I talked to my sister a month ago and she asked, “So, what is it that you do in Peace Corps? You mostly post about daily life.” I appreciate that observation because I think it’s really important for you all to know that my time here and your tax payer money is going to good use. I haven’t been great at keeping you informed.
The first several months at site after training (7 months for us) are usually devoured by acclimating to a completely new culture and way of life. We all have our primary projects throughout service. For Aaron and I, we were only needed about 3 days a week in our primary projects. So, besides observing and gathering information about our schools, a majority of our time involved just learning to live comfortably here.
The way I thought of Peace Corps in the past was through volunteers’ secondary projects. Our primary projects are the reason the host country government invited us here. So, PC is brought here to work as teachers in schools governed by the Uganda Ministry of Education, to work with village health teams through Uganda Ministry of Health, or to work with organizations in economic development. Secondary projects are the small and large grant projects initiated by volunteers. They can be anything from hosting community workshops to train Ugandans in a special skill, to starting income generating projects or businesses with locals, to building libraries at schools. We are supposed to maintain our primary projects throughout our term of service, but sometimes people are placed in a situation where they don’t mesh well or aren’t appreciated in their primary project position and end up focussing solely on a secondary project. It’s different for every volunteer. For a lot of us, secondary projects are what keep us sane and allow us to tailor our work here to what we want to do when we return home.
For Aaron and I, our primary projects are being teachers or teacher trainers. It’s pretty straightforward there. I am a Math and ICT (computer) teacher at a secondary school. Aaron is a teacher trainer in Literacy skills at a primary teachers’ college. We devote 3 days a week to that primary project. I also teach English once a week but the Ministry of Education invited me here for Math and ICT, not English. I’d still group that under my primary project, though.
So now I will explain our secondary projects. I wrote a grant in July to get solar power for my school’s computer lab so that I could train teachers and students in computer programs that support English literacy. The grant was approved and the the solar installation is supposed to be complete today. I’ve cleaned and organized the lab, installed programs for typing skills, a library of novels, and Encarta encyclopedia. I’ll also put some math and science videos on the computer so students can listen to English being spoken while learning something valuable. This school term is devoted to training teachers and a very small focus group of students from the graduating classes. Next term will be devoted to training a select group of teachers more rigorously so that they can take over my role over time. The last two terms of next year will reach all students in literacy programs.
Aaron’s secondary projects right now include trying to secure a commitment with a US based organization to build a public library at his school. The organization is reviewing the pictures and profile he submitted and they are serious about following through so hopefully they will start soon. They will furnish books and a librarian too, which is pretty cool. Aaron is also working with another volunteer teaching students at the teachers’ college how to make their own story books for the classes they will teach in primary school, as well as other visual aids supporting literacy.
We are super busy!!!! So, a project we are working on together right now is a proposal to build teacher housing for poor, rural schools in Uganda. The ultimate goal being to improve academic performance at these schools. Teachers are paid little (not like US teacher salaries that are not adequate – like $50 a month kind of situations). The teachers are transferred without much notice, so some of them don’t have family in the regions where they work, so they must rent. The schools are often far from towns where they rent, so transport becomes burdensome. They aren’t paid on time; they sometimes go 3 to 6 months without pay! So, a lot of teachers don’t show up regularly. Therefore, students aren’t learning what they need to know. Etcetera etcetera. Our proposal is due this week. We are working our heads off trying to get it right. We have community planning, volunteerism, master planning, permagardening, rainwater harvesting, and alternative sustainable construction materials (earthbags and, with assistance from an organization another volunteer works for, ISSB bricks) incorporated into the project.
Along with all of that, we are on a few committees that serve Peace Corps Uganda internally. I’m on the Volunteer Advocacy Committee; I just take issues from volunteers in our group to administration and try to work out solutions with admin. Our group is pretty laid back and that work has been super easy. One committee I recently signed onto that I’m excited about is the HIV/AIDS outreach committee as a regional coordinator. I don’t have much to do with it yet but I should next term. I hope to learn a lot about how to talk to my students about HIV/AIDS and sexual health, and also encourage our teachers to do so. Aaron’s on a committee to inform other volunteers about diversity, and another committee that edits and publishes written work by Ugandan youth.
Next year I’m hoping to build a library out of earthbags (grain sacks filled with earth) and get books through Books for Africa. Aaron wants to build earthbag classrooms at a poor, rural private school he’s been visiting. And we want to do a lot more with special needs groups of students and train teachers on how to deal with special needs. So, we’ll be doing a lot of research again over the next term break.
Tired of reading? I’m done:)