Sunday, January 30, 2011

Project Update and a Feelings Check

Hi everyone!

Last week kept me busier than I had been in a long time. I was thrown into yet another teaching situation where I had no idea what was going on and was expected to teach an entire school (luckily only 51 students) representing grades 1-5 for 3 days! Of course I didn't really find out any of these details from until the morning of. As I waited to be picked up (we were in fact going to another province) I cursed the skirt I was wearing and contemplating getting a tattoo on my forehead exclaiming, "I am not a teacher!".

I was completely unprepared when I arrived at the school and luckily they had brought in an English teacher from another school to help me. She had a few activities and a good attitude so we dove right in. Difficulties abounded. We were teaching outside with a small whiteboard, one marker and a stack of paper...let's just say I ended up singing and dancing a lot. At lunch I found out that my new teacher friend would not be returning the next day. Instead of having a bad attitude about this I resolved to make the next day the best day of English learning possible for these kids. After all they were well behaved and cute. That night I planned down to the minute about teaching the body, family and of course more songs and dances. The next day, I taught all 51 children for 4 hours completely by myself. At the end of the day, it was clear that the kids couldn't possible learn English all day for a third day in a row and I was relieved of my duties.

Later in the week, the ambulance from the hospital picked me up early to visit the homes of the PHA/HIV group income generation project participants. My office counterpart and the leaders of the group joined me. We inspected each project and took tons of photos. This day was exciting for several reasons. As my last and most ambitious project, I was happy to see that everyone had used their funds appropriately and that the projects were going well. Also most everyone was keeping track of their receipts. It was a Peace Corps volunteer's dream come true! It was also heartening that the participants were willing to have me into their homes. As I have mentioned there is a large stigma associated with those with HIV in Thailand and many of these people keep to themselves. All participants have known me for two years, however, and were more than willing to have me to their homes and to take photos. Some of the living situations were pretty bad. I'm not sure how these people stay dry in the rainy season or keep their electricity going on one wire. I have seen these types of houses before, but this was the first time I actually knew the people living in them. It made me realize that this project really will help improve the livelihood of these folks. Thanks again to everyone at home who donated to the project: know that you have helped make a difference!

To see photos of the project, follow this link:

In other news, my time as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Thailand is rapidly winding down. I have been excited about my trip to Africa with my parents and brother and returning to America, but now I am starting to get sad about saying goodbye to this place and these people and my fellow volunteers. Next week in Bangkok will be the last time I see most of the other volunteers until we reunite at some point in America. I know that they will be lifelong friends but its still hard to say goodbye. They have been my family, support system, travel buddies, and companions for two years. I have learned so much from each and every one of them and am proud to have served in Thailand with them.

Thinking about saying goodbye to my Thai family and Thai friends is almost too much to think about. In a way its much harder than saying goodbye to friends and family in America because I have no idea if and when I will see these people again. It's going to be very tough. And I am feeling more and more nervous about the transition.

In other news I am still waiting to hear back from grad schools. I'm so anxious to know where I will be spending the next two years and I am greatly looking forward to my next adventure!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Not much to write home about....

So my service is winding down. Since I returned from my last vacation on January 3rd I have been in my village and won't leave again until the first of next month. All volunteers from my group are being sent to Bangkok for our last medical check-up. While there I also have my last HIV/AIDS GIG meeting. All of this is bittersweet. I know the 6 days in Bangkok will be filled with many "lasts". It will be the last time that we all gather together, play games in the hotel rooms, and take on the town. I'm not sure Bangkok is ready for it!

The money finally came in for the HIV income generation project. Yesterday I held a meeting with the participants at the hospital. My official "counterpart", who to date has not been involved with my projects, came and actually helped out quite a bit. She explained the regulations of the project, how to track receipts and helped me schedule house visits to check the progress of the projects. It is great to have her involved and helping and I hope that she learning a lot from the experience. As we left the meeting, I asked how she felt and she said she felt really good and was glad that I was there to help her country's people. In my last months of service, there is nothing that I would rather hear. We will go on the visits next Thursday, so I hope I will have lots to report after that.

I have a new group of kids for the reading club. They are all in fourth grade and really smart and cute of course. I have been feeling kind of burnt out on this whole endeavor, but every time I see the students my energy is renewed. Instead of focusing solely on reading I have incorporated more speaking and listening activities for this group.

Things are certainly different at home without my host dad. We laugh about funny things that he used to say and remember him everyday. I am so happy that little Pam, my host sister's 8 month-old daughter is around to bring joy to everyone.

As for me, I am filling my days by visiting the office and schools when I want to, reading, and cleaning out my belongings. Though I sometimes get bored, I know I should appreciate this free time and soak up as much of village life as I can. The weather has been great lately too. Though I must admit I am so excited to spend this spring in VA when I return home in April.

As always thanks for reading, and be on the look out for the HIV project progress!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

In-Depth Look at a PC Project

One of my projects was recently featured in the PC Thailand Project Bulletin. If you are interested in learning about what I do here, read on!

After School Reading Club and CampThis is a featured page


This page includes both an after school book club that was started by a volunteer at her local school and a reading camp that came about as a result of the club.

The Reading Club
When this volunteer noticed a lack of English reading books at her local primary school, she began collecting books for the school through family members and the Books For Thailand organization. Once there were a number of books in the school’s library, the volunteer started an after school reading club for 4th and 5th graders.

