jueves, 1 de noviembre de 2012

November 1st

Guess what I found out this morning from BLARING music coming from the High School that backs up to where I live?? Today is a holiday in Cartagena!  Imagine that!  (Sorry, internet sarcasm. There are sooooo many holidays here its hard to keep track!)

As I type there is a full fledged celebration happening for a holiday called Angles Somos, or We Are Angels.  This is a holiday brought to Colombia from the Spaniards and has been passed down orally from generation to generation.  In the 1970's this tradition was almost lost, which is why in 1983 the Mayor of Cartagena 'rescued' it with a new tradition of Children's Film Festival and a Parade.

Later in 2007, the city of Cartagena declared November 1 the official day of cultural traditions; a day chosen to rescue tradition, songs, games, and other artistic expression characteristic of the city with significance and cultural value.

So, right now, in schools across the city kids are listening to very loud music, dancing, and celebrating.  (Including many people dressed in black face in order to 'remember' their roots).  Additionally, partly because of November 1st, and party due to the impending 'Carnival' of Cartagena, known as Fiestas Novembrinas, I have to walk around with coins in my pocket at all times to bribe kids from throwing water balloons, flour, and show polish at me!  Hey, I just report what I see, can't say I understand it...

Another of the traditions on this day resembles trick or treating.  However, instead of asking for candy, kids go door to door looking for food.  They carry pots and pans banging up and down the street singing a song asking for food.  We just had our visitors, so check out the video below and enjoy your much more tranquil November 1st stateside!

And here´s a link to the video in case the one above isn´t working!

sábado, 8 de septiembre de 2012

English Song Festival

As TEL (Teaching English for Livlihoods) Volunteers, we face some challenges inside the classroom here on the coast of Colombia! (!=to say the least) With a more flexible sense of starting and ending time for classes greatly reducing the time students..and teachers...are in the class, coupled with disciplinary problems and often times general chaos from the students, teacher's here find their instructional time dwindled to a fraction of what the class time should be!  Add to this the frequent cancellation of classes it is hard to teach enough material to students to have them learn and retain much information.  

So, when struggling with these obstacles and how to motivate students to learn English, we are forced to think outside of the box...or outside of the classroom!  Peace Corps Volunteers all around the world have been putting on English Camps, English Days, and English Song Competitions to motivate students to learn English and have fun doing it.  Last week I had the pleasure of traveling to a small town outside Cartagena to be a judge in one such English Song Festival in Pasacaballo.

The Judges Table!

The Judges and MC

Although most students really enjoy any reason not to wear their uniforms, some of the competitors really got into it by buying matching outfits! (not an easy feat considering the economics of the communities where we work)

The participants!
The Winners!  (I swear they looked happier when they won...)

Although I had listen to Celine Dion and relive my past with every Christian song known to mankind and had a headache all afternoon that I'm pretty sure was related to the blaring music all morning, I had a great time seeing all the planning and enthusiasm that went into this event.  This was just the intraschool competition, so I'm looking forward to the interschool competition coming up in October and seeing the best of what Cartagena has to offer.  Last year the winner was from a community called LaBoquilla where a volunteer is currently working and word on the street that she is still treated like ROYALTY around those parts for winning!  I was even invited to bring some of the little tykes (4 and 5 year olds) that I'm working with to compete!

And on a closing note, I would offer a word of advice.  If you have a Volunteer fluent in English working at the school with you, maybe have them proofread all materials:

lunes, 3 de septiembre de 2012


This past week marked another milestone for me in my Peace Corps service.  I had the pleasure of traveling to Barranquilla to meet and greet the 30 new Peace Corps Volunteers who will be beginning their training and then two years of service.  This years group came a little bit early, but you know what that means?!?  It means I've almost been here a year already and am officially the one who (kinda) knows what the hell is going on!  Cool trick, huh?

After a lifetime of preparation for the Peace Corps, I remember how it felt as the plane landed here in Colombia: the mixture of excitement, anxiousness and nervousness.  Even more nerve-racking: there wasn't a full group of volunteers yet in the country to show us the ropes and help us out!  (Although we had some amazing response volunteers who helped us when they could!)

