Monday, April 20, 2009

Here is my “Close of Service” report. If you want to skip all of this, then the regular blog continues afterward.



Close of Service Report

Introduction

Ms. Pavlik arrived in Zambia in January 2007. After two months of training, she served for two years as a Rural Education Development (RED) volunteer in Mpelembe, Serenje District, Central Province. The RED project is a countrywide collaboration between Peace Corps and Zambia’s Ministry of Education and aims to improve Zambia’s educational system. Each RED volunteer is based at a Zone Center School, which is a school chosen to be a central point for schools in a particular area. It is the goal of the RED project to increase the capacity of this school so that all of the schools in the zone may benefit, particularly the “community schools,” which are headed by untrained community members and usually based in simple mud and thatch structures.

The first two months of Carrie’s time in Zambia was spent integrating into Zambian culture by living with a Zambian host family and receiving formal training in areas that would prepare her for her service. Training consisted of five components: Technical (86 hours): Ministry of Education structure and initiatives, facilitation skills, Interactive Radio Technology methodology, income generating activities, project implementation; Cross Cultural (14 hours): Zambian culture, cross-cultural communication, gender issues; Icibemba Language (116 hours); HIV/AIDS (20 hours); Medical and Safety (32 hours). During her service, she attended additional workshops, including an in-service training held by Peace Corps, an HIV workshop held by PEPFAR, and a library management training held by Changes2.

Demographics

Mpelembe is a small rural village within Chief Chitambo’s chiefdom. The population consists of about 4000 people and the village covers an area of about 20 square kilometers. There is a school, clinic, ZAWA station, and many tuck shops, bars, and churches.

Mpelembe is about 140 kilometers from the boma of Serenje. There is no electricity or cell phone coverage, which made communication with Peace Corps and the Ministry of Education difficult. Ms. Pavlik’s main form of transportation was her bicycle. When traveling longer distances, she hitchhiked, chancing rides from trucks, busses, and private vehicles.

The villagers of Mpelembe live simply in mud and thatch huts without electricity, vehicles, phone coverage, or running water. Ms. Pavlik lived in the same manner, embracing the lifestyle by learning gardening, the cooking traditional foods, chicken and goat husbandry, beekeeping, and the building small structures of bamboo, grass, mud, and bark fiber.

Her house was located about four kilometers from the tarmac and a half kilometer away from the school and clinic. She lived next to the Mumba family and also received support from the headman, Mr. Mwelelwa.

Physical Environment

Mpelembe is located about forty kilometers after Kasanka National Park and about forty kilometers before the bridge to Luapula. It is flat with a lot of small trees and is considered part of the Bangweulu Wetlands, and though it receives a lot of rainfall, it is not a swampy area. Flooding only becomes an issue in the areas surrounding the nearby Lumbwa River.

The main path that leads from the tarmac past the school and clinic is vehicle accessible. Most housing compounds are reached by footpaths branching off this main road.

Access to drinking water isn’t much of a problem in the area. There are many wells and bore holes. Ms. Pavlik had two sources of water. One was a traditional well located on her compound. The water was not clean, however, so she used this water only for washing and watering her garden. She got her drinking water from a bore hole at the school and carried it home on her bicycle.

The environment didn’t pose any obstacles to education beyond those found in the rest of Zambia (e.g. rainy season, dirt paths, long distances for students to walk, etc). Mpelembe Zone covers a large area, however, the furthest schools being about 30 kilometers from the Zonal Center School. This made it difficult for the ZIC to monitor all of the schools in the zone.

Cultural Environment

The people of Mpelembe are of the Bemba and Lala tribes. Some people can speak a little bit of English, but most are not fluent.

Nearly all villagers are subsistence farmers and fishermen. Some earn income by selling crops or fish or by doing piece work.

Most people are of Christian faith and are very devout. There are a variety of denominations represented in Mpelembe.

Social life tends to revolve around the churches and bars. People often gather at the roadside in the evenings.

Description of Zone

Carrie’s cacthment area consisted of Mpelembe Zone, as defined by the Ministry of Education. There are 5 GRZ and 16 community schools in the zone, the farthest being about 30 kilometers from the Zonal Center School.

