6-17 A Talent Show, Done Right

One of the final singers of the night.

You know when you went to talent shows in high school to support your friends but then spent the rest of the time kind of bored, or enjoying the schedenfreude of your peers’ botched performances? This was like that, except awesome.

Friday night was Talent Night at the Youth Center. The Youth Center has kind of a lot of talent, so I had high hopes. Most of my expectations were met, including the ones where everything was going to start late and run later.
Jason and my “karate” class volunteered to move chairs, which meant we should have been leaving the Youth Center at 3:30. We left at about 4 and made a pit stop to pick up 10 kilos of green kava on the way. We should have had 12 youth moving chairs but since the kava wasn’t finished, we only had 7. The other 5 went to go skin, grind and squeeze the kava. Still, we got the chairs into the hall and arranged before they opened the doors, though I’m not convinced it was before 5:30 when we supposed to have finished.
The lead singer from Realistic, a hip hop-reggae fusion band.
Festivities were meant to kick off at 6. My group started selling kava around 6:15. Festivities kicked off around 7:30, which worked to our advantage since that left more people outside buying kava, juice and popcorn from us. (Yes, I was basically running a lemonade stand. Except a lemonade stand for adults!) We were set to do a demo at 8. We actually performed around 9:30.
The police stopped by around 12:30 to tell us that we needed to clear out, which sort of kabashed the last few performances, though we actually finished at 1 am. Jason and I left before we had to move chairs again.
Don’t they look sharp?
First review: our youth did great. They were ready to take the stage when we were called. They walked on in order and went immediately into their lines. They bowed. They did their form, in-sync and with decent kyops. They bowed. The exited the stage precisely and sat where we told them while Jason and I did a bit more of a demo. They stood up together. They bowed. They left in a neat, single-file line. I have never seen them so well-behaved. They looked more put together and professional than any other group there. Not that I’m biased or anything.
Aside from the stellar performance, they also did a great job working the concessions stand. They coordinated themselves (with a few nudges from me) to get the popcorn popped and into newspaper cones to sell, make the kava, make the juice and start selling. They handled the money all night and handed over a completed stand to me at 1 am. I have no complaints.
The group before us took awhile getting set up.  We waited.
It has been rewarding to me to see the way they are coming together. They have gone from a group of youth interested in learning “karate like Jackie Chan” to a group of friends who use each other for support. I am watching them blossom into leaders within the group and within their wider social group. They are gaining confidence and with it, they are learning to speak up and assert themselves in a healthy way. They are not without their faults, like being way too squirrelly during class, talking too much, giving each other a hard time and spending 3 minutes trying to form a straight line. But to see where they were in March and where they are in June makes me want to stay here and train them until they grow into all this potential that I see.
Jason being a jerk.  Then again, I tossed him across the floor onto tile.
The other groups performing ran the gamut. Alpha, the hip hop tutor, did an impressive bit of coordination where he got about 12 groups to do a 5 second bit as part of the opening. The opening singer had a set of pipes that professionals would envy. She set the bar high. As usual, the hip hop dance groups did an excellent performances, all 5 of them. I particularly enjoyed a band called Realistic who I think embodies the future of music in Vanuatu. Rap lyrics and vocals over reggae-esque keyboard, drums and guitar. It works, despite that description.
I am impressed with the capabilities of the youth. I know that 90% of them are just killing time down at the Youth Center. But the other 10% are busy creating something amazing. I love watching that something.
[Photo credit goes to my photography class.  They took 541 photos.  I’m proud of them, too.]

3-2 My Week in Pictures

Sunday evening Petanque game.  A chance to relax and unwind like the French.
I got back from my run to this view.  This is a beautiful country.

We made a valiant effort to get the kite up.  We didn’t succeed.  The small boy on the right finally did it by himself.
Still trying.  Still not flying a kite.
Wednesday Evening was a fire show at Holiday Inn Resort

We took the photography class there for a lesson.  These are what Jason got to shoot while I was chasing my students around.

4-29 On Teaching

 As may have been clear from my previous post on teaching, it isn’t for me.  Jason and I have both learned valuable lessons from this regarding future career choices.  We don’t want to be high school teachers.

I think we both struggle with classroom discipline.  So far, we’ve been teaching interesting subjects which cut down on the need for discipline but as the kids get more comfortable and the material more familiar, they get more crazy.  We’ve tried to combat this with a combination of “scary teacher” and doing fun lessons.  At some point though, the kids are having a crazy day and that is how it is going to be.

