Saturday, November 26, 2016
Sunday, November 20, 2016
This year, our children advanced one grade, meaning that we now had 6th graders. The Ministry of Education alloted us a new teacher, but we also needed a new classroom. Thus, the little room that served as my library last year was converted into a classroom. The library shelves were relocated to the hallway area outside the principal's office—a smaller, tighter area, but it was the best we could do given the particular circumstances. In an effort to push academics harder, the weekly designated 10-minute library periods for each class were removed from the class schedules. Instead, students would simply check out and return library books during their lunch and morning breaks (assuming I was around at the time to log the transaction).
I was supportive of all these administrative decisions. However, I noticed that the circulation rate for my little library had declined this year compared with last year. Yet I knew I had "an ace up my sleeve" that would improve the situation and spark the joy of reading for my students. Brand new books were on their way!click on this page for more details before this special deal expires.]
Since the Road Runner cartoon show was one of my favorites as a child, this well-written non-fiction book gets my personal prize as the best of the new books. It teaches them simple physics by analyzing Wile E. Coyote's mistakes. The picture below shows both the front and back covers.see my previous blog post with pictures about this process). Between all my other duties at school, it took several days to process hundreds of books.
It dawned on me that we needed to hold a book fair to showcase all these new books. Book fairs are a common occurrence in American elementary schools, but are rarely held in Dominica. This was the perfect time to introduce my school and village to the concept.
Just stuffing them on our limited shelving space would make it hard for the children to really see all these great new books. By inviting the children to come to the school on a Saturday afternoon, we could place all the books face up on tables where they could easily examine them. We could also sell some of older books that we need to remove from our shelves to make room for all these new ones. Plus, we could sell some snacks and drinks to raise some much needed money for the school. The staff agreed with this idea, so in just a couple of days, we threw together our first book fair. The children were informed, signs were put up around the community, and an announcement was made on our school's Facebook page. We weren't sure what to expect in terms of participation, but we figured it was worth a try.
On Saturday morning, another teacher and myself arrived early. The folding walls between the three classes were swung back, and desks were pushed together (plus covered with cloth) to form six tables. Signs were made denoting the six tables for the fiction and non-fiction versions of the three Beginning, Intermediate, and Advanced book categories. The books were then arrayed on each table to optimize viewing of their covers. It was the best way for the children to peruse all these great new books.
We finished the afternoon with a prize drawing. I had five kites (which the children love flying on our playing field) that I had brought back with me, which I had decided to donate for this event. With one of them, I also added a few of those glowsticks that can be curled into bracelets. I explained that this kite was a “night kite” because you could bend the glowsticks, attach to the kite, and fly your kite after dark. The boys especially were excited about this prospect. It will be interesting to see if this idea works out successfully.
As I write this on Saturday night, I look back on this first Book Fair with mixed emotions. I had hoped to have more people turn out on a Saturday afternoon (we had about two dozen of our nearly three dozen students, plus various community members). I would have liked to have sold all the used books we had, and made more money for the school. However, one of the things I am learning in Peace Corps is that you cannot control everything, and that I should feel good that we pulled off this event in a relatively short timespan of just a few days. The good news is that I am sure this will “jump start” the excitement about reading at our school, and will have an immediate impact on the circulation rate problem that I had noted earlier.
One more interesting thing happened this day. Just like when I left the school after Community Service Day, our local fisherman had returned with an unusual catch. On that day, I had purchased my first shark to cook. On this day, I purchased my first lion fish (see a picture below). This invasive species is from the Indo-Pacific area, but has been proliferating in the Atlantic where it has no natural predators. It is believed that humans caused this invasion by dumping unwanted lion fish from home aquariums. To combat this invader, people are being encouraged to eat this fish. It is very healthy and quite tasty! I certainly enjoyed my fried lion fish, and will buy it again whenever I can. It was a good way to end a productive day.