Not many of the Volunteers from Cartagena and Santa Marta were able to make it to Barranquilla to meet the Newbies.  I felt drawn towards doing so.  I was feeling nostalgic about my own arrival here in Colombia and just wanted to be a friendly, reassuring face to those getting off the plane: whether they were super excited, or scared out of their pants!  Plus Jonathan lives in Barranquilla, so any trip to Barranquilla has an extra incentive ;)

The few extra hours we waited at the airport after several delays gave us plenty of time to take some pictures and have a really fantastic, silly time together.  I would gladly have waited several more hours with this fantastic group of fellow volunteers and Peace Corps Colombia staff!

We also had plenty of time to practice a few amazing parodies that the Barranquilla volunteers wrote for the new Volunteers.  One of the songs was written to the tune of 'Call Me Maybe' by I have no idea who. Carlie something, right?  Most of the current volunteers here in Colombia were at a distinct disadvantage having gleaned from our ever decreasing ties to US pop culture that this was a popular song but not really knowing the tune!  I had only ever heard the song once (when I was back home last June).  But despite this, it was very well received!  Check out the youtube video here:  Call Me Maybe Parody by Peace Corps Colombia

And the clever lyrics.  I'll highlight my favorites for you!

We sent our apps with a wish
and said goodbye with a kiss
we were looking for this
yeah now we're here to stay
Turns out it's hotter than hell
we're here til we ring that bell
Yeah now you're here to stay

Many young minds we're moldin'
some ac and we'd be golden
wish that tasty wind was blowin
Think that class is canceled, maybe?

Hey we just met you
And this is crazy
Welcome to Peace Corps
PC Trainee
It's hard to leave home
Some call it crazy
But here's our numbers
Call us maybe?!

Most people walk at a crawl
Buses aren't built for the tall
But we're still having a ball
Just gotta find your own way

From the sun your face peels
We're all gringos and that's real
24/7 you feel
Everyone stares your way

Bridge, Chorus

And all the men will
give piroooopos
Don't give your number
But call us Maybe

Welcome to the coast we're sweating so bad
We're sweating so bad
we're sweating so so bad

Welcome to the coast
Cause we're so glad
You finally made it
We'll call you Trainee!! 

So, the new volunteers arrived on Wednesday and we were told in no uncertain terms that we were NOT allowed to take them out that night.  So we waited until Friday :) Every Friday in Barranquilla there is a fun football game organized by some of the volunteers at Shakira's school: Pies Descalzos.  Most of the new volunteers were able to make it to either play or watch!

By the time everyone got cleaned up after the game, we were ready to go out around 11pm.  Which is a pretty perfect time to start the evening on the coast!  However, due to tiredness and not wanting to rock the boat on the third day in country, we only had three of the new volunteers willing to go out with us!  We thought for their first outing we would take them to the most famous Salsa club in Barranquilla: La Troja.

La Troja

Normally I'm not a big fan of La Troja, it's just so crowded and loud...but this night was one of the most fun I've had in Colombia!  We had a really great mix of Colombians and Americans...and just enough aguardiente ;)  I'll leave you with some of the evidence of our fun in hopes it will entice you all to come down to Colombia and join in!

That really is how much you sweat here...just gotta embrace it!

In case you can't salsa, just teach the Colombians obnoxious American dance moves!  

Showin' em how its done!  Apparently I'm the only one taking this seriously!!
Miss you all so much.  Can't believe it's almost been a year.  Hope some of you can make it down here for a quick vacation <3  Love you and keep in touch!

jueves, 31 de mayo de 2012

Home Sweet Home!

With my upcoming trip to Chicago just DAYS away, I thought I'd take a moment to reflect on the things I won't be taking for granted stateside...

1.  Toilet Seats

I don't knw what Colombian's have against toliet seats. Maybe they are just a popular item to be stolen or maybe they have thighs of steal and can squat all day, but more often than not when you're out in public, and even in my own home, there are no toliet seats! 

2. Toilet Paper...that you can flush!

So, any good traveler knows that you always have to bring your own toilet paper while out and about.  But on the coast here (who knows, maybe it's different in the rest of the country), due to bad plumbing you almost surely can NOT throw your toilet paper into the bowl.  There is a garbage provided next to the toilet to throw your used toilet paper into.  Not gonna lie, this one took me a while to get used to...a habit of 25 years is hard to break! Looking forward to no smelly toilet paper bins next to the toilet stateside!