During her two years as a RED volunteer, Carrie focused on strengthening the Zonal Center School so that all of the schools in the zone would benefit. That means she worked extensively with Mpelembe Basic School, but also worked with teachers from all of the schools in the zone through teacher trainings and school monitoring. She also assisted Chenga, Fumba, and Mupundu Community Schools in grant writing and held a fish farming training at Fumba.

Most of the community schools and government schools are using Interactive Radio Instruction (IRI) as part of their methodology. For some community schools, this is the main form of instruction.

The schools in Mpelembe Zone are as follows:

GRZ Schools

Chalilo
Chipundu
Gibson
Misumba
Mpelembe

Community Schools

Chititima (Grades 1-5)
Chenga (Grades 1-3)
David Livingstone (Grades 1-2)
Fumba (Grades 1-2)
Ibolelo (Grade 1)
Ilisa (Grades 1-3)
Kachelo (Grades 1-2)
Kakuku
Kalungu (Grades 1-4)
Kampasa (Grades 1-4)
Kaoma (Grades 1-2)
Kapepa (Grades 1-4)
Luwe (Grades 1-3)
Misamfi (Grades 1-3)
Mupundu (Grades 1-2)
Musangashi (Grades 1-6)

RED Project Activities

• Capacity Building of Zone Center School

Carrie’s main counterparts were the Zonal Head, Mr. Chisenga, the ZIC, Mr. Kaseloki, and the Deputy Head, Ms. Chisenga. She also worked extensively with the group of six teachers who formed the library committee.

In her two years, she was able to transfer a variety of skills to her counterparts. She held workshops in library management and computer operation. Record keeping, time management, and organization were always stressed.

• Capacity Building of Zone

Carrie and her counterparts worked together to strengthen the zone. One of the main ways this was done was through teacher trainings. Every school, including community schools (and occasionally including schools from neighboring zones), was always invited to all workshops and trainings.

In all zonal workshops, Ms. Pavlik and her counterparts stressed communication skills, classroom management, planning, and school management. They also focused on the use of child-centered teaching methods such as games, student involvement techniques, positive reinforcement, and the use of teaching and learning aides.

Support was also given to schools through monitoring visits. When Carrie first arrived in Mpelembe, there was no one performing the role of the ZIC, and therefore it had been a long time since formal SIMON monitoring visits had been done. It was several months before a ZIC was transferred to the school. Mr. Kaseloki and Ms. Pavlik worked together to plan SIMON visits and visit schools. After monitoring the nearby schools, however, SIMON activities stopped, as the ZIC considered it too far to bike to the remaining schools, which were about 30 kilometers away. A request for a vehicle was made to the DEBS, but was never fulfilled. Recently, monitoring of several of the nearby schools has been taken up again.

Carrie believes in the importance of alternative education and gathered resources for a zonal library, which could be accessed by all teachers in the zone, students, and villagers. Over 1,000 books were donated, classified, labeled, and recorded. A library committee was formed and trained in library management. Unfortunately, the Zonal Resource Center infrastructure has yet to be officially handed over and furnished, so the library is not in use. The library committee has been trained with the appropriate skills, however, so when the building is complete, the library should be able to function.

Ms. Pavlik made sure all the schools in the zone were aware of her presence and encouraged them to contact her if they needed assistance. Unfortunately, only a few took advantage of this opportunity.

• Capacity Building of DEBS

Peace Corps’ RED project focuses on the zonal level for rural volunteers. Therefore, Carrie rarely worked directly with the DEBS office. She did, however, assist in procuring IRI radios for community schools and she submitted reports from monitoring visits.

• Capacity Building at the Provincial Level and of Partners

Ms. Pavlik and two other Peace Corps volunteers held an IRI Review Meeting for Ministry of Education officials to discuss issues with the program, as well as challenges facing the ZICs.

Carrie also worked with the NGO Changes2. She attended a library training of trainers and then helped facilitate a provincial library training for ZICs. She also monitored schools who received books as a donation from Changes2.