The other aspect of this we’ve discovered is that neither of us is interested in trying to motivate the students.  I don’t really care if they want to learn.  I mean, I care because I’m supposed to and because I genuinely like the students and I want the best for them.  But I don’t have the kind of caring that good teachers have where they think this is the best thing these kids could be doing with their time so they better be excited about.  I have gained so much respect for all of my teachers in high school and for all of my friends who feel a calling to teach.

Really, I like working with teenagers.  They are funny.  Their problems are hilarious.  They have a unique perspective and lots of energy.  But, I only want to work with teenagers who want to be there.  I liked coaching.  The kids chose to be there, they wanted to play, they wanted to be on the team.  My job was to take the collective energy and focus it in a single direction.  I had fun doing that and watching how the individuals and the group evolved and grew over the course of the season.  I would go back to coaching and enjoy the experience, but this classroom teaching thing is just not for me.

Jason is having a similar issue, though he’d be happy to teach in a higher level classroom.  He likes computers, he likes problem solving and teaching but teaching a bunch of squirrelly teenagers how to double click doesn’t excite him.  I think if he was working with people who wanted to be there and had some previous experience, he’d enjoy it more. 

It is good to know what we don’t want to do.  Now, to figure out what we do want to do….

3-20 To the Future me who is trying to Teach

Both Jason and I are learning to play teacher. His actual assignment here is teaching in a classroom while mine has become teaching in a classroom and running workshops. We’ve been learning a lot by teaching. Mostly about how hard it is to teach.

Most recently, we’ve started teaching Hwa Rang Do. Like, actually teaching as opposed to just training with company. That has opened our eyes to a whole new realm of complexity.

The easy side of teaching a physical skill is being able to fall back on, “Copy this.” However, “Copy this,” doesn’t get into the nuiances of where your weight should be or how to turn your hand. If we could exactly copy that which we watched, that would be fine but until someone invents the magic pill for that, we talk.

Unfortunately, we talk in a language that is my fourth language, Jason’s third and everyone else’s second. The language itself has one word for the part of your body that starts at your bum and goes to your toes (leg) and one part that starts at your neck and goes to your fingers (han). There is no word for things like “hip” or “elbow” or “ankle.” Words like “pointing” are the same as “look,” “watch” and “see.” It makes telling someone to point their toes towards the wall sound about the same as “see your knee and that wall” or “your leg should stare at the wall.” Which, I suppose is exactly what I am telling them to do, but still, it isn’t the most specific instruction ever. Then we got into “Use your hip.” The problems start with not having a word for hip and go downhill from there. I think they got it, at least a little, but we’ll see.

So far, my favorite mistake has been counting. When you count as a student, you count with the completion of the exercise. For example, when doing a jab-reverse punch combination, you count as the reverse would connect. As the teacher, you can either count as you start to move or before you move. If everyone is facing forward, as you move works best. If someone is holding targets, before works best. Who’d have thunk that the timing on counting would be so tiny and so important?

We’re learning other things, like how just pulling on a body part gets it there faster than telling someone to move or that partner work with Jason has faster results than partner work with two beginners. These are things we knew, but the lessons are being reinforced. Each guy grappling Jason for thirty seconds made them more aware of how to pin and escape than the fifteen minutes of work leading up to that.

Mainly, I’m learning how patient all my teachers have been. When I was feeling like they were throwing sixteen things at me, which was about fourteen more than I could think of and then telling me my stance was off, I thought they weren’t prioritizing what to correct. Now, I can see that there were really thirty-two things wrong and they did pick and choose. I hope my own picking and choosing is the right combination for each student.

All of this drives home how impressive the accomplishments of Do Joo Nim, the head of Hwa Rang Do, are. He came to a foreign country, taught in a foreign language and has set up a collection of schools that span the US, Italy and a few other countries. His English isn’t fantastic but it hasn’t stopped him from teaching hundreds of students. Here’s hoping our Bislama is enough for our handful of students.

3-11 Half-assing work

I think half-assing things is a talent. To be able to say, “Well, that’s good enough,” and live with it is something I’m terrible at. I wish I weren’t.

I came to Vanuatu thinking I’d be doing health stuff (whatever that meant) and Jason would be teaching. It turns out, I’m teaching as many hours as he is now. Rather than thinking, “Well, they are getting more health classes than they could otherwise,” and being done there, I keep trying to find other ways and other things I can bring into the classroom to make it a more engaging setting and keep the information relevant. I’m even reading books about classroom management.
Seriously, me, reading books about classroom management like I’m some kind of teacher. I do not have the patience to teach and I do not have an interest in it, yet here I am. Since I can’t not do it, I’m going to do it as well as I possibly can.

Peace Corps really does broaden your horizons.