 3. Garbage Dumpsters

 In most places on the coast, people don't use garbage bins or garbage bags, they just put garbage in small plastic bags that you get from the store.  Because of this, the garbage men come by three times a week to collect these small bags full of garbage...and smelly toilet paper.  However, you can't just throw the bags out front any time of the day because of rodent issues and rainy season so you have to do it late at night, or before you leave the house on garbage days...which I always forget to do!  I miss the days of garbage dumpsters and garbage bins you emptied when necissary and the rest was taken care of...instead of having a weeks worth of garbage pile up : (

4.  Washing Machines Hooked Up To The Water

Fortunately most families that the volunteers are living with do have washing machines (although a few don't!).  However, not very many are hooked up to the main water supply.  Instead we have to take the washing machine outside (so not a rainy day activity!) and use the hose to fill it with water and then rinse the clothes off.  Luckily I've been able to evade my host mother's suggestion that I wash my white load first so that I can reuse the (dirty) water for the next load. While doing laundry here there is no downtime.  To do one load takes about an hour of constant working and monotoring. The days of spinning a dial, pushing a button and relaxing for the next 40 minutes are looking pretty good!
5.  Air Conditioning

This one's a no-brainer!  Every day for almost two weeks the heat index has been between 107 and 109.  Maybe if you were sitting perfectly still, barely breathing then the fan in my room would cut it and keep you from getting heat stroke, but add any movement or activity to this heat and it's brutal.  True Story: The teachers at my old school told my students I didn't work there anymore becaue I had a 'sweating disease.' If that were the case, I wouldn't be able to work anywhere on the coast!!

6.  Seasons

Okay, so I'm not exacly hoping for another massive blizzard, but I sure do miss the weather changing and having that change to look forward to.  This heat would be more bearable if I knew it lasted only a couple of months! My dad has always said he could never live without seasons.  I take all my scoffing back father, I now agree with you 100%.  I want all four beautiful seasons and all they bring with them!

7. Sidewalks

The sidewalks that I've grown accustomed to here, when they exist, are woefully inept!  Now part of this is due to old neighborhoods that lack planning and crazy rainy seasons that wash everything away, but I look forward to walking down the street without having to watch my every step (to the point where you can barely have a conversation with the person walking next to you you're concentrating so hard)  or jump out into the road and join the none-to-friendly drivers whose greatest joy in life is honking their horns.  
8.  Reasonable Public Transportation

                                                                          Public Transportation is kinda out of control...especially in Barranquilla!  The buses are so full you can't breath..and you also can't help but sweat all over people.  There's is an itty bitty aisle that people have to stand cramped together holding on for dear life as the bus driver (or chofer) drives like a maniac.  I'm pretty sure they're all still learning how to drive stick..and then when someone has to get off the bus and squeeze through the aisle, the real fun starts.  Some of the worse experiences I've had in Colombia have been on buses in Barranquilla!  And while we'e at it how about letting pedestrians have the right away!  Nothing Strikes terror in my heart quite like having to cross the street in this country...fairly certain their aiming for me. Bonus points for gringos?

9.  Express Check-Out Lines

So hot, coastal areas have a reputation for doing things slowly.  It makes sense when you think about it.  But my god do I miss express check-out lines!  You will loose 30 of your life, minimum walking into any grocery store here.  The lines move excruciating slowly.  Excruciating.  And in the grocery store by my house you can pay your utility bills too...so you never know you got behind a ridiculously long transaction until they pull the bill out of the purse or pocket!  10 extra minutes for that transaction alone when all I really wanted to buy was this bottle of water...
10.  Food Variety

Okay, I am clearly not wasing away down here, but the lack of  variety and spice on anything can be frustrating!  I pretty much get the same meal every day from my family consisting of rice, beans, and either eggs, chicken, or fish.  We don't even have an oven in the house! Luckily there are a handful of ethnic food places in the center of Cartagena, but dining out tends to be beyond the Peace Corps Volunteer's budget!  A friend of mine lives with a family who owns a restaurant and actually had to introduce them to pepper...that how little spices are used!  I am looking forward to some home cooking from my mom, crab, sushi, mexican, deep dish piza, lasgna...well, you get the point!

11. Wine

Speaking of things out of the Peace Corps Volunteer's budget!  There's nothing quite like relaxing with friends and a glass of wine to chat or forget the stresses of the day.  Seeing as we don't have spaces to call our own to invite friends over to, and the fact that small mixed-gender gatherings are frowned upon culturally, and the fact that I'm not eating delicous food that I would want to pair a delicious wine with, I've been managing to cope...but I know I've already got a few bottles of full-bodied reds waiting at home for me.  I can't wait to share them with the ones I love and catch up on the last 8 months of my life. 

