Wow! It seems as though I never have a chance to post updates on my time in
First… my first year of teaching came to a close at the beginning of June! Almost all of my students passed, which was a rewarding feeling. This year, I ended up teaching over 450 students at both the local CEG and Lycee (middle school and high school). Teaching definitely was quite challenging; however, it was rewarding as well. My students loved all my crazy antics, hands-on lessons, and pictures. It is so easy to entertain students here, as they are at such a loss for external stimuli.
In addition to teaching, I was able to execute some successful programs for my students. I started a middle-school girls club in February, which has been my pride and joy at site. Over fifty devoted girls show up weekly for our meetings, which are held on Wednesday afternoons. Each week we focus on a different topic— some serious and some recreation-oriented. One week we will talk about goal-setting and the consequences of our decisions. The next meeting we will learn how to cook an American meal; after, we will discuss safe-sex practices. When I started the club, I was hoping to create a safe-space for young girls as they face the challenges of adolescence. In addition to the routine changes that all middle-school girls face, girls in Ifanadiana are often pressured by older men. If they get pregnant, they are required to drop out of school. Further, gender equality and traditional gender roles create vast problems for intelligent girls who are willing to face the barriers to success. The "grand finale" to the club's program was a trip to nearby
Speaking of donations, many of you kindly donated to my leadership retreat, which was held May 1st-3rd. After teaching here for over six months, I had quickly realized that one of the biggest hurdles facing Malagasy youth is underexposure to the outside world. Even the most intelligent students are still amazed by a simple storybook, and a computer program would blow their minds. In addition, the education system is extremely trying for Malagasy students. Those that make it to lycee are both intelligent and privileged. Unfortunately, they are still extremely underexposed to the world. Thus, I got the idea to take twenty lycee students on a three-day trip to nearby Ambalavao,
On the morn of Thursday, May 1, twenty students, myself, and four other Peace Corps Volunteers headed for Ambalavao. Our first stop was to the Antimoro Paper Factory, which is a simple workshop that produces paper from a Malagasy plant. The trite tour was fascinating to my students, many of whom have never visited a museum. After the tour, we headed to
On day two, we returned to Fianarantsoa to learn about possible technical-school options, chatted with an NGO, and enjoyed a nice meal out. The last day, the kids were able to do some sightseeing in Fianarantsoa and enjoyed a "vazaha" meal at a western-style restaurant, where they studied etiquette. All in all, the trip was a great success and is something that I hope to repeat in the upcoming year.
Since summer vacation started, I have been quite busy. In mid-June, I was fortunate enough to have my sister Colleen and my best friend, Jason, come to visit. It was a great trip. Seeing their reactions to the country I have become so used to was quite interesting. After their visit, I trained the new education volunteers, who arrived in
After weeks on the go, I returned to Ifanadiana for a two-week summer camp that I organized with two other Peace Corps volunteers. Camp was held from each morning until in the afternoon. The first week, sixty 6-8 year-old children participated. The second week, we hosted ninety 9-12 year-old kids. Each day, there were six sessions. The kids studied art, English vocabulary, health, environment, songs and games, and outdoor recreation. A well-balanced lunch was also served. Art sessions included mixing colors, decorating nametags, doing body tracings, making festive crowns, and painting handprints. English sessions taught students basic colors, numbers, greetings, foods, and animals. Health sessions focused on hand-washing, a healthy diet, the importance of tooth brushing, and the five senses. Other activities included yoga, soccer, kickball, duck-duck-goose, the hokey pokey, and the limbo. The final day was a myriad of "field day" activities, which included potato sack and three-legged races, "egg" races, and a water balloon fight. The kids seemed to have a blast. It was remarkable to us how even a simple task like placing stickers on paper was new to the children. I can only hope that the experience is something that the children will remember for years to come. Hosting the summer camp was one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had in my life, as well as the most exhausting. The whole camp would not have been possible without the generous help of fellow Peace Corps volunteers Casey and Emily Woodling, Kateri VanDamme, Mitch Morey, Alex Blute, and Haddy Creie. Alex's friend Kirsa, also participated and was an asset to our counselor "staff." Once again, the camp could not have happened without your generous contributions and support for my projects as well. For under $400USD, we were able to pay for all food, craft supplies, and other project-related items. In addition, all students received a notebook, a toothbrush, and a bar of soap.
Now, as I take a few days to relax, catch up on sleep, and take a hot shower, I have had time to reflect on the year that has breezed by. Sure, it has had ups and downs, but overall, it has been a great year. Some of the challenges I have faced have included constant battles with microbes, malaria, violent dog bites, and having my house ransacked and robbed. Yet, despite the hurdles, I would not take back the past year for anything. I have learned so much about life, ascertained a real understanding of what is important. In addition, I have learned how to live alone, find friends in any situation, and cope with any challenge that comes my way. I have discovered that although everyone comes from different backgrounds, we, as people, are not that different. We all want the same things out of life— health, education, love, and family. I have seen lemurs, hiked through rainforests and mountains, and gone weeks only speaking Malagasy. I have danced and sang in traditional Malagasy clothes, given a speech to my entire town, and traveled for hours by bush taxi. It has been an amazing year. I can only hope that year two is just as good.
Once again, thank you so much for your support, generosity, and constant letters and packages. I am so fortunate to have such loving, supportive family and friends. Please continue to write. I will try my best to keep you updated on my adventures.
All my love from