Wednesday, June 27, 2012

School’s Out for the Summer!

I am finished with the first year of school! Exams are graded, grades are compiled and I am on summer vacation!! So pumped. This summer my plans consist of going to Bo to help train the new group of volunteers, hanging out in Kamabai, traveling to visit friends and having my mom and three sisters come and see Salone. Don’t worry Peace Corps, it won’t be all fun and games. I have plans to really make my library awesome before the opening of school. I want to decorate it with academic posters, fix up some broken furniture and come up with some fun activities that will help kids get to know the library. In addition to that I want to prepare lesson notes since I will most likely be teaching Chemistry in addition to Biology and Integrated Science next year. Also there is a grant that I am writing to help fix up our science lab, but that has been a bit of a struggle to get going, so if the community doesn’t start showing more interest I might just drop the project. 

The great part about summer break so far is the rainy days where I can put on a t-shirt and sweats (cold weather attire) and read a good book. Also now I have more time to cook and my family hooked me up with some bomb seasonings so my food can actually taste a little bit like home which is nice. I now can make a killer bean, cabbage and sweet potato soup which is perfect for cold rainy days. I even have my neighbor kids liking this strange “American chop” as they call any food that I make. To get people to eat anything other than rice here and have them think it is good is a struggle, so I’m so happy that my kids like my food now and aren’t afraid to try it.

As far as the end of the school year is concerned, it went alright. We had to cut teaching short because of the BECE (the exam kids have to take to get from middle school to high school) which is currently going on right now. Because my school is a testing site we had to finish exams before the BECE started, even though school is not supposed to close until the middle of July. Scheduling is a major struggle in this country. But my kids for the most part did better on this term’s exams, which is encouraging. Unfortunately a lot of them failed. For the high school students it doesn’t really matter as long as they can get a passing average in all of their classes, since Biology isn’t a core subject for them. But for the middle school kids in order to go to the next grade they have to pass my subject, which only about 25% of them did. We will see if my school holds to their promotion criteria and my class next year is small, but I have a feeling that some kids will slip through, that’s just how it works here. 

My principal and I did have a really great meeting a few weeks ago where we reviewed this academic year and discussed our strengths and weaknesses. We then made up an action plan about how to fix those weaknesses and we were able to come up with some really great ideas that I hope are able to try and create solutions to these problems. I am so grateful that I have a principal that is willing to sit down and have these conversations and actively try to make a change in the school. Development is never going to come to Sierra Leone unless Sierra Leoneons want to make a change and I am thankful that I get to work with a staff that for the most part falls into that category. 

With the ending of the school year comes the anniversary of my arrival in Sierra Leone. It’s crazy to believe that I have been here for one entire year. I think that life back home has been put on pause, but anytime I get on the internet or talk to my family I know that’s not true. My baby sister just graduated high school for goodness sakes, how did that happen? I am so thankful that God brought me to this country and I am happy to be doing this work, but at the same time I am ready to go home at the end of my contract. Being here has really made me realize what priority family and friends take in my life and how I really don’t like being disconnected from them. At the same time I have come to realize how location and culture can impact and change a person and I am grateful for the opportunity to constantly challenge and shape my attitude, my worldview and my identity. This experience so far has been one of the most fulfilling and difficult things I have ever done and some days I’m so happy I did it and other days I think I am crazy for moving 7,000 miles away from everything I know. But, I value learning about the world outside my limited Midwestern American experience and if there is anything I have done here, learning is it. As much as I want to go home next year, I can’t imagine leaving this place, especially my new family and friends here. With the first group of volunteers getting ready to head home in a few weeks at the conclusion of their two years in Sierra Leone, and the new group just arrived, a change in my family is coming. Also PC Sierra Leone is getting a staff alteration with our Country Director, Medical Officer and Programming Manager all being changed. This upcoming year will be a different experience than my first year and I hope a better one. So much of creating effective change comes with knowing the community you live in, how to make things happen, who you need to work with etc. Now that I have that down I hope that I will be able to be more successful in my projects this year. I’m sure this next year will be full of new challenges but I think that now I am better equipped to handle them. At least I hope I am :)