Miss you all and let's make a deal to see each other or chat when I'm home next week enjoying everything and everyone I've missed so dearly!

jueves, 24 de mayo de 2012

New Site!!!

Me standing in front of my brand new site, and NGO called Granitos de Paz

Those of you keeping up with the blog just learned all about the work that I had been doing at my primary site, the local High School where I had been working.  However, four months in Peace Corps has decided to rock my world and change my site!  Allow me to share a little bit about the process that brought me to my new home away from home…away from home...

I arrived at my original site, CASD Manuel Beltran, knowing that the school was on probation of sorts.  The previous volunteer did not recommend a new volunteer be sent there and the higher ups in the the Peace Corps office had a serious talk with them that if they didn´t shape up, I would ship out.

After several months of banging my head against a brick wall and a routine check-up by the office, they recommended a site change.  I was told that all they could do was encourage a site change, but the decision was up to me.  I was told that the site change would be a unique opportunity, allowng me to be the only volunteer working outside of  a school setting and with an NGO (for more information on Non Governmental Organizations please see the following link http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ngo) I asked for more time to consider my options, the feeling of quitting weighing greatly on me.

After several weeks and no answer from me, I got a surprise visit from some of the staff from Barranquilla.  They came all the way to Cartagena to introduce me to the enthusiastic folks at Granitos de Paz, or Grains of Peace, the NGO they wanted me to work with. Basically they came to give me the kick in the pants I needed to make this difficult decision.  I spent an amazing morning getting to know the people at Granitos de Paz and about the work they do.  Their enthusiasm was astounding and infectious.  Although it pained me leave CASD, I felt it would be foolish to let such enthusiasm and grandiose ideas go to waste.  The following week I started visiting Granitos and have now started working with them full time.

Granitos de Paz is an NGO created in 2004 to serve one of the poorest communities in Cartagena in the neighborhood of Olaya.

The program is centered upon the entire family and focused on sustainability. By the entire family participating in five main pillars of the foundation or fronts, they hope to permanently move these families and the neighborhood out of extreme poverty. These five pillars are: education, health and family planning, habitation and environment, training and income generation, and culture and sports.  

Granitos has a wide variety of programs including their own 15-room early learning center for infants through preschoolers. Seeing as 21 out of every 100 children in the area are malnourished, basic health and nutrition are covered as well as classes for the parents in values, job training and health.  They also have an air-conditioned center for the older community members where they receive a daily balanced lunch, health care and develop educational and leisure activities geared for active aging.  Focused on sustainably there is an urban farming project that extends from food-producing backyards, to a community restaurant and a distribution apparatus to sell the fresh produce to local hotels, restaurants, and stores. Other projects include a store at the port where they cell handmade artisan goods from the community, an industrial sewing course, a sports school for children between 5 and 16, a computer room with internet and digital literacy classes, construction to provide adequate housing, waste removal construction to combat the lack of a sewage system, and a bakery to create revenue to fund other projects.

Finally surrounded by kiddos again!!

The outdoor play area at the Early Learning Center
Part of the 'productive patio' project turning useless backyards into growing areas for fresh vegitables and herbs. These community memebers are then able to suppliment their diet with fresh, healthly, organic food and sell the excess to local hotels and supermarkets for quite the profit!

My first day working with Granitos de Paz I worked with a group of American doctors and volunteers who came to provide free health care to those in need.  All day translating and learning some new technical spanish!  A far cry from my first day at CASD where I was left in the staff lounge alone for three hours!!

Obviously I will be focusing my efforts on education.  I have specific plans to support local teachers thus making my work here sustainable and Granitos de Paz has a goal to hire a full time Enlgish teacher when funding is available that I will help train. I will be focusing on three main areas:  the early childhood center, the primary school, and teaching English to those seeking jobs in tourism.  However, I´m looking forward to learning more about the community and how to best offer support.  I am already planning charlitas regarding HIV/AIDS  as well as financial planning classes to help the families who are seeing an influx of money into their budget.