The kids come during the period after school is over but many students are still lingering around the school. The atmosphere is relaxed and focuses more on reading stories to the students than on teaching English. The volunteer and the students sit comfortably on the floor while the volunteer first reads the story in English, then translates it into Thai. The volunteer then gives the students activities to do in their notebooks concerning the story, such as:
  • Draw your favorite part of this story.
  • Tell about what might happen next in this story.
  • Re-write the story so that it is about Thailand.
    • This is a good activity for stories that are place or culture specific, such as stories about animals (the animals would be different in Thailand).
    • One book was about location; it started with the galaxy and got more and more specific – milky way, earth, continent – until it ended up in the room of the school. The PCV had the students rewrite this book so that it was about their classroom in Thailand.

If the students don’t finish the activity, then they continue with it in the next class. If they finish early, then they can go play or go home. The club meets twice a week and is scheduled for one hour, but generally only lasts twenty-five minutes.

The Reading Camp
When the volunteer’s co-teacher saw the success of the reading club, she came to the volunteer with the idea of doing a reading camp. Together they organized a reading camp where the 4th and 5th grade members of the reading club planned six different stations for the 1st, 2nd and 3rd graders of the school. The camp took place on two separate afternoons, providing one hour per station.

The stations were organized so that each station had eight students running it (the reading club members had to recruit from the other students in their grade). Each station was focused on one book, and the students were given one month to prepare. During the camp, one student narrated the story while the others acted it out for the younger kids. Once the story was finished, there were related activities or songs at each station.

The reading club started out with twenty students but gradually came down to a steady twelve that attend every week. Because of the small size and comfortable environment, the students have become more confident interacting with the PCV. Even the more shy kids in the group feel comfortable answering questions. The students are also showing more creativity and have stopped copying each other’s work or illustrations from the books. Despite the translations, there has also been some marked improvement in the students’ ability to read and understand English.

The students in the club also made their own book from the “locations” book and activity. The book contained illustrations and one sentence per page, and has been laminated and placed in the school’s library.

The reading camp was generally a success. Many of the stations did not last a full hour, so many younger students were running around for the last portion of each session, but the camp was a great experience for the students running the camp, especially in terms of leadership and mentorship.

Also, many of the books that volunteer collected for the school have disappeared. These books are hopefully only being borrowed, but a system of checking books in and out would probably benefit the school’s library.

This club is focused largely on art, drawing and story telling, but the emphasis could change to focus on English learning, creative thinking, etc. The club could also take on the shape of a mentor program where the older students read to younger students that come, similar to the structure of the camp. The club itself could even be run by mentors from a nearby high school (this PCV is currently considering having a local youth group take over the club so that it continues once she leaves).

The students actually chose to act out the stories as a major part of the camp. There are a number of ways to present the stories, and the children might come up with any number of different ways. For groups that do choose to act out the stories, this exercise might serve as the beginnings of a group for the Thai Youth Theater project.

The PCV brought books to the school but saw that they were not being used very often. At one point the students came to her and asked her to read one of the books to them, so she took this request and started the group to get the students more interested in the books and in reading.

The camp was the idea of the school’s English teacher, once she saw the success of the reading club.

Counterparts / Key Actors
  • English Teacher – at the beginning, the teacher used to come help with translation, but she eventually stopped coming. She also came up with the idea for the camp and help organize and run the camp.

Organizational Support
  • School – supports by giving the time and the space for the club and the camp. Would probably have helped with materials for both, but the volunteer decided to purchase the materials herself.
  • Books for Thailand – donated books for the school.

Approximate Cost
The expenses for the club are the books, which were donated, and notebooks and colored pencils for the students’ activities, which the volunteer decided to purchase herself.

The expenses for the camp depend on the activities, and in this case the school provided these materials.

  • It can be extremely useful to have a Thai tutor run through classroom commands with you, especially if you are not a teacher. If you are translating the books for the students, it is also helpful to go over all of the language needed for the story beforehand.
  • Be prepared for each story to take several days to get through, depending on how many and what kind of activities you have the kids do.
  • Review books after you’ve been through them with the club so that the kids can remember them.
  • Bring treats! The kids love having a snack while they do the activities, but try to be discreet about them so that you don’t have a room full of kids that are only interested in kanome.

2010 to 2011

Here some of the most memorable moments from my past year. They are in no particular order and are not necessarily the best or worst moments, just the most memorable.

1. Saying goodbye to Mom, Dad and Will after their trip to Thailand knowing I would not see them for another year.
2. Celebrating one year in Thailand.
3. Celebrating one year as a Peace Corps Volunteer.
4. Opening of the recycling center in my community.
5. Birth of my host sister's daughter, Pam.
6. Seeing Vietnam with Heather and Kelsi.
7. Spending four days on Koh Samed with tons of other PCVs.
8. Having my hair accidentally dyed blue.
9. Pulling off 5 English camps in 5 weeks with Pi Jam.
10. Taking the GRE, twice.
11. Raising $1555.00 for my HIV/AIDS project.
12. Celebrating my 24th birthday with friends in the village.
13. Applying to grad school.
14. COS conference in Cha-am.
15. Thanksgiving dinner at the American Embassy in Bangkok.
16. The passing of my host father and the 5 day funeral.
17. Attending the wedding of a fellow PCV.
18. Seeing Pi Jam graduate with a Master's Degree in English
19. Christmas morning on Koh Yao Noi at our beach cabin and Good View Restaurant.

Things I look forward to in 2011:
1. Finishing the HIV project.
2. Last week in Bangkok with Group 121 in February.
3. Being accepted to grad school (already accepted to Monterey, still waiting on the other 7 schools).
4. Spending time with my host family.
5. Isaan weekends.
6. Last bus ride to Bangkok.
7. Finishing my service as a Peace Corps Volunteer.
8. Meeting Mom and Dad in the Dubai International Airport.
9. Traveling around Tanzania with Will and parents.
10. Pulling into Rio Vista at 1 pm on April 4th!
11. Sleeping in my old room/bed.
12. Seeing friends and family.
13. Figuring out what to do with the next two years.