluble and insoluble liquids. Nothing has blown up yet and everyone’s skin seems to be ok, so I guess things worked out!
As for health…I think it will be an ongoing battle over the next two years. I am trying to teach teachers about HIV/AIDS and try to talk about it often so they are more comfortable talking about it with their students. Teachers are slowly starting to ask questions and we are clearing up some of the many myths that they have heard over the years.

I haven’t been good about answering the many questions that I’ve received, so I’ll try to answer some of them here! This might end up being a jumble of ideas!
Students walk anywhere from 5 minutes to 2 hours to school. The youngest ones wait for older students to walk by their homes and they walk with them to school everyday. Grades 1-3 get out of school 2 hours earlier than the older students and they also wait until the older students get out of school to walk with them. I asked a teacher how students know when to go to school, and he told me that they use the sun. They also have radios, which announce the time pretty often. If they don’t use either of those methods, they wait for the high school students to walk by and then leave. All of the students are pretty loud when they walk to school, so I imagine they just wait for a group of kids in a uniform to walk past. The teacher also said that on cloudy days most kids are late for school. He said that the clouds made it harder for them to figure out the time, so they just leave when they are ready!
Students in all four of my schools wear uniforms. As far as I can tell, they each have one sweater and pair of pants. They wear them all week and wash them on Friday after school. I brought a sewing kit to school a few times to sew torn clothing, but it’s been too cold lately to hold a needle. A friend of mine donated an awesome sewing kit and the teachers are all amazed that I can sew. As soon as it warms up again, I am going to dedicate a week or two to fixing clothes. Now that the kids know me a little better, it isn’t as weird.
To heat my house, I have a heater that runs off of my gas tank. It has a little flame that is always lit and I’m not exactly sure how to work it. I thought I had it figured out and was sitting smugly waiting for it to heat up and then a big ball of fire exploded out of it…nothing too big, similar to waiting just a second too long to light the grill. Then I noticed that the bottom of it was on fire. I’m still not sure if it is supposed to be on fire or if I messed up. I blew it out and haven’t tried to light it since. Plenty of layers are keeping me pretty warm at night! I’m typing on Phil’s computer and I’m in shorts and a t-shirt. I don’t mind the cold…well I do, but it’s almost 65 degrees today and was a few degrees below 50 in my house a few nights ago.
A few questions have come through about the teachers. Most of my schools have about 8 teachers. Usually about half of them are actually paid and others are volunteers. I’m not entirely sure how that works. They have a syllabus that they follow that has been supplied by the Ministry of Education (reminds me of Harry Potter!). They do follow the syllabus, but are not always sure how to teach some things, so they skip them. Usually it is just a topic or two, but I noticed that art has been skipped completely. One of my other self given jobs has been to figure out what is being skipped, why they aren’t teaching it, and working with them to present it to their students. On those days, I go home and sleep for a while! It’s exhausting.

I spent 2 hours of yesterday talking with standard 7 students in my farthest school about HIV/AIDS and sex. It was amazing how much they didn’t know and how much more they had wrong. We talked about HIV prevention, how to get it, and what it is. We also talked about other STD’s, sex, where to get condoms, how to say no to aggressive men, and tons of other stuff. I let some of the teachers sit in on our discussion for the first half hour. They were really interested and would occasionally ask each other questions and ask me to explain more. One example is boys and girls “practicing” with each other. This is done with children of the same sex. Most people I have talked to, including most of the teachers and students, thought that HIV and other STD’s could only be transmitted through male/female sex. Boys also practice with farm animals. We talked about that a little, too, but I had a hard time convincing them that it was dirty.

When I felt like I said all that I wanted, I asked the teachers to leave and gave the kids time to ask questions. It took about 10 seconds of awkward silence for students to start mumbling questions. After that, it was nonstop questions for the next 90 minutes! I left glowing. The kids stayed in their classrooms talking about everything we had discussed. I put a box in the room for students to write any question they had and I would answer it next time I visited the school. I am also going to take any student wanting to test for HIV/AIDS to the local clinic in the next few weeks! I’m pretty excited 

After that, I left with the principal of the school for the hour walk to the dirt road to catch a taxi. Along the way, we visited the local chief and a few other homes. A few men asked me to come back next week to help slaughter a pig. I might go...Our last visit was to a friend’s house. He invited us into his home and told us that he would be back. A few minutes later, he returned with a bowl of meet and told us that he killed a pig earlier in the day. I didn’t want to be rude, so I took a piece of meat and put it in my mouth. I was sure it was meat. It had the right texture, shape, smell, everything. A few seconds later, I realized that I was chewing on the liver. Then I realized that I was out of water. I gagged for a second and then forced it down. He smiled and was pretty pleased, I think offering me the liver was a huge compliment. I waited for my friend to eat more and then felt like I should take another piece. Again, I was sure it was meat. I double checked. As I began to chew, I realized it was the heart. I stopped eating the meat after that! When I was finished, he showed me the rest of the pig. It was about 4:00 and he had killed the pig early in the morning. By the time I left, he had only taken out the insides and the rest of the pig was lying on the ground covered in flies. Blah.

Well I am off to Maseru to meet with several people in the Peace Corps office. I'll be able to check my e-mail tomorrow morning. Miss everyone!


Katie said...

Mike- I am truly amazed at all you are doing and I LOVE that you share it all with us on this blog. It's only been 6 months and you've helped more people and accomplished more than most people do in their lives! You are making such a huge difference in the lives of every person you work with there. I am so proud of you and I know everyone else here is too. Sometimes I brag about you to my friends and teachers at school, just because you are amazing and I'm proud to be your friend. I can't wait to see what you do during the rest of your time in Lesotho. Miss you lots!!!!!

Shayna said...

Awesome...that's all I can say :)

Allison said...

Michael, I agree with Katie. It is unreal all of the stuff that you do for the people of Lesotho. They are so lucky to have you and I hope they appreciate all of the things you are doing for them... it really sounds like they are. Please keep updating us, I love to hear what your doing. I am working on the book drive and will let you know as soon as I have more details. I miss you soooo much and hopefully I'll be able to call you soon!<3