Sunday, November 13, 2016
I helped make many of these signs (I started running out of alliterative slogans after “Defeat Diabetes,” “Deter Diabetes,” “Defend Against Diabetes,” “Don't Die From Diabetes,” etc.) while demonstrating different font styles (they seemed to really like my overlapping big block letters that look as if they were mashed together). It was a fun art experience during school hours for children who, unlike American students, don't get much art time (or have a lot of art resources with which to create art). Below is one of the signs I hurriedly created that afternoon before we all went home at the end of the day.
Monday, November 7, 2016
This year, we have an official school lunch program. Two of our parents (both of whom got their food handler certifications) come upstairs each morning to work in our small kitchen, preparing a lunch for students and staff. Students are encouraged to bring lunch money each day, or bring in-kind donations of food. Thus it is not all that unusual to see students arriving in the morning with plantains, breadfruit, dasheen, cucumbers, seasoning peppers, etc. I know I do my part to keep this program going! The food I eat at school is probably my best meal of the day, and certainly beats the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches I used to bring.
For the first two months this school year, students would take their plates and find a seat wherever they could around the outside of the school. We have two benches near the school, but there wasn't enough room for everyone to eat on them. It wasn't uncommon for them to simply sit on the ground.
Thankfully, the National Co-operative Credit Union gave us a donation to purchase four wooden picnic tables. A big project on National Day of Community Service was to install anchoring hardware on the legs, dig holes, level up the tables, and pour concrete to set the tables permanently. The assistance from the visiting Seamester college students on this particular work project was greatly appreciated.
Over the weekend, I got thinking about our new lunch tables. They are near the end of the school where we have an exterior water spigot. However, there is no soap there, so students wishing to wash their hands before eating need to go to our bathrooms to clean up. It would be more convenient (and perhaps encourage more to wash their hands) if they could just go over to the nearby "pipe" (as it is called here).
So, I asked our cook if I could have a leftover mesh bag which had held some garlic. I cut some yellow cord that I had brought with me (part of my “MacGyver stuff”). I dug out a big plastic bin that had contained some mints that had been mailed to me (because down here I've learned to save everything—you never know when a cardboard tube or a plastic container might come in handy).
Once I had my supplies, I used my multi-tool to “drill” a small hole in the bottom of the bin. I then threaded the yellow cord through the hole, dropped a white bar of soap into the mesh net, tied that bag to the cord, and carried it to school this morning. Once there, I tied it to the vent pipe that runs next to the water pipe.
The upside-down clear plastic bin provides coverage so that the rain showers we get here periodically won't cause the soap to wear down prematurely. The students can now wet their hands, reach up into the large plastic bin, rub their hands on the soap surrounded by netting, and then rinse the soap off their hands.
Now that you can tell how excited I can get over something as simple as my “soap-on-a-rope,” you might better understand why Friday was such a special day.
Saturday, November 5, 2016
It all started a few weeks ago when I learned that a sailing ship with about a dozen American college students would be stopping in Portsmouth on November 4, and were interested in visiting a school while they were here. They are part of a fantastic program called “Seamester” which provides them with an education while exploring the Caribbean in a two-masted schooner called the Ocean Star. [If you know anyone who might be interested, check out http://www.seamester.com/.]
I had explained to my contact person with Seamester that there was no school on November 4 because it is a national holiday here. In Dominica, they celebrate Independence Day on November 3, and then immediately hold a second holiday called National Day of Community Service. Everyone is expected to participate in volunteer efforts in their village (although apparently participation rates vary depending on the community spirit). My village enthusiastically embraces this holiday. I invited them to come and help volunteer with the school improvement projects we would be working on that day. Fortunately, they thought this was a great idea, since community service is one of Seamester's points of emphasis. Since buses don't run on holidays, I arranged with a driver from my village to take his bus over to Portsmouth to pick them up that morning at 9:30 AM, and then return them at 1:30 PM.
Having a large group of American college students come to visit our village and help with school improvement projects was a big thing! We looked forward to hosting them. However, there was another major event that helped make this “The. Best. Day. Ever.”