3-9 CHAST write up

Danielle and 2 students discussing the pictures

This is the write-up I just did for my boss about what I spent the last week doing.  It isn’t my usual style of blog post, but it is proff that I do work once in a while.

The Children’s Hygiene and Sanitation Transformation (CHAST) is a toolkit originally developed in Somalia by Caritas, Int to address hygiene and sanitation issues with children.  The toolkit follows the same participatory methodology as the Participatory Hygiene and Sanitation Transformation (PHAST) for adults.  The aim of the program is to use pictures to convey messages about hygiene and sanitation to children who are pre-literate in a way that engages them in their own processes of cleanliness. 

Showing off the pictures they colored

The toolkit consists of a manual, two character puppets who act as guides through the process, two more puppets for small puppet shows and about 100 images.  The workshop is broken into modules with one to three activities per module.  The activities can be run serially over the course of a few days or spread out in installments of an hour at a time once a day or once a week.  Along with the hygiene and sanitation objectives, the goals of the program include soft skills like public speaking, group collaboration and critical thinking.

The impetus for CHAST in Vanuatu started with the discovery of the Somalia manual online while searching for a PHAST manual.  They determined that CHAST did not meet the needs of their community and focused their efforts on PHAST.  The manual was mentioned in trainings about PHAST and the idea of a toolkit directly addressing the children caught the attention of several volunteers.  A cross-project committee was formed to create a pilot toolkit for Vanuatu.

The silly faces at the end of first day. 
I think I’m being the silliest.

Behavior change is easiest in children and children are the most likely to spread messages that encourage behavior change.  By targeting that population, we hoped to have a high instance of behavior change which may “trickle up” to the adults.
We started to develop the toolkit in April, 2011.  It took several months to complete the drawings, create the puppets and have a pilot toolkit ready for testing.  By the time all of it was put together, it was time for school break.  We waited until the start of the new year and ran a test pilot the third week of school.

The Poop Demon and Clean Fairy with the guides through the program.

The CHAST workshop was a positive experience for everyone involved.  The two PCV facilitators were assisted by the regular teacher of a mixed-grade class spanning years 1-3.  The entire workshop took about 7 hours spread across three days with nine participants.  The transformation in public speaking and confidence of the students over the three days was as rewarding as the increased knowledge of hygiene behaviors.  The children started the workshop with presentations that were barely audible, their backs turned and their hands in front of their faces.  By the last presentation, each student turned to face their audience, pointed to the picture they were describing and spoke clearly.  The best surprise happened when we went to the bathroom to discuss the proper use of the facilities.  The students had just seen a puppet show about banishing stinky-poop demons with soap and water.  When they got to the bathroom, the discovered their own bathroom was like the one in the puppet show.  They decided to banish their own demons and spontaneously cleaned the toilets, without any prompting by the facilitators.

Though the toolkit requires some revisions, the baseline that we’ve created seems to be functional.  We will spend the next two months refining and re-testing the toolkit we have now then make it available to other PCVs and NGOs in Vanuatu.

Practical lessons: How to wash hands!
Roylline really knows the answer

1-19 The State of the Work

Despite what this blog reflects, I am actually in Vanuatu to do a job.  That job is a little unclear most days, but I am here to do it.  My job description translates to something like “Improve the health of the area.”  It is up to me to determine what that means.

PHAST in action, discussing toilet improvements for the community
I like these parameters.  I am a self-starter and I work best with minimal supervision.  (Its a nice way or saying I don’t like authority.)  Most of the time, this works out great for me.  However, there are days it is kind of rough.  There are days I want nothing more than to show up to a job and be told to go take care of something that I can then proceed to ignore or half ass until the end of the work day when I can go home and feel like I did my eight hours.  I don’t do that here.  Even on the days I feel like slacking, I have to motivate me to go do work.
This conundrum has been challenging for some Community Health volunteers.  It is hard work to go make yourself a job every day.  For some volunteers, their last year of service becomes a year of watching time pass.  They’ve run out of steam to find work and are just waiting to finish their contracts.  I’m at the point right now where I can choose to sit back and play with my cats and go swim in the ocean or I can make the choice to keep working hard and searching out things to do and people to do them with.  Those of you who know me know which choice I’ve made, but that doesn’t mean it is easy.
Here is what I’m doing and how it is going. 
After a four day PHAST workshop, we did a group picture