The support that I am receiving from Granitos de Paz is overwhelming and I can´t wait to see where this partnership takes us!  After the difficult move to Barranquilla and another big move to Cartagena just as I was getting settled in there, I'm looking forward to a little stability  with no big traumatic changes! 
Miss you all and can't wait to be back stateside for my birthday is less than 2 weeks!!

domingo, 20 de mayo de 2012

HIV/AIDS Training

This past week I did what thousands of Peace Corps Volunteers around the world have done, I went through a week long intensive HIV/AIDS training.  In many countries, Peace Corps volunteers arrive with their 2 year mission being to combat the spread of HIV and AIDS and provide medical care to those infected.  However, all volunteers who serve in Africa, the Caribbean, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia, regardless of their primary focus, are trained in basic HIV/AIDS prevention and care.  It is a worldwide initiative that is seeing results.

As far as statistics go, Colombia is about on par with the United States, both having an adult prevelence rate of .6%  This is a far cry from Swaziland, a country in Africa with the highest percentage of adult HIV/AIDS cases at at staggering 26.10%  Can you imagine more than one out of four people over the age of 15 having HIV or AIDS?  Or in South Africa where there are 5.3 million people living with HIV or AIDS?

The last time I sat through any informative session on HIV/AIDS was over a decade ago in high school Health class, and I must say there was some misinformation on my part and serious gaps in information.  Although it made for some long days sitting in a conferenc room in Barranquilla listening to technical Spanish, I learned a lot and am excited to implement some new projects at my site.  Focusing on sustainabilty, every Peace Corps brought a 'counterpart' from the community to the training as well. This way when we leave in a year and a half, we don't take all the information with us!! I brought Marling from a fantastic NGO called Granitos de Paz who is a social worker working in the areas of health and family training in one of Cartagena's poorest neighborhoods.  I can't wait to see what programs we can set up together for the community.

Our training covered everything from facts and statistics about HIV/AIDS and how it attacks the human body, how the virus is and ISN'T transmitted,  prevention, behavior modifaction techniques to target risky behaviors that transmit HIV, presentations from a Colombian doctor to discuss HIV/AIDS in Colombia, presentations from local ONGs who are working in the area of HIV preventions, a panel of experts, correct condom use, stigmas and discrimination and their effects on those infected with HIV/AIDS, sex, gender and HIV, and lastly how to present the information and impower various groups in our communities...as well as some icebreaker/team building activities to keep the day moing along and participants in high spirits. 

Abby not so enthusiastically modeling the newly learned pinch and roll technique of applying a condom in order to keep air out of the condom and reducing the risk of the condom breaking
One our fantastic trainers who is currently serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Latin America giving us the condom talk. Always remember to check the experation date and check that there is air in the condom package, open the packet with your hands NOT your teeth, pinch the top of the condom while rolling the condom down the hard shaft to keep any air out of the condom and then remove it carefully from the base while still hard after sex. 

A visual representation of how HIV affects/attacts the body, weakening the immune system so opportunistic diseases such as the common cold, diarrhea, and pneumonia cause serious problems.  A great activity to be used with a younger audience!

And handout on how to promote abstinence amongst adolecents.  In a country where a lot of cildren start having sex around 12, I'm not sure how effective telling them to go horseback riding, write each other poems, and comunicating privately with their eyes will be...
and having way to much fun doing it!!
Doing and activity where I play
my group like a piano...

And what Colombian, or rather Costeno because I hear the folks on the interior are quite different, event would be complete without a raging party? We were celebrating 3 Peace Corps volunteer birththdays during AIDS training and about 10 participants in the month of May so most people chipped in, bought a birthday cake, baloons, hats, and masks to celebrate in style.  This is a common occurance at all of the schools we work at on a monthly basis.  It's a kinda crazy...

I'll be the first to admit, this is entirely overbard...

but when in Rome!

Well, like always, thanks for reading folks!  Stick around for a few more minutes if you want to test your knowledge of HIV/AIDS.  (Answers at the bottom!)