I learned the U.S. Ambassador to the island nations of the Eastern Caribbean, the Honorable Linda Taglialatela, was in Dominica for Independence Day. I invited her to come to my village to see Dominica's unique National Day of Community Service (which is a wonderful concept) in action. I was thrilled when I received word that she would indeed be interested in attending that morning, along with one of her staffers as well as a friend of theirs from the Canadian embassy (I guess that means we hosted a multi-national diplomatic delegation!). [Below is a picture taken in front of our school (with the black SUV carrying an American flag on the fender) before they left.]
I woke up early for this big day, and headed for the school before 7:00 AM to help get things in order. Upon the Ambassador's arrival, we decided to explore the village first and then come back to the school (which worked well since the American students would not be arriving until about 10:00 AM). Our village council had three major projects underway (four if you count all the women preparing food for the workers).
The first stop was near the end of the main road at the top of the village. The last house up the hill belongs to a beloved octogenarian, and the roadway and the drainage alongside it needed repaired. Men from the village had started at dawn on this project to replace some of the concrete sections of the road, using only shovels, wheelbarrows, and bagged concrete—a far cry from roadbuilding in America.
While up there, she visited with those preparing the food, and got to see breadfruit being roasted on an open fire. She expressed interest in it, so a knife was produced, the black scorched skin was removed as well as the center section, chunks were cut, and they all got to savor the smokey taste of warm breadfruit fresh from the flames. It all took place on a gorgeous vantage point overlooking the village and the Atlantic Ocean, as shown below in this picture with the village council president, the Ambassador, and myself.
There is a cacao tree near the spring, and lo and behold it had one ripe yellow pod hanging from it. One of the village kids offered to get it down, and then the village council president opened the fruit to expose the cacao beans, which are surrounded in a moist white gelatinous coating which is sucked on until the dark bean is left. These beans are then dried, roasted, and turned into chocolate (check out this previous blog story for more information on how cacao beans are processed).
As the diplomatic delegation was sampling the early stage of chocolate, here came my Peace Corps colleague up the trail, with 13 young Americans following her. Everyone got to try a cacao bean while we were up at the spring (a beautiful place that everyone seemed to appreciate)!
I then accompanied the Ambassador to the bottom of our village to see the work going on at the village council's fundraising center/bus stop along the main road. As with the previous stops, she was very friendly to everyone she met. We also got to point out and express gratitude for the bridge that was built many years ago for our main street with help from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Below is a picture with a red box added around "USAID" to see it on this fading sign.L'islet. They enjoyed climbing the cliff and seeing the beautiful views from this peninsula that juts out into the bay.
Before they left, the school staff treated them with a nice lunch featuring a traditional Dominican meal of roasted breadfruit, saltfish, cucumbers, and oranges. They also got to enjoy a dessert they rarely get—ice cream. Some of you will recally from previous blog stories that I have often purchased ice cream cones for our students when are on a school trip. However, on our way back from the National Youth Rally on Wednesday, one of the teachers and myself decided to do something different. Rather than stop in Portsmouth for ice cream cones to be eaten before getting back on the bus, we stopped at the supermarket and purchased a few gallon tubs of ice cream. We thought it would be good to offer it as a special reward to our students on National Day of Community Service (thus ensuring they would be there to help with the work). As it turns out, the Seamester students rarely get ice cream while living on the ship, so this was quite a treat for them, too!
However, the water never came back on last night—thus my hike in the dark to shower at the spring before going to bed. In spite of the water problem, it was still “The. Best. Day. Ever” of my Peace Corps service! [Luckily, the line was back in service today, and I was able to do my dirty dishes and other chores before posting this story.]
Thursday, November 3, 2016
BONUS: One of my Peace Corps colleagues who was assigned to St. Lucia does a weekly report on the television news there about the Peace Corps, entitled "Corps Values." In this four minute story from their newscast, she covers the recent Mid-Service Training that all of us attended recently at the Benedictine Abbey on St. Lucia. It was great to see all my "classmates" again, after we were split up and sent to different islands upon completion of our Pre-Service Training in 2015. Her report gives a good sense of what we do in the Peace Corps. [I can be seen a few times wearing a bright green shirt near the front of the room.]