I did a lot of workshops about hygiene and sanitation.  In them, the community chose a project to improve their hygiene and sanitation.  I chose these workshops based on surveys in which the community members told me there is a lot of trouble with toilets.  So, the community chose to build water seal (dump a bucket to flush) toilets.  I agreed to help them write a grant.  That was over six months ago.  The grant is still incomplete, though it is under consideration by the funding agency.  The community contribution was due over a month ago and I haven’t seen or heard of anyone giving their portion of the money.  The person I was working with has forgotten to show up to talk about this twice in a row.  In a continuing effort to not give up, I went to the chief to discuss this state of affairs.  We’ll see if there is any change in the coming month.  If not, I will strongly consider pulling the grant out of consideration. 
Children’s Sanddrawing workbook
There are beautiful sand drawings that have meanings and stories that go with them.  The stories and even the drawings themselves are disappearing as the oldfala die or become to senile to show them to people.  There are a few people who are interested in preserving this art form.  I am trying to work with one of them to create a small workbook/coloring book for kids that include how to make about a dozen of the drawings and the stories that go with them.  If I can pull it off, I’d like to stories to be in Apma, Bislama, French and English.  Literacy, here we come!  Of course, the last three times I’ve tried to meet with the oldfala, something has made us not connect.  I still don’t have the drawings or the stories so I can’t even start to type them up and create a layout for the book, much less look for a publisher or funding to publish it.  Sigh.
Weekly Health toktok
I want to get my  counterpart involved in doing more health outreach as well as learning more about health and medicine herself.  She is interested in going to nursing school in the future.  I thought we could do weekly or bi-weekly lectures of an hour or less about one or two topics each week.  It would give the two of us a chance to discuss health topics and hopefully increase her knowledge while doing some basic education within the community.  We set a date for the first one.  She cancelled it the night before.  We set a second date.  She cancelled it.  I went to her about a third date, she cancelled it.  I tried a fourth date, she cancelled in the morning of.  I think I’m done trying on that plan.
High School Health Class

In Jason’s classroom, mine is up the hill with chalkboards, not computer.

I was teaching the high schoolers health.  By health I mean sex ed.  This is one of the places I can say I’ve been successful.  I’ve increased the knowledge of STIs and STI prevention among the 14-17 year-olds in the area.  I know they are using condoms because I keep finding the condom wrappers hidden in dark corners.  When we did Sex Jeaopardy on the last day of class, there were only a few questions that stumped them.  I’ll be teaching in the school again this coming school year, though I may try to expand from sex ed to include nutrition and basic first aid.

Children Hygeine and Sanitation Transformation
It isn’t a success yet, but its getting there.  I’m working with some other PCVs to create a toolkit of pictures to teach hygiene and sanitation to first through fifth graders.  We’re ready to do a beta test of it when the new school year starts, I’ll tell you if it goes anywhere from there.

At the Training of Trainers for a GLOW/BILD.
Next step: run a GLOW/BILD


These are youth leadership and empowerment camps that are really encouraged within Peace Corps.  We went to a Training of Trainers last May.  We left with every intention of running one in our community.  Since then, the girl who came with us left to get married on Santo, one of the boys got married and is too busy and the other one hasn’t showed up to talk to me about it.  We may try to do a long weekend instead of a full week sometime in the next few months.  Again, it seems like the momentum is lost and it will take some serious effort to build it back up.
Adolescent Reproductive Health Curriculm
This is another project to try to give Peace Corps more resources for the future.  I’m basing it on my experience teaching last year.  I haven’t done a lot yet, but again, I have high hopes.  I always have high hopes.

I have a few more ideas of things I want to do before I leave.  I’d like to do a AIDS/STI workshop in the community.  I may try to make it a really big deal over two or three days and do a tournament and hire the band to play or watch AIDS related videos in the evenings.  We’ll see.  I’d like to do a maternal and child nutrition workshop with the mamas.  I’m going to talk to someone about that today.  We’ll see what other work I can find to do.  I’m good at coming up with ideas for work, anyway.