• Summary of RED Projects

• Initiated the formation of a library at the Zone Center School
---- Acquired the donation of over 1,000 textbooks, novels, reference
materials, and magazines
---- Classified, labeled, and recorded all materials
---- Set up a lending and record system
---- Trained a library committee in book classification and library
management
• Worked with teachers at the Zone Center School in planning, budgeting for, and facilitating 5 teacher trainings, reaching 67 Community School and 21 Government School teachers
• Taught basic computer skills (using solar panels) to 6 teachers
• Monitored 5 Community School and 2 Basic School classrooms over the course of 12 visits to observe and advise in teaching skills and school management
• Compiled information on all of the schools in the zone
• Assisted 4 schools with grant proposal writing
• Collaborated with the NGO Changes2 and the Ministry of Education to carry out a provincial library training and monitor 3 school libraries
• Co-facilitated a review meeting with the Ministry of Education to discuss the progress of the Interactive Radio Instruction program and the role of the Zonal Inset Coordinator

HIV/AIDS

Carrie and the Zonal Head attended a Peace Corps PEPFAR training together. Both agreed on the importance of spreading what they had learned to others. The Zonal Head arranged for Mpelembe’s “Community AIDS Task Force” (CATF) to be trained. Carrie then invited a CATF member to teach about HIV during a meeting about Jatropha.

Staff at the school have been very open to HIV education. During each of the eight teacher trainings and meetings with which Carrie assisted, a session was devoted to HIV prevention.

Ms. Pavlik also taught about HIV at a fish farming training, to students in her Life Skills class, during a girls camp, and in numerous informal conversations.

A total of around 450 teachers, students, community members were reached.

Other Projects

• Taught “Life Skills” classes to 4 groups of 8th and 9th graders, covering topics such as communication skills, HIV, STIs, culture, planting trees, gender equality, treatment of animals, organic gardening, relationships, indigenous crops, overpopulation, and nutrition
• Taught HIV prevention at 8 teacher meetings, 2 agricultural meetings, 1 girls’ camp, and 9 Life Skills classes
• Started a school orchard and tree planting project with students
• Demonstrated the building of a fuel efficient clay stove and teaching the importance of tree conservation to villagers
• Started a sustainable beekeeping club with 15 students and set up a school apiary
• Worked with a bio-fuel organization to distribute Jatropha seeds to villagers as an income generating activity
• Collaborated with two other Peace Corps Volunteers to organize a “Girls Leading Our World” camp, where girls learned about setting goals, having confidence, forming healthy relationships, being assertive, and preventing HIV
---- Sourced funding and purchased supplies
---- Arranged guest speaker
---- Taught about HIV prevention
---- Demonstrated the sewing of sanitary pads
• Helped village children with math and spelling
• Assisted the Rural Health Clinic with grant writing, HIV testing, baby weighing, and the donation of medical supplies
• Hosted a fish farming workshop at a Community School

Contributions to Peace Corps Zambia

• Facilitated a session on chicken husbandry at an agricultural in-service training
• Hosted two groups of new volunteers to introduce them to village life
• Assisted with site preparation for new volunteers

Recommendations

Ms. Pavlik’s main project was the formation of a zonal library. By the time her service finished, however, the library was not yet in use because of bureaucratic obstacles. It would be beneficial for another Peace Corps Volunteer to finish the work and make sure the library is being used.

That said, Mpelembe has been a challenging place for Carrie. She wanted to reach out to community members beyond just the school, but she had trouble finding people who were genuinely interested in working with her. Most only wanted funding or handouts and then would disappear as soon as they find out Peace Corps does not provide such things. Even more claimed that they were interested in a given topic, but then didn’t show up the day of the meeting. Five times as many projects as were listed on this report were started and then failed because of lack of motivation in the school or community.

Ms. Pavlik’s living situation was a difficult one as well. The community did not follow through with Peace Corps’ housing contract and would only help her with home upkeep if she paid them. She also experienced problems with her neighbors (begging, dishonesty, etc), had an incident with a man trying to come to her house at night, and had continuous theft her entire two year service.

Because of security issues, the community was told to arrange different housing for the volunteer to come following Carrie. They were not able to finish the housing preparations in time, however, so Peace Corps has decided not to replace Mpelembe in 2009. However, the possibility of another volunteer coming in the future is open. If the Zonal Head and DEBS feel another volunteer would benefit the school, they would need to make the initiative to contact Peace Corps with the request.