1.  Which on of the following liquids does NOT transmit HIV?
a)  semen    b)  breast milk  c)  saliva  d)  blood  e)  vaginal fluids

2.  Rank the four bodily fluids that transmit HIV from most potent to least.

3.  Who are more likely to transmit HIV to their partners, men or women?

4. How long is the window from potential exposure until an HIV test can come back positive?

5.  What does Vertical Transmition refer to in the transmition of HIV?

6.  Spitting out the semen after giving oral sex greatly lessens the risk of contracting HIV?  T/F

7.  How long after contracting HIV can you go asymptomatic?

8. What are the three ways of preventing the spread of HIV, sexually speaking.

9.  Which sex act has the highest risk of transmitting HIV: anal, vaginal, or oral sex?

10.  There is effective medication to prevent the spread of HIV from mother to child in utero? T/F


 1.  SALIVA!  So kiss away! 
2.  Blood  -->  Semen -->  Vaginal Fluids  --> Breast Milk
3.  Seeing as semen is a more potent carrier of HIV, MEN are more likely to give HIV to their partner.
4.  After potential exposure, the earliest you can know if you have contracted HIV is three months, but most cases become evident between 3 and 6 months
5.  Vertical Transmition is when a mother passes HIV to her child during pregnancy/childbirth
6.  FALSE!!  Once the semen is in your mouth it is being absorbed through pours in your mouth and the damage is done.
7.  A person with HIV/AIDS can go up to 10 years without showing any signs of the virus/disease.
8.  Abstinence, fidelity, and proper use of a condom.
9.  Anal sex has the highest risk of spreading HIV.
10.  TRUE.  If a pregnant women with HIV or AIDS takes proper medication she can reduce the chance of vertical transmittion from 33% to around  5%

jueves, 19 de abril de 2012

Workidy, Work, Work, Work!

So, I know that some of you have been thinking, "Golly Gee, it looks like she's having fun...but didn't she go there to work?!"  And how do I know you've been thinking this?? Well, because you've…you know who you are…have had the tactfulness to say it to me! So, allow me to give you a little insight on my working life here in Colombia...

So first of all, my apologies; this blog post has been a long time coming!  But the cultural meaning of 'time’ down here is a little different ;)  When I moved to Cartagena I was so excited to finally be out of training and get started with the work I came here to do!  Meetings with the teachers started the following day at my assigned school for a mandatory two-week planning period. Leading up to this pivotal 'first-day' of meeting everyone and beginning to plan the curriculum for the year, I couldn't get anybody from my school to return a phone call telling me what time I should arrive!  A friend who teaches at a neighboring school told me I should arrive around 10am.  So, the next day I arrive at 10, okay like 9:30, where I then sit through a full-fledged Catholic mass service in one of our conference rooms, followed by a quick lunch, and then everyone promptly left.  Day one complete!  After two weeks of coming to school to plan, which mostly involved me waiting for my counterparts (Peace Corps lingo for the English Teachers I work with) to show up, the first day the student's would attend school was upon us!!

My Counterparts: Jesus and Nelly

Now my school serves 10th and 11tth graders, and only about 220 of them.  So imagine my surprise, when on the first day of classes for the students, nobody had a schedule!  The kids were put into a room and watched a movie for the first day.  And as if that weren’t shocking enough, this continued for three weeks!  For three weeks nobody had a schedule and students just milled about school (the ones who still attended, that is).  However, things have begun to pick up over the past few weeks and I have been able to get into accomplishing the three goals of Peace Corps Colombia: English Teacher Technical Training, Extracurricular English Training Opportunities for Students and Teachers from Other Subject Areas, and Support to Community Initiatives Within the Field of Education and Youth Development.           

Goal One: English Teacher Technical Training. The objective is to not only improve the English of English teachers, but also improve current Teaching English as a Foreign Language, or TEFL, methodologies, aid in the development of teaching resources and lesson planning, as well as the implementation of said plans in the classroom.  This is a vital goal that needs to be accomplished if there is any hope of Colombian schools becoming fully bilingual--teaching all classes in Spanish and English--as the Colombian Secretary of Education has decreed. Furthermore, this goal is centered around sustainability. If I were to come here and teach English for two years and then leave, not much would change. However, by training Colombian English teachers who will continue to teach for 5, 10, 15 more years, we have the potential to change the education landscape in the cities where we work!

 Most of you are familiar with this goal, as this is the one I was familiar with before I left! Basically what this goal boils down to is co-planning, co-teaching, and giving workshops.  As any Peace Corps volunteer here in Colombia will tell you, getting counterparts to plan with us is not easy!  Lesson planning is something that is not focused on, nor required, while completing courses to become a teacher.  Furthermore, they have managed this many years without planning, so why start now?!? is the attitude we face.  However, improving methodologies and presenting new activities is crucial to fulfilling this goal, so we all keep trying!  Generally it takes making three appointments each week, and getting stood up the first two, before I am able to plan with my teachers!  Co-teaching and being in the classroom with students is such a breath of fresh air to an educator such as myself and tends to go a little more smoothly than co-planning.  However having two leaders in a classroom can be difficult to navigate for teachers and students alike. All of this takes place during my minimum 18 hours (remember this is only one part, of one of three Peace Corps goals I am tasked with!) that I am required to be at CASD Manuala Beltran.