10-25 Information Economy

In this society, material wealth is communal.  The idea is that everyone in a family shares what they have within the family.  This makes sense when you talk about gardens, food, mats and baskets.  These things take a communal effort to produce, so it makes sense that they are communal property.  In more recent times, this has extended to include things like clothing, phones or any form of material wealth.  Of course, a family here consists of your parents, your brothers and sisters, your parents brothers and sisters, your parents in-laws, your nieces and nephews, your second cousins nieces and nephews, etc.  It doesn’t take long before the whole island is family and you are sharing your material wealth with all of them.  It is like communism in action.
The problem comes when we, as humans, expect to have some kind of personal belongings.  We get attached to a specific mat or we really like the fruit that falls from one particular tree.  Here, that isn’t allowed.  You can go more often and collect that fruit, but you have to share it.  So, to have some sort of personal possessions and functional economy, the going currency is information.
People have to “buy” their way into information.  For example, while cutting the patterns for a red mat, the artists is literally paid mat by mat and if a young man wants to learn to do it, he has to pay to learn.  In my mind, information is free.  Information is to be shared, to be given freely and willingly in hopes that that piece of information will lead to another piece that will lead to another piece that will lead to an improvement in all our lives.  I don’t think about information as an economic commodity, which does frequently bite me in the ass.
I missed a wedding because no one told me it was happening.  I hadn’t “paid” for the information so no one shared it with me.  Sometimes this feels like a simple oversight.  They forget that I am not in the loop of conversation, that I don’t know language to be able to eavesdrop.  I miss fundraisers that way all the time.  If they’d tell me, I’d be happy to go spend money and support the school but frequently no one tells me which is their loss. 
Other times, I know it is an intentional choice not to tell me, even when I ask.  Usually, that is information about kastom or reasons to do or not do something.  Everyone knows why the pig pen has a taboo place in it, it has been that way for years and years.  Except I haven’t been here for years and years and no one is quite willing to actually tell me a straight answer about why that place is taboo.  I can’t get a straight answer about why the namwele leaf is the chief’s leaf or why some people live in the bush and others live in the village. 
Teaching is sometimes considered odd.
Why would someone give away all that information?

I am not yet privy to that information.  At some point, I hope to have “earned” the privilege of knowing, but I’m not good at playing the information economy.  My job is to give away information as much and as fast as I can.  So, how can I buy my way into knowing about the school schedule for the year or when the next meeting will be?  I don’t know.  I guess I’ll continue to live in blissful informational poverty.

7-26 Teaching in three languages

There are three official languages in this country.  English, French, and Bislama.  I use all three in my teaching.  It’s… exciting.

I’m in a French school.  The kids at least nominally speak French.  I don’t.  The kids start learning English in 7th grade.  They don’t speak it very well. 
I end up teaching primarily in Bislama.  Unfortunately, Bislama is incredibly non-specific.  It does not contain technical vocabulary.  This means that all the computer words are either in French or English.  So I use those.  The words in English are easy for me, hard for the students.
I have, however, picked up some words in French.  Clavier is keyboard, souris is mouse, etc.  My pronunciation is terrible and I often get corrected by the students.  Eventually, I get it down and we all move on.
The language difficulties do provide some amusement.  Last week I was doing some lessons on using an electronic encyclopedia (I’m teaching them “google fu” via encyclopedias in preparation for the internet.)  I was working on this by coming up with questions for them to search for.  The questions were largely in Bislama but things like country names are different in French.  This means that on each question I would write the English and then look over the kids shoulders until they found the French, then correct it.  This kind of thing is pretty normal for my classes.

The community classes are even more difficult.  Some people schooled French.  Some schooled English.  Some people remember their school language well.  Some not so much.  Some are literate, some are not.  This on top of an already multi-level class in terms of computer skill.

I’m getting very good at describing things in at least three ways.  This goes to the flexibility that I am gaining from my Peace Corps experience.  As frustrating as it can be now, I do believe that it will benefit me in the long run.

6-28 First Community Class

Last week I started my open community classes. I have been working on getting these started for some time but it finally came together.

I had hoped to be starting as soon as I got back from Vila the last time. Unfortunately, this didn’t happen for multiple reasons. Finally making the announcement at church seems to have been the key. After figuring out who to talk to, I was all set to announce and then two people died. This meant staying in the village. Even the announcement itself happened in a very Vanuatu way. When I got to church I thought I was going to go up and toktok smol. Instead, my principal came over to me partway through church and informed me that they would just say that I would talk about it after church. Okay, roll with it as usual. After the service, I talked about the class (when, how much, only 6 computers, etc.) and then my principal repeated it in language and talked small about the internet coming.

Fast forward to Wednesday. Of the 12 or so I could take at one time, I had 8 people show up. This is pretty decent for a society in which being the first to do something is not “cool.” There was even an oldfala in the group. He needed a bit of extra help but fortunately Gaea was there to work with him.

Some previous Peace Corps volunteers found a decent pair of programs for teaching mouse and keyboard use. These programs allow me to get the group started and have some guided practice as I go around giving individual, specific help. The best part of these programs is that they work in multiple languages and are very easily to extend to any new ones. Those other volunteers have already done the legwork of translating most of them into Bislama. These make my life much easier. I found out halfway through one class that the Bislama translation switched to French in the middle. I’m working on fixing that.

I believe the class went well. Everyone seemed to be excited about getting a chance to use the computers and a lot of people have told me they enjoyed it or want to come to the next one.