Regular Blog Continuation:

And now for some final thoughts as my Peace Corps service comes to an end.

I remember when I first moved to Mpelembe, I thought to myself, “Wow, when I leave, these kids are going to be two years older!!! Teenagers will have turned into adults. Kids will have turned into teenagers. Babies will have turned into kids.” But as I look now at Kalunga, Joshua, Makumba, Ngosa, Patty, Bupe, and all the other village kids, they don’t look any different because I’ve seen them slowly grow every day and it’s hard to believe that my two years have gone by already.

Back during Pre-Service Training, one of our trainers was about to finish up her service. When asked for wise words, she told us, “I’ve never loved a place so much … and I’ve never hated a place so much.” She was at a loss of words to explain herself and finally we just broke the silence by laughing. Now, as my service coming to an end, if a new volunteer were to ask me to summarize my past two years, I couldn’t think of any other way to say it. When I only think of the good aspects of Zambia, it makes me want to never leave. When I only think of the bad aspects of Zambia, it makes me never want to step foot in this country again.

So yes, there are some things I’ll be glad to leave behind. I’m tired of swatting away flies and ants. I’m tired of water sloshing down my back as I bike it home. I’m tired of the scorching sun. I’m tired of waiting hours trying to hitch a ride. I’m tired of dealing with cultural things that I just can’t accept – gender inequality, hierarchy, the cruel treatment of animals, and different concepts of time, privacy, and property. I’m tired of feeling frustrated and insulted by people not coming to my meetings or only wanting handouts. I’m tired of roosters. I’m tired of having no privacy in my own home – having to answer to somebody no matter what I’m doing (reading, working, bathing, eating, peeing.) I’m tired of minibus conductors, who I’m convinced are the worst people in the world. I’m tired of having to plan my days around avoiding sunburn and my evenings around avoiding malaria. I’m tired of poorly washing and wringing out my clothes by hand. I'm tired of eating weevils with my oats. I’m tired of buckling under the weight of my basket of vegetables when I stock up every month. I’m tired of kids mocking me and thinking I don’t understand. I’m tired of infected wounds. I’m tired of itchy bug-bites. Most of all, I’m tired of feeling sad and angry because of people doing things that I consider to be inconsiderate, disrespectful, and irresponsible - lying to me, cheating me, inconveniencing me, robbing me, and taking advantage of me.

And there are things I look forward to in the US. Mostly, seeing my family and friends who I haven’t seen for two years, seeing Doug who I haven’t seen for nine months, and seeing my nephew who I’ve never even met! I look forward to getting started on whatever adventures lay ahead. I look forward to stepping foot back in to my dear Hotel again. I look forward to the variety of creative expression and entertainment US culture has to offer. I look forward to the ease of a hot shower. I look forward to letting my knees see the light of day again. I look forward to not having to hold my plate in my lap as I eat. (Even the Peace Corps House doesn’t provide such a luxury as a dining table!). I look forward to rediscovering all of my forgotten music I had to leave at home. And believe it or not, I actually look forward to that overcast Pennsylvania sky!!

So while part of me is happy to be returning home, I can’t say that I’m “happy” that my life in Zambia is ending. Despite the frustrations, I really do love my way of life here and feel very content. I live naturally, slowly, quietly, purposefully, leisurely, physically, and introspectively. This is the longest I’ve stayed put in any one spot since 2002, and it certainly has become my home. It’s my life. It’s my reality. It’s nearly impossible to imagine not waking up in my hut each morning. Suddenly, nearly everything about my life will become non-existent - my thoughts, actions, frame of mind, motivations, and daily activities. I don’t look forward to the emotional rollercoaster of readjusting to a “new” place. I don’t look forward to having to find some meaningless job to make some money. I don’t look forward to trying to find a job during The Great Depression Part II. I don’t look forward to being in stressful social situations rather than just relaxing alone in my hut. And I don’t look forward to feeling chilled to the bone and having no feeling in my hands and feet for three-quarters of the year.

I’ll also will miss my friends in the village – mainly, Mr. Chisenga, Joshua, and Kapiria. I’ll miss my hut. I’ll miss my remaining chicken and goat. I’ll miss the cheap price of vegetables. I’ll miss the tropical fruits, some of which I will never taste again. I’ll miss having hours of time to read, write, think, and lay in my hammock. I’ll miss having my “commute” to work be a bike ride through the bush. I’ll miss the slow-paced way of life. I’ll miss the crisp night sky full of stars. I’ll miss cooking over a fire. (I’ve noticed that my morning oats and tea that come off of the stove at the Peace Corps House just aren’t as satisfying.) I’ll miss living in my own sociological experiment, where I can create jumbled theories about culture and humanity. I’ll miss not having to worry about money, a job, rent, or bills. I’ll miss not even being tempted to waste my time away on Facebook or watching TV. I’ll miss my solo independent life. I’ll miss the light filtering through my “stained-glass” citenge windows as I wake each morning. I’ll miss bathing outside (when it’s not cold and windy.) I’ll miss my long conversations with Mr. Chisenga. I’ll miss living in nature, rather than concrete. I’ll miss the sound of silence, of the wind, of birds, and of women pounding cassava in the distance, rather than cars and trucks. I'll miss living a life of total freedom. I’ll miss the thrill of finally catching that ride. I’ll miss seeing my yard illuminated by moonlight. I’ll miss getting letters from family and friends. I’ll miss my transient lifestyle which gives me a monthly rejuvenation. I’ll miss nshima, icikanda, ifisashi, and roasted tute. I’ll miss the times when I feel that burst of success when a meeting, computer class, teacher training, or Life Skills class goes well. I’ll miss being able to make funny jokes by simply saying something vaguely clever in Bemba. I’ll miss eating a diet of ninety percent mangos for a month each year. I’ll miss having people run up to the car window to sell me bananas. I’ll miss the smell of ulushishi, drying cassava, and eucalyptus trees. I’ll miss being known and sought out in my community – a local celebrity. I’ll miss the friendly people. I’ll miss reading by candlelight in the evenings. I’ll miss very much the ease of conversation with everyone, including strangers. I’ll miss the kids running and screaming to greet me. I’ll miss playing nsolo and icibulia with Joshua. I’ll miss living in a place where words like “Lindsay Lohan,” “iphone,” “Dow Jones,” and “Burger King” mean nothing.

Back in the year and a half between when I applied to Peace Corps and when I finally left for Zambia, so many people I met told me, “Oh, I thought about doing the Peace Corps, but never did…” I’m glad that I will never have to say that statement. Peace Corps is not studying abroad. Peace Corps is not working for an NGO. Peace Corps is not going on a short volunteer/mission trip. Peace Corps is not becoming an expat in a big city abroad. Peace Corps is not backpacking or traveling. Peace Corps is actually becoming a community member in one small place that’s off the map, untouched, real. Not very many people have (or take) the opportunity to live in a rural village in a developing country. I’m so glad I have been able to be one of those people.

And I’m also so glad that my Peace Corps service was in Zambia specifically – where Peace Corps is still the rustic bush experience that it was in the beginning. In many countries today, Peace Corps Volunteers live together in an apartment with electricity, and teach English every day. While that might be “fun,” it’s not the experience I signed up for.

After my time in Jamaica, it took me some time and some hindsight to realize just what I had gained from the experience. But even now, as I still sit here in Zambia and type this, I already know that Zambia has had an everlasting impact on my life. Perhaps Kingston showed me how things can go wrong; and Mpelembe showed me how things can go right.

We join Peace Corps because we want to “help” others, but in the end, it’s always the volunteer who benefits the most. I am indebted to my Peace Corps Zambian service for all the things I have learned. I am leaving Zambia a different person than I came. I’m now an organic farmer. A chicken husbander. A beekeeper. An avid reader. A goat husbander. A professional hammock-layer. A long-distance cycler. A forester. An animal house constructer. A flat-tire mechanic. A Bemba. A chef. A teacher. A librarian. A teacher trainer. A hitch-hiker. A craftsman. A shoe-in for “Survivor.” I am a person ready and excited to see what life has to offer next.

Capwa. (It is over.)