Security you must make it through before gaining access to my school.  

After the security entrance, the entrance to the school.  

My school is rather spacious and partly indoors, party outdoors!
Our English classroom!  So very lucky to have an air-conditioned room with 20 computers and a projector! ....except for when the students aren't behaving and the punishment is to have class in their normal classroom that is quite warm.  It's as much as a punishment  for me!! 

In addition to co-planning and co-teaching, with the backing of the Secretary of Education in Cartagena, we are starting a Saturday morning class for all English teachers throughout Cartagena and its 'suburbs'.  I have been planning this class with fellow volunteers for quite some time and it is quite the undertaking! In this class we will give workshops and focus on improving methodology and English activities across all of Cartagena.  Our first class is this coming Saturday, so look for a blog post coming soon :)

Goal Two: Extracurricular English Training Opportunities for Students and Teachers from Other Subject Areas.  To accomplish this goal I have started a weekly English Club for my students to attend, as well as a weekly English Class for all teachers at CASD...and some community members too!

My English Club for students is my baby, and what keeps me going through some rough weeks!  The school day in Colombia is broken up into sessions, or jornadas.  There are simply too many students and not enough schools for all students to attend classes at once.  At CASD, one jornada starts at 6:40am and finishes and 12 noon and the second begins at 1:40pm and ends at 6:30pm.  Now most Colombian teachers teach more than one jornada every day because the salary for one jornada (more than I make, I must say!), is not enough to live on.  However students only attend one jornada, except at technical school such as mine.  At my school every student attends one jornada five days a week and also attends a second jornada three days a week for technical classes.  These are students who will not be attending University and are looking for technical skills to help them get a job right out of high school.

I give both my English club for students and English class for teachers during the lunch break from noon-1:30. That means some of my students, who eat lunch quickly and attend my Club are at school and in classes for 12 hours straight...talk about dedication!  This term my English Club is focused on music. Every week we learn the words to a popular English song and do a corresponding activity.  This week, every student has chosen their favorite English singer/group researched them and are creating large handwritten 'Facebook Profiles'  about them.  I have a wonderful group of students who attend and this club not only fulfils goal two for the Peace Corps, but fulfils me. 

Sorry about the poor quality, still working on getting my camera fixed, so this is a cell phone photo of  my students working hard at creating 'storyboard' for a music video to one of the songs we just learned.
And the girls doing the same activity! 

The English class for teachers is slightly more difficult, full of teachers who have very specific ideas of what they want to learn and how they want to learn…which is great if it’s a one0on-one class and not full of 10 different opinions.  But the important thing is I have a classroom full of people who want to learn and who want to be there…every teacher’s dream!

Goal Three: Support to Community Initiatives Within the Field of Education and Youth Development.  This goal opens up a multitude of options for Peace Corps Volunteers in Colombia, and allows for a little bit (the only bit) of autonomy in our lives.  Within the third goal, we are able to follow our passions and create what the Peace Corps calls Secondary Projects.  These projects can be related to youth groups, empowering women and young girls, sports teams, movie clubs, early childhood education, etc.

Since I arrived in Cartagena I have been searching for the appropriate outlet for my desire to continue my work in the field of Early Childhood Education. In addition to working with young children, I would also like to work with their parents. It has been a passion of mine give classes and guidance to young parents and pregnant mothers about the development of their infant/toddler. By the time the brain is 5 years old it is 90% developed.  I believe to truly ‘level the playing field’ and eradicate education inequality you need to work with young children and help give them the tools, the brain development, to compete with their peers.

I have visited several organizations, and am in the process of finalizing which organization or NGO I will be volunteering at to complete my third goal…look for more blogs on this to come J

So there you have it…proof that I do work in the Peace Corps!  Look forward to a slightly more lighthearted and less technical blog coming soon about all the things I used to take for granted in the USA.  Miss you all and love you.  Will be coming back to Chicago in June for my birthday, so mark